By Edward Keenan
Yesterday, City of Toronto staff and Waterfront Toronto released the results of their Environmental Assessment—essentially a detailed feasibility study—on the options we have for dealing with Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis. The thing is falling apart, and will need to be either significantly rebuilt, replaced, or removed in the next decade. They are holding a public meeting to show the presentation tonight at 6:30 p.m.(You can see the slides from yesterday’s presentation here.)
Based on the “Evaluation results matrix” that shows which of four options—maintain, improve, replace, or remove—are best in a number of areas we’d consider when making a decision, you can see that removing the Gardiner appears “preferred” in most areas. For the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and safety, removal is best. From the point of view of all the planning and design criteria, removal is best. According to most of the environmental and economics categories, removal is best. And removal is the cheapest of the options—and will also free up a bunch of real-estate for development, opening up revenue possibilities of $80-$90 million.
Oddly, the headline on the front of Metro today says ‘Experts warn that gutting Gardiner will doom drivers” and carries the lede, “Tearing down the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis is not the best option for the crumbling structure, despite a new study that seems to favour demolition, experts say.” The story then quotes three experts, only one of whom actually seems to share the opinion expressed in the headline and lede. (It’s an edit of this Star story, which has a softer, more balanced presentation of the point.)
But the expert they do quote is referring to the categories in which maintaining the Gardiner is preferred and tearing it down is least preferred: movement of automobiles, goods, “constructability,” and “cultural resources”—especially the first two on that list. The expert in question, Murtaza Haider, is a “transportation engineer” and says that moving cars and goods are the highest priorities to consider in this decision, which means they trump everything. (This may not be a surprise: this post from a former traffic engineer claims the problem with the field is that it will always consider moving cars to be the absolute number one priority, trumping all else.)
But Haider makes a notable point, in that as much as the colour-coded chart makes one option look best, the chart’s preamble is careful to say that the criteria are not weighted. As the deputy city manager presenting the chart said at the presentation, it is the job of politicians to make decisions about what option to pursue—our elected officials, in our name, are in charge of setting our priorities.
So here’s something: given the assumptions of those conducting the study (and there are some big ones, including the construction of the Downtown Relief subway line and the East Bayfront LRT), removal of the Gardiner would add about 10 minutes to the travel time into downtown from the northeast. (Travel times appear unaffected from the southeast and the west.) Which means a change of 20 minutes a day. We’re talking about approximately 5,600 vehicles during the peak hour every day whose trips will be affected. That’s likely about 6,640 people, given the average Toronto car carries 1.15 people during rush hour. Some of those are coming off the DVP, some from Lakeshore in the east, and a smaller number continuing east from the western section of the Gardiner.
The number of cars coming in and going out on the most dramatically affected route—those coming to and from the Don Valley Parkway, which appears to be the only travel pattern that shows a significant change in drive time—is smaller, about 3,600 cars, or perhaps 4,140 people.
So the commute time of those 4,140 people in cars during the peak of the morning rush is one criteria to consider, as is the effect on traffic on the alternate routes that people will choose if the eastern Gardiner disappears: Lakeshore, Queens Quay, Richmond, and so on.
But that is not the only one. I’ve already briefly mentioned cost, which over the past few years has been a dominant element of every discussion: removing the Gardiner is projected to cost about $240 million, while maintaining it would cost $300 million, improving it $360 million, and replacing it $700 million. So removing it saves at least $60 million (or theoretically, as much as $460 million).
And then there are the things that those conducting the study were actually instructed to consider their priorities—albeit in 2009, by a different city council:
- Revitalize the Waterfront
- Reconnect the City with the Lake
- Balance Modes of Travel
- Achieve Sustainability
- Create Value
If revitalizing the Waterfront and reconnecting the city with the lake are priorities, there is really no contest: removing the Gardiner and developing the streetscape are hands-down winners.
As a supplement to that, let us finally consider that “Revitalize the Waterfront” contains in it the huge mandate we’ve already given Waterfront Toronto: to take the massive semi-abandoned industrial portion of the port lands and turn them into a thriving downtown neighbourhood. It’s a mandate that is well underway, and one that was fiercely protected from meddling by city council when doug Ford tried to stick his hands in the pot a few years ago, leading to some revisions.
That plan calls for a neighbourhood to be built. We are likely talking about thousands or tens of thousands of residences, as well as hundreds of retail business and offices. If we leave the Gardiner up, those people living and working there will have an elevated highway running through their neighbourhood so that people who live in other parts of the city can save 10 minutes per trip on a commute downtown. If we take it down, they’ll get a broad and likely very busy boulevard on Lake Shore. And there will be an additional 10 acres of land freed up for sale along that boulevard, bringing in $80-ish million in revenue and meaning more stores, offices, and housing.
The people who live in that area are very likely to walk or bicycle to work—like those in other downtown neighbourhoods, including especially CityPlace, where people overwhelmingly travel on motor-free transportation. The neighbourhood is very likely to become a destination—featuring ample parkland—for others from around the city. What will make the experience of it better? Easier car travel to and from the area, or a better neighbourhood and good urban design in the area itself, and a smoother connection to the rest of downtown?
I realize that the way I phrase some of these questions might suggest certain answers—but I think they are legitimate questions without pre-determined answers. Even for those who favour less car travel and more walkable neighbourhoods, the movement of people and goods through the city, and into and out of it, needs to be an important consideration.
All of this means we’ve got some thinking to do about priorities, and it doesn’t strike me that it’s a decision that lends itself well to off-the-cuff knee-jerk reactions, like the ones we saw from longtime proponents of keeping the Gardiner (like Rob Ford and Denzil Minnan-Wong) and longtime opponents of it (like everyone who has long thought it was an eyesore).
We have to decide: are we building city neighbourhoods for the people who live in them and work in them? Or for the people who travel through them? Asking that question two generations ago, we stopped the Spadina Expressway. Asking it again a couple years ago, we ripped out the Jarvis bike lanes.
And we also have to think about costs: is it worth spending tens of millions extra to save a few thousand people 20 minutes a day? How about hundreds of millions? And if so, are we also willing to spend an equivalent amount extra to save commuting time for many more thousands of people taking transit?
We have to make a decision to spend at least a quarter billion dollars on that corridor within the next decade. We’re going to develop the port lands either way. So since all that’s inevitable, we shouldn’t assume there’s a default option. How do we want to invest our money? What kind of city do we want to build?
Photo: Rendering of the view looking southwest from Lake Shore and Sherbourne if the Gardiner Expressway is removed, courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.