Buses over parkland?

By Braz Menezes –

Untitled-1Parkland is precious in Downtown Toronto—especially to groups like the York Quay Neighbourhood Association (YQNA), which is preparing to defend some of its turf.

The YQNA predicted that the city-owned park inside the circular ramp at York St. and Queen’s Quay would be wanted for development once a Gardiner off-ramp came down.

Today, two bids for this parkland are now on the planning table.

The first is Waterfront Toronto’s plan for a four-lane road—plus sidewalks—that will cut right through the park from Queen’s Quay to Harbour St.

Although the official purpose for the road is “to circulate traffic better in the area,” the YQNA believes the real intent may be to provide parking—especially for buses. The association claims that there is enough circulation of traffic in the area already, but admits that there is a crisis around bus parking which must be solved. If anything, having a bus-clogged road so close to the York and Bay intersections will cause greater traffic congestion.

For millions of users of the Waterfront, this beautiful parkland marks the interface between the financial district and the new Waterfront. The park will also be the important home of a PATH connection to Union Station.

Untitled-2The YQNA worries that a wide road make space for idling buses right next to people sitting in the diminished park, and that this smelly scenario will make a mockery of the urban planning aesthetics employed by the architects of the new buildings being planned for 85 and 90 Harbour St.

Further, the YWNA contends that the proposal would be equivalent to ramming a wide road through Berzky Park on Front St. That too was slated for development early on—but residents demanded their green space and scored a victory for the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood.

YQNA already spoke against this ill-conceived road at the city’s public works and infrastructure committee last August. In the otherwise fulsome staff report, this road was mentioned with a single sentence: it is to connect Harbour St. to Queen’s Quay. Community inquiries slowly revealed its real size and purpose. Neither residents nor councillors had heard about this street before, and it did not appear in the environmental assessment that Waterfront Toronto has worked on for years.

Several deputations to public works expressed frustration over the secretive process. YQNA, residents and condo boards made it clear that there was no local or planning support for this road or for the rezoning of the park. The item was subsequently removed from the agenda and councillors Pam McConnell and Adam Vaughan did not expect it to resurface.

The second plan for using this parkland comes from Toronto Water, which proposes to bury large vertical storage shafts to control water overflow and prevent sewage from entering the drinking water supply in the lake. Three shafts, interconnected by tunnels, are proposed for the waterfront, all to be placed under parks and green areas. The system would require that mature trees and plantings be removed. Residents are asking for other possible consequences, such as sewage smells and appearances of these facilities to be clarified.

The public will have a chance to voice their opinions: Transportation Services and Waterfront Toronto will discuss their road proposal on April 4 at city hall. Toronto Water has yet to arrange a public meeting to explain the details of their water treatment system.

Braz Menezes is an urban planner and member of YQNA.