Op-Ed: Jets and People Can’t Coexist on Toronto’s Waterfront
Paul Beford: Jets Will Destroy Balance on Toronto's Waterfront September 17, 2013 TORONTO - Toronto City Council will soon have to decide whether to allow passengers jets to operate at Billy Bishop Airport, a decision that will have a 100-year impact on our central waterfront. This decision will be critical to the long-established public goal of creating a balance of uses and activities where existing and future generations can live, work and play. If passenger jets are allowed, this fundamental public goal will be overtaken by a private one.
The key issues for city council to consider are: the negative ground-related impacts of an expanded airport on the Bathurst Quay neighbourhood; the threat to ongoing revitalization of the central waterfront; and the inability to control the future expansion of Billy Bishop Airport.
Over the past 30 years, council has transformed Bathurst Quay into a vibrant mixed-use neighbourhood comprising a diverse mix of low and midrise residential buildings, Little Norway Park and the Harbourfront School and Community Centre, in addition to local retail shops and office uses. The sole vehicular and pedestrian access to Billy Bishop Airport is on Lower Bathurst Street, which separates Harbourfront School and Little Norway Park.
The airport’s existing annual passenger volume of more than 2 million has resulted in vehicular and pedestrian conflicts at Queens Quay and Bathurst Street as a long line of taxis wait on the east side of Little Norway Park and Porter buses pick up and drop off passengers. These conflicts intensify dramatically at key times in the morning and afternoon when students enter and exit the school. If jet service is permitted, the projected annual passenger volume will double to 4 million. Intensified ground-related conflicts will overwhelm the quality of life for the Bathurst Quay community.
Since its formation in 1999 by the governments of Canada, Ontario and Toronto, Waterfront Toronto has made huge strides in transforming our central waterfront into a vibrant, diverse and attractive public place that residents and visitors enjoy. The three governments have invested extensively in public amenities that have attracted private sector development, including Corus Entertainment, George Brown College and an emerging neighbourhood in the West Don Lands.
This positive cycle is continuing in such areas as East Bayfront and the Port Lands based on the full knowledge that the existing tripartite agreement allowing only turboprop passenger service at the island airport would be respected.
The key to ongoing transformation of the central waterfront is balance. The appeal of the waterfront is that no one activity dominates or overpowers. Toronto’s waterfront is shared by those who live, work and visit.
For the vast majority of Torontonians, the waterfront is their “cottage” and is the one place in our city that belongs to everyone. Enjoying a concert, dining in one of many restaurants, visiting the numerous festivals or simply taking a stroll along the water’s edge are activities that must always be preserved. Should passenger jets be permitted, these special experiences and the ongoing revitalization agenda of Waterfront Toronto would be put at risk.
Perhaps the most serious issue for council to address is that the scale of the airport operation will no longer be controllable. To date, Porter has successfully built up a niche service catering to a business clientele travelling to cities within an approximate 800-1,000-kilometre radius. The construction of the pedestrian tunnel connecting the airport to the foot of Bathurst Street is designed to enhance these qualities. However, the stated goal of Porter is to cater to leisure passengers by offering jet service to western Canadian cities, California, Florida and the Caribbean. This does not equate to economic benefits associated with business destinations.
Finally, if passenger jet service is permitted it would not be restricted for the exclusive use of Porter Airlines. Other airlines would also want to compete. Billy Bishop Airport should not become a mini-Pearson nor does it have the size or space to become one. The scale of ground operations needed to handle double the number of existing passengers is totally different. This is not a debate about holding back a homegrown company. This is about honouring an agreement made to respect the public vision for the central waterfront that was unanimously adopted by Toronto City Council in 2003.
Toronto only has one waterfront and its future now rests in the hands of city council. Why would we ever surrender it to a private interest?Paul Bedford is an adjunct professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University and was Toronto’s former Chief Planner. Source: Toronto Star op-ed