What to do with the Gardiner? Let’s start by returning to a plan to demolish part of it.
This really shouldn’t be a hard decision. With the expressway in worse shape than we originally thought, and with the easternmost part of the highway underused and overbuilt, why aren’t staff at the city and Waterfront Toronto moving forward with a previously approved Environmental Assessment that was to look at removing the section of the Gardiner between Lower Jarvis and the Don Valley Parkway?
Why is the city set to spend tens of millions of dollars rehabbing a piece of infrastructure without first looking at alternatives?
I agree with most people who say that now is not the time to look at wholesale demolition of the entire Gardiner. Though the route only carries about eight per cent of commuters who come into the city every day, there’s definitely not enough capacity on GO Transit routes or the TTC to absorb that volume. We’re not going to be able to shove more bodies into those trains until governments get serious about transit funding.
And even then, the booming condo market has nicely boxed in the Gardiner through the central part of the city. Though I still don’t get why anyone would want to live in a condo that close to a major thoroughfare, people seem happy to do it. And, in doing so, the Gardiner through the central core has started to blend into the larger urban fabric.
If the city would just spend some effort improving the state of Lake Shore Boulevard and look at innovative uses for the underside of the elevated structure, Toronto could probably live with its lakeside highway for decades to come.
But that’s only true for the central part. As you travel east past Jarvis, the state of things changes. Designed under the assumption that commuters would one day continue on an extended highway through the demolished remnants of Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood, this section of the Gardiner was engineered with significantly more capacity than it could ever need. It’s taller and wider than most other parts of the elevated highway. At one point, it butts up directly against the Keating Channel, blocking off what could one day be incredibly valuable waterfront property.
And for what? The Terms of Reference to the never-completed 2009 Gardiner Environmental Assessment noted that, while the section of the highway was busy, it was also “typically under capacity during the peak hours.”
A later study revealed that replacing this part of the Gardiner with an eight-lane at-grade medium-capacity corridor would have a negligible impact on travel times. In the best case scenario, commuters would see travel times decrease by 1.5 per cent. In the worst case, the model predicted a four per cent increase.
There are pitfalls to any approach, of course. The last thing this city needs is to trade an elevated highway for one on the ground that remains hostile to pedestrians and smart development. But that’s what the EA process is for. In addition to looking at removal, the original plan was to also examine options for replacing the highway or refurbishing the underside to improve the pedestrian experience.
Can’t we at least consider our options instead of just resigning ourselves to the same old status quo? Isn’t that what great cities do?
At last check, Waterfront Toronto had put a pause on their study of options following the last municipal election. Despite the EA drawing approval from 30 councillors in 2009—a group that included councillors like Paul Ainslie, Frank Di Giorgio, Karen Stintz, Cesar Palacio, Mark Grimes and Norm Kelly — staff with the development agency decided it was prudent to wait until they received further direction from council.
Even with the Gardiner crumbling and repair bills mounting, that direction has yet to come.