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Purple Line problems: Burnaby councillors clash over North Shore bus rapid transit routes

TransLink wants to prioritize bus rapid transit from Park Royal to Metrotown, but the routes were up for debate at city council in Burnaby

Burnaby is firmly onboard the “Bus Rapid Transit” train, but city councillors quibbled over route details for the “leading BRT candidate” route from Metrotown to Park Royal in West Vancouver.

TransLink’s technical reviews showed the route would generate the “best regional outcome in terms of daily boardings” and be second in the region for access to employment, according to a city staff report.

But the original “Purple Line” alignment drew staff concerns for not being “quick and easy” to implement without the loss of travel lanes and on-street parking, especially on Hastings Street.

Map of the original Purple Line route proposed for Metrotown-Park Royal. By City of Burnaby

While staff recommended a modified route for the Purple Line, councillors were not convinced by it and asked for TransLink to come back with more data and comparisons.

BRT, which is not the same as Rapid Bus, is a high frequency, high capacity transit service on busy corridors that can be built at “a fraction of the cost of rail-based technology” and is faster to build, according to TransLink. It’s SkyTrain-lite: bus edition.

BRT includes dedicated lanes separated from traffic with signal priority over general traffic, street-level bus stations for fast and convenient boarding, and specialized, articulated buses that allow more passengers.

TransLink forecasts the Metrotown-Park Royal BRT route would have a daily boarding of 55,000 riders in 2035. The route is prioritized in TransLink's 10-year plan, with construction planned to start in the first five years.

Burnaby council supports the route in principle – it’s the alignment that’s causing concern.

The original Purple Line alignment runs down the Second Narrows Bridge from Park Royal, east along Hastings Street, then south down Willingdon Avenue to Metrotown mall.

The modified route would move south down Boundary Road and First Avenue, east along Halifax Street, then south down Willingdon.

The modified Purple Line route between Metrotown in Burnaby and Park Royal in West Vancouver. By City of Burnaby

More data needed: councillors

But Burnaby councillors weren’t ready to approve the modified route without more information.

Coun. Alison Gu amended the resolution to include the original Purple Line route in addition to the new alignment. The amendment passed unanimously.

“I want to be sure that we are choosing the right route, and to do that I believe we need to be equipped with the data and the evidence to support the best route selection,” she said.

She supported similar projects in Burnaby to signal to TransLink “how onboard our council is” regarding BRT.

Coun. Pietro Calendino agreed, noting he’d received “a lot” of public feedback expressing surprise at the new alignment.

He said the Hastings corridor might have too much traffic but added the BRT along Hastings could serve the merchants along the Heights.

“The alignment on Boundary Road – there is no people there. There’s mostly light industrial area. So who would be using it there? That’s my concern. I would prefer the Hastings alignment.”

Coun. Maita Santiago said BRT is supposed to be about improving speed, comfort, reliability and accessibility, and wanted to see more data from transit-dependent riders who need to take transit to get to work and school.

Coun. Richard Lee proposed an additional alignment at Boundary Road – Lougheed Highway – Willingdon Avenue, but the idea was rejected.

Gu suggested it was too similar to the SkyTrain’s Millennium Line.

“Why would you have a simulated SkyTrain underneath the existing SkyTrain infrastructure and invest all this money into the exact same route that already exists?” she asked.

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal suggested all routes would be worthwhile considering.

“At this point, everything is a wild goose chase until we know what really is to be done,” Dhaliwal said.

BRT in Burnaby

TransLink’s 10-year priorities include four BRT corridors in Burnaby: