Toronto Star Op-Ed: No Compromise Possible on Jets
Op-Ed Titled "Island Airport Expansion is a Change in Kind not a Change in Degree"
TORONTO - It has been suggested that there should be a “compromise” to resolve the dispute over Toronto’s island airport. After all, this is the Canadian way. Some well-meaning voices say: “I am for state-of-the-art ‘quiet’ jets but against any substantial increase in service; can’t we just limit the volume of flights to protect the livability of the waterfront and surrounding neighbourhoods?” But that option is not on the table. The proposal is to double the size of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to equal the capacity of Ottawa’s International Airport serving between 4.3 and 4.8 million passengers a year.
Picture runway extensions the length of two football fields at both ends into Toronto Harbour and into the Western Gap, with enlarged exclusion zones to keep boat traffic away. Picture rows of light approach towers extending up to 700 metres beyond the runways as mandated by Transport Canada to accommodate planes landing and taking off every two minutes.
Add to that high and obtrusive walls lining the runways to shield small boats from jet thrust. And on the land side, doubled volumes of traffic carrying passengers, jet fuel, services and supplies overwhelm the already impossibly congested five-point intersection at Bathurst, Lake Shore and Fleet. This on top of noise concerns, impacts on air quality and habitat.
This is not a change in degree; it is a profound change in kind. We are talking about a different kind of airport.
Both the city’s medical officer of health and the board of Waterfront Toronto have sounded the alarm. If an application were made today for a new airport the size of the Ottawa International Airport on the Toronto waterfront, the incompatibility would be perfectly obvious. This doubling (and change in kind) is being rushed through as though it were an incremental modification with no clear applicant, no environmental assessment, no completed master plan, no jet planes certified, no business plan, no infrastructure plan and no funds to implement.
The justifications for the rush to judgment to approve this massive shift are convenience for some business travellers and a purported economic advantage. Both are specious. The net benefits in either case, given the opening of the air-rail link next year, are likely marginal. Much more important is what would be sacrificed.
It is our waterfront. From south Etobicoke to the Scarborough Bluffs and beyond, what is emerging all along the Toronto waterfront is one of the most remarkable transformations of its kind anywhere. The revitalization of these strategically located, obsolescent lands is providing new and improved places for the public to enjoy: parks and trails, a linked series of neighbourhoods, places to live and work, and places of recreation, repose and natural beauty.
The waterfront is where Toronto is reinventing itself for the 21st century, adjusting to the city’s new southern face. Our waterfront is materializing as the collective work of generations of Torontonians, supported by investments of all three levels of government and the private sector.
Its future contours are just becoming visible as the many pieces fall into place — from the promise of a revived Ontario Place/Exhibition Place, including the newly announced park, to the music garden shaped by Yo-Yo Ma and the Queens Quay Greenway currently under construction, to Sugar Beach and Sherbourne Common in the heart of the new East Bayfront neighbourhood, with George Brown College and $2.6 billion of private investment in progress — making it one of the largest such revitalization efforts in the world.
The problem is that this entire band of waterfront is on the flight path of and bisected by the overburdened “land path” leading to Billy Bishop airport. And unlike the other cities where a close-by airport is somewhat removed from the core, Billy Bishop sits right on Toronto Harbour, the heart and focal point of this entire endeavour, the gateway to our unique treasure, the Toronto Islands.
The key to the waterfront’s future success is that one activity not be allowed to dominate the others. This equilibrium breaks down when a single element is overscaled to the point that its impacts impair other uses and activities. That is what the proposed expansion of the airport would do.
This is not about Porter Airlines. The proposed expansion of the island airport would inevitably open it to major carriers like Air Canada, WestJet and United, which have already declared their intentions.
The existing airport is an accepted fact. Its continued presence has been based on the understanding set out in the 1983 tripartite agreement that allows only turboprop passenger service at Billy Bishop airport with additional expansion capacity. That is the compromise that was already reached and should be honoured.
Ken Greenberg is the former head of urban design in the Toronto planning department; Anne Golden is chair of the Transit Investment Advisory Panel; David Crombie is a former mayor of Toronto; Jack Diamond is a Toronto-based international architect; Paul Bedford was the chief planner of Toronto. Source: Toronto Star op-ed, published 2014-02-09