Parking pad? Not in your front yard

What seems at first glance a heavy-handed proposal — to ban all new front-yard parking pads — makes sense when you look at it more closely.

Obviously, this is a more pressing issue in the older parts of the city, where parking is more scarce (and often regulated by permit). Which may explain why a ban on new parking pads has been more easily accepted downtown.

But the community interest goes well beyond that. There are environmental concerns about paving areas previously unpaved. They make the city hotter because pavement absorbs heat more than vegetation does, which means both a harsher environment for surrounding trees and plants and, generally, more money and energy spent on air conditioning.

Dramatically more immediate is the effect it has on our water quality and on our sewer system. A lawn (or a prairie, or even an untended patch of weedy dirt) will absorb rainwater and melted snow into the ground. Pavement, as a rule, will not, which means that water runs onto the road and into public storm sewers and, through them, into the lake. Along the way, the water absorbs all kinds of pollutants: fertilizer and pesticides leaked out from lawns, grease and petroleum products on the road, bacteria, and so on. This all goes, untreated, into the lake, which is the source of our drinking water.

But on the way to the lake, stormwater can also overwhelm the sewer system. In older parts of the city, when the storm sewer system gets overloaded it actually causes our sanitary sewer system to overflow, which means untreated sewage — the stuff we flush down the toilet — flows into the lake.

Overloaded storm sewers also cause basement flooding across the city, which has been a real problem in Toronto during recent big storms, so much so that city council has implemented and gradually expanded a subsidy program to help homeowners try to flood-proof their cellars — a program the city is slated to ramp up (in a different proposal also on this month’s agenda). The threat of basement flooding is the stated rationale for Carroll and Minnan-Wong’s motion. But it isn’t the only one.

So even though at first the ban seems heavy-handed, when you look at all the reasons to prevent front-yard parking, this proposal seems not just reasonable, but long overdue.

By: Edward Keenan Columnist, Toronto Star, Published on Tue Dec 08 2015