Comstock: Think hard before tearing down Gardiner

By Mike Comstock –

(This is a column by the late Mike Comstock published in July 2008)
The next time someone talks about the Gardiner Expressway being torn down please review their reasons and weigh their arguments. This could be the biggest mess the East end of Toronto (actually the whole Downtown) might ever have to face. The huge cost, which only converts one type of roadway into another, is only part of the real cost. The disruption, noise, dirt and traffic mess created will lessen the quality of life during the many years this project would take.”
I wrote this in The Bulletin in 2003 and probably something similar several other times since. The topic of this icon of the ‘50s, and object lesson of our new green consciousness, is omnipresent in the media and in the minds of those wishing for a betterlooking city.
In 2003 I wrote, ”Let’s look at the arguments to ‘Tear Down’ the Gardiner Expressway: It divides the city, it’s too car friendly, it’s ugly and it requires too much maintenance. Then I went into details on each argument and having dealt with this old topic, I’ll save you reading 200 words. Answers are: the railway berm divides us from the waterfront; Lakeshore Blvd. is what is too car friendly. It is ugly because we can’t decide what to do and don’t take care of it. We should clean and remodel it, which also answers the maintenance point.
Now there are some new angles in Waterfront Toronto’s push to tear down the expressway from Jarvis east to the Don Valley. If one looks at the map of the Gardiner Expressway the motivation to tear down by the Waterfront planners is obvious. It parallels the railway but at Cherry Street it turns abruptly south, along the lake and Keating Channel and then turns north, bridges over the river and then connects to the Don Valley Expressway.
This loop south wastes several acres of what would be waterfront developer land. This land is now home to old cars and trucks, city park, old picnic tables, park risers and tall weeds. The Waterfront planners want that land and are saying just tear down this piece from Jarvis east. I agree that this land is wasted and that is a good idea to increase developable waterfront land. But, how is this best done? Note that last month the largest of the contractors building Boston’s expressway fix, The Big Dig, filed for bankruptcy.
Another argument the councilors are chewing over this session is eliminating drive-thru restaurants because they create idling cars, pollution and waste fuel. The same principle applies in changing a non-stop fuel-saving expressway for a stopand- go surface roadway. The 1950s overpass design is still used today to save the pedestrian realm from unwanted disruption. It is used to safely interchange one expressway to another. What is not being considered is building a new elevated expressway from Jarvis, over the railway sidings, to the DVP.
This new Gardiner, building a new elevated expressway, would be built before tearing down the old portions, save more land, easily cross the river and be far better looking than a 6-lane-wide surface boulevard. The rhetoric of “Tear Down” is so like a mantra to the civic socialites and media vampires, that they can’t see any other options. Actually re-building the old 1950 off and on ramps would save several acres of land and improve the look. Downsizing Lakeshore Blvd. to four lanes would be a blessing for pedestrians trying to get to the city’s waterfront. Creating covered bike lanes under a new Gardiner would support year-round cycling in Toronto. Creating tour bus parking under a new Gardiner would support tourism in the Downtown. And most importantly, sustaining the basic up-andaway Gardiner design is supporting a diverse transportation system and is less polluting. The “Tear Down” would replace a smooth ribbon through Downtown with 16 traffic-light intersections of a new 6-lane suburban-style Lakeshore Blvd.

One comment

  1. I agree with every sensible, well-founded statement you make, Mike.

    By Bill Robertson –

    I just read a copy of Mike’s article entitled: “Think hard before tearing down Gardiner” and wanted to say how pleased I am to finally see someone with intelligence, sound reasoning and sensible rationale report on the Gardiner issue. It is such a welcome relief to read Mike’s realistic, well-founded comments rather than the whimsical rhetoric one must usually wade through in many of the other papers. As he accurately states, the Gardiner is not a barrier to the waterfront. In fact, it draws people from other parts of Toronto downtown so they too can enjoy the city’s lakeside appeal. I heard someone refer to our present mayor as “downtown Dave” and it struck me that Miller seems to forget that Toronto extends beyond the confines of the core.
    I live in Scarborough and we are also a part of Toronto. Yet Miller wants to cut us off from the rest of the city by eliminating our main thoroughfare into and out of the downtown area. The Gardiner allows Toronto to be a functional city… an urban element that works. It has provided convenient, unencumbered access for hundreds of millions of travelers from all parts of our city, our province and our country since it was completed in the early 1960′s. In fact, there are only two cities in the whole of Canada which are fortunate enough to have downtown expressways. Montréal is the other and, instead of trying to remove their essential artery, both Montréal and the Province of Québec are looking at a priority initiative to extend Autoroute 720 northward to connect the core to Autoroute 25.
    I agree with every sensible, well-founded statement you make, Mike, and want you to recognize that I am sincerely delighted, and relieved, to know there are responsible, intelligent reporters like yourself in the media who actually have their finger on the pulse of “the working Toronto”. While there are a few loud voices who advocate tearing down our essential roadways, by and large the vast (and largely silent) majority want the Gardiner to stay. You stand out in the crowd, Mike and my hat goes off to you for that.
    Best regards,
    Bill Robertson P.Eng.