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Former chief planner argues waterfront threatened

June 18th, 2014 · No Comments

City’s Executive Committee votes to delay island airport decision

By Annemarie Brissenden

The night before City Council’s Executive Committee met to consider Porter Airlines’ request to amend the Tripartite Agreement for Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, approximately 90 people gathered at the Duke of York pub on Prince Arthur Avenue to conduct a similar review. If passed, the amendment would allow Porter to extend Billy Bishop’s runways and fly jet-powered planes to and from the island airport in downtown Toronto.

Organized by Why Should I Care? (WSIC), a non-profit group that, according to its website, “provides a grassroots forum for discussing contentious issues in a non-partisan environment,” the event’s only speaker was City of Toronto’s former chief planner Paul Bedford.

“I’m told they couldn’t get anybody here to represent the positive side,” he joked to much laughter, before summarizing the views on both sides of the question. Although he highlighted convenience as the most positive attribute of the proposed amendment, he stands firmly against any changes to the current agreement.

Bedford, now an adjunct professor of city planning at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University and an urban mentor with Paul Bedford & Associates, characterized this as a watershed moment for Toronto.

“There are deep conflicts between the waterfront goals and the proposed expansion of the airport,” he said.

In his view, if the city allows Billy Bishop to expand, it will eventually dominate the waterfront, threatening the very balance city planners have worked so hard to develop.

“This whole thing is not about Porter, it’s about the waterfront. The fundamental question is what kind of waterfront do you want?” asked Bedford, as the crowd, including local notables Rosario Marchese (MPP, Trinity-Spadina), the provincial Liberal candidate for Trinity-Spadina, Han Dong, and mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson, loudly applauded.

Bedford also highlighted the conclusions of a [Review of Potential Future Safety Zones at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport with Bombardier CS100 Jets ITALICS], issued that morning by Transport Action Ontario, a non-profit organization that advocates for sustainable transportation. According to the report, the new jets and the extended runways would have a different classification from those currently in place at the island airport, thus having a greater impact on the obstacle imitation surfaces, runway approach lighting, and marine exclusion zone than had been previously recognized. Bedford wondered how such limitations would affect development in the Portlands, and suggested the eastern limitations on marine traffic might stretch as far as Bay Street.

After concluding that, “given all the unanswered questions, the risks, the downsides, it is irresponsible for council to give even conditional approval” to the proposed amendment, Bedford led a lively question and answer session.

The majority of the speakers appeared opposed to the island airport expansion, citing concerns that ranged from noise to safety to questioning whether Porter was even viable in the long term.

Many of the same questions were raised in a city staff report that’s before the Executive Committee. In the report dated March 19, 2014, city staff recommends delaying a decision until further information, including the results of an environmental assessment, is available. The report also recommends a staged approach for managing growth at Billy Bishop, as well as compelling Transport Canada and the Toronto Port Authority to address how they will manage increased noise and traffic and related infrastructure needs caused by larger island airport.

For Bedford, the answer is clear.

“Don’t put everyone through the pain [of further study], fix the mess on lower Bathurst Street, and just say no.”

Subsequent to this writing, City Council’s Executive Committee voted on March 25 to accept the recommendations of the staff report with some amendments. City Council will consider the matter at its April 1 meeting. For further information on Transport Action Ontario, or to read its report, please visit www.transport-action-ontario.com. For further information on WSIC and its upcoming events, please visit www.whyshouldIcare.ca.

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