Long-ignored Gardiner remains a challenge to city

stigThe domineering elevated portion of the Gardiner Expressway cost a lot to build some 50 years ago. Weather and salt have taken their toll. It has and will keep on costing a lot more to keep it working.

As early as 1978, concrete pieces fell on the roadway of Lakeshore Boulevard below. Extensive repairs were undertaken. Alarm bells started sounding again last year when new pieces fell.

A frightened city council allocated $500 million over the next 10 years to keep the expressway open and hopefully safe. On an annual basis, this was many times the regular annual maintenance amount of roughly $10-15 million. The budgets for other city street repair will have to be reduced to compensate.

The Gardiner was originally built through an industrial waterfront. With the increasing residential urbanization of the area, many debates have arisen over the years about its unsuitability in its new and different developing environment. The advent of publicly funded Waterfront Toronto (WT) in 2001 gave new impetus to the debates.

In 2008 WT, supported by then Mayor David Miller, initiated a study to remove the elevated expressway portion between Jarvis St. eastward to the Don Valley Parkway (DVP). Upon election in 2010, our new car-obsessed mayor, Rob Ford, effectively stopped the study.

The study has now been resurrected by city council under the revived leadership of WT. The first step is a renewed Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate four alternative plans: Maintain, Improve, Replace and Remove.

To stimulate discussion, an international urban design ideas competition was organized by WT in 2008. Six consultant teams were selected to present their proposals over an 8-week site study. The proposals were unveiled at a public meeting June 13 this year. They are available on a website with much useful background information and also means for public input (see www.gardinereast.ca).

Environment Assessment processes are complex, wide-ranging and slow. The Gardiner East one is expected to take around three years. Meanwhile it is highly instructive to recall the actual removal 12 years ago of the elevated eastern extension of the Gardiner beyond the DVP to Leslie St. Removal of the Gardiner extension didn’t come about easily. A debate and study dragged on for years. When the extension was finally demolished and combined with an expanded Lakeshore Blvd., the change has been an acknowledged success. Traffic moves along, now beside landscaped bicycle and pedestrian paths. Adjoining areas are filling in with new development.

Many widely and often fanciful alternatives to the elevated Downtown Gardiner have been proposed over untold years. Function and cost have killed all. Today, to make matters worse, government revenues are shrinking through ill-advised tax cuts and a sustained Great Recession provoked by unregulated and greedy financiers. Other pressing traffic issuesare grabbing limited public money.

We are paying a high price for the 30-year neglect of public mobility in our rapidly growing city. An immediate pain will be temporary closures of Gardiner lanes for repairs over extended periods. Meanwhile unrestrained crowding along the Gardiner by new, big buildings is narrowing alternatives to its elevated Downtown portion.

We are blowing our chance to build a livable, healthy Downtown. Canada, unlike many other nations, has no national transportation plan. Toronto city planners and concerned citizens are neutralized by non-appealable decisions by a non-elected, provincially appointed Ontario Municipal Board, the only such body in our country. Future generations will not look back on us in thankfulness. .and pride.