On Wednesday, June 12, about seventy-five citizens gathered in a cavernous room in the Toronto Convention Centre to listen to Ports Toronto’s latest version of their draft Master Plan of Toronto City Centre Billy Bishop Airport. The presentations dragged on, but in true Canadian fashion, the group politely listened to the end.
What was remarkable about the presentation was not what was said, but what was not said. In typical bureaucratic fashion, the positives were enumerated in boring detail, and the problems were simply ignored. This was the elephant in the room. In fact, there wasn’t just one elephant, there were a whole herd of elephants that were either ignored or mentioned so briefly that the audience was led to believe these issues were inconsequential. In fact, what was not said was far more important than the detail we suffered through.
These are the issues that were ignored. Unfortunately, we hold no hope that they will be addressed in the final Master Plan.
The Environment: Even a casual follower of the news in this country knows that climate change is an issue that is either at the top or near the top of the political agenda. In the discussion of the Master Plan there was no mention of how the aircraft flying out of Billy Bishop contribute to global warming.
As well, there was no discussion of how the emissions of the planes were contributing to the air pollution in the neighbourhoods, and recreational areas along the Waterfront. Short haul flights, the specialty of Billy Bishop, contribute more air pollution, per km traveled, than long flights. There is an answer to this problem, and that is high speed trains, but don’t expect to find a discussion of this in the Master Plan.
Noise: Noise from Billy Bishop Airport has been a serious issue for people living and working on the Waterfront for a long time. It is a particular problem for those in Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood. This is quote from a Globe and Mail editorial published on June 9, 2019.
“The issue of noise is evolving into a public-health question. Noise has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure. It has been shown to affect the ability of children to learn – and adults well know the difficulty of concentration in a noisy office. “Excessive noise seriously harms human health,” says the European office of the United Nations World Health Organization.”
To their credit, Ports Toronto have worked on this issue. They built a noise enclosure to muffle the sound of engine run-ups, and they have set up noise monitors, but that is all. The truth is there is no answer to the problem of noise from aircraft other than closing the airport.
Safety: Talk to anyone in the airline industry and you soon understand that safety is a very important issue for them. Lives are at stake. There was no discussion of the safety risks of Billy Bishop Airport at the meeting, and we can only assume that there will no discussion of it in the final Master Plan. However, this airport has a number of very serious safety risks.
- The runway used by Porter’s Q400 planes is too short. Bombardier, the manufacturer of the Q400, say the aircraft needs a runway of 1,402 metres for take-off and 1,287 for landing. The main runway at Billy Bishop is only 1220 metres. To compensate Porter has taken out some seats. The safety zones at the end of the runways are also too short. Increasing the length of the runways and safety zones would require approval from regulators for lake filling, and that is unlikely.
- Accidents at several airports have been caused by planes overshooting the runways. If that was to happen at Billy Bishop, the plane would end up in the waters of Lake Ontario or Toronto Harbour. It would be very difficult to mount a rescue operation if a plane ended in the water, and the risk would be much greater if the accident happened in winter.
- When the airport opened in 1938 the surrounding land was occupied by industry. Today the Waterfront is occupied by live/work neighbourhoods. There are scores of high-rise buildings and more and more are being approved and built along the Waterfront from the Exhibition Grounds in the west to Leslie Street in the east. Virtually all of these buildings are close to the flight paths of planes using Billy Bishop Airport.
Again, sad to say, it would appear that the airport Master Plan will have no evaluation of the safety risks of the airport.
Recreation: Toronto’s Waterfront has long been the major recreational resource of the city’s residents. The Island Park is called, “the jewel in the crown of the Toronto park system.” Lake Ontario and Toronto Harbour are a boater’s paradise. With the transformation of the Waterfront well over a 100,000 people will live, and as many will work there. Soon 400,000 people will be living in the city core and will need recreational facilities. Ontario Place will be refurbished. There will be a waterfront promenade, scores of new parks, restaurants and retail. Already the Waterfront is the city’s prime tourist attraction, and in the future, it will be even more attractive.
A busy airport in the midst of a vibrant place like the Waterfront simply makes no sense. The public is increasingly coming to understand this. Is it a threat to the airport? Yes. But will it mentioned in the airport Master Plan? No.
Alternative uses: The Toronto Centre Billy Bishop Airport occupies 215 acres of land on Toronto Island, perhaps the most valuable, most pristine vacant land in the Greater Toronto Area. If those 215 acres of land were redeveloped with some housing and parkland it would enhance the value of the Toronto Island Park, give much better access to Lake Ontario, and bring in far, far more tax revenue to the city, and all levels of government than an airport. Again, there is no mention of this possible threat to the future of the airport in the draft Master Plan.
During the question and answer session at the meeting Ed Hore, the Chair of Waterfront for All, asked the panel of experts what will happen when the lease between the city and Ports Toronto terminates in 2033. No one could provide an answer. That is fair enough. This issue must be resolved by politicians, not community activists or the staff of the Port Authority, but it is the key question for the future.
What is going to happen? Will we allow the airport, with all of its problems and risks, to continue, or will we have the courage and imagination to transform these 215 acres of airport lands into something wonderful to benefit all of the people of Toronto? The answer will not be found in the Master Plan. It will be up to the citizens of this city.