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The Low-Down on Billy Bishop Airport’s Pedestrian Tunnel

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A 260-metre tunnel finally lets Billy Bishop travellers reach the island airport by foot

Designed by ZAS Architects + Interiors and engineered by Arup, a new pedestrian tunnel connecting Billy Bishop Airport to mainland Toronto is built 30 metres below ground. Hotly anticipated, the subterranean passageway provides an efficient alternative to the airport’s quaint but infrequent ferry shuttle, which will remain in service.

Elevators at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto

ZAS principal Paul Stevens explains the project as consisting of three distinct parts: the tunnel itself, plus a mainland pavilion and a new atrium at Billy Bishop Airport. Travellers headed out of the city will begin their trip by entering a new glass-clad building built next to PortsToronto’s ferry terminal at the foot of Bathurst Street. Inside, the simple structure mimics a skyscraper lobby, with a bank of six elevators. Across from them, a glazed wall looks across the lake to the island airport terminal, establishing a visual connection with the destination at hand and outlining the distance about to be traversed underground.

moving sidewalks at Billy Bishop Airport tunnel in Toronto

Once they’ve made their descent, travellers will be shuttled from one end of the tunnel to the other in about six minutes by a series of moving sidewalks. (Those craving extra exercise can opt to walk down a middle pathway.) The white-tiled corridor is a utilitarian space, but its design was still carefully considered. To prevent the tunnel from feeling like a bunker, Stevens says it was important that the space be appropriately proportioned and lit. “If it’s too low you start to feel compressed,” he notes. “And if it’s the wrong width, it seems like a hallway.” That’s not to mention the complex engineering involved to ensure the tunnel doesn’t spring a leak. (Fear not: it’s lined in 2,000 cubic metres of concrete.)

Skylight at Toronto Island Airport

At the island end of the passageway, a lengthy network of escalators carries travellers back up, into a new atrium area built as an addition to the island airport terminal. As one makes this ascent, natural light pours down through a wing-shaped glass roof, creating a welcoming sense of arrival. For those who have just arrived in Toronto and are headed to the mainland, the atrium proves even more welcoming by offering a spectacular view of the city’s quickly-growing skyline.

Billy Bishop Airport tunnel in Toronto

The area also acts as a sort of mini-museum. Historic artifacts and memorabilia sit alongside informational panels that detail the accomplishments of Billy Bishop, the well-decorated Canadian war veteran who Toronto’s island airport is named after. Look for a replica of a Nieuport 17 biplane – the plane that Bishop was flying when he attacked a German aerodrome to earn the Victoria Cross for bravery in the presence of an enemy.

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