Friday, January 24, 2014
Toronto's Gardiner Expressway at the crossroads
On the other hand; are Torontonians prepared to take it down? And if they were, what would replace it?
No decision has been made one way or the other, but the issue will come up yet again on Feb 6, when Waterfront Toronto and city will hold the third public meeting about the future of the elevated highway.
Officially, three options will be on the table, but only for the stretch that extends east of Jarvis: leave it up, tart it up or blow it up.
As Michael Kirkland argues, however, there is a fourth; demolish the whole thing east of York St. Having spent years consulting to Waterfront Toronto, with many of those years devoted to the Gardiner, the respected architect/urban designer is adamant that the city would be better off without the Gardiner.
“It should come down,” Kirkland insists,” because it condemns the most important precinct of the city to permanent disorder, dysfunction and unpleasantness.”
He’s right, though that may not have much to do with the decision that finally gets made. Despite the fact its disappearance might add a minute or two to the daily commute, the gains would be huge.
“The Gardiner doesn’t need to go east of York,” he explains. “You could ramp it down between Spadina and York and bifurcate it into two east/west avenues along Lake Shore and Harbour St. That would eliminate the problems of all those squirrely ramps that cause much of the congestion.”
Most of the traffic comes from the west and exits before York. Traffic coming from the east would use the two new boulevards. Only 20 percent of rides go through the city, which means most usage is local. Don’t forget, the Gardiner already operates at capacity, which means the only solution to congestion is transit, i.e. the GO system.
The best reason for removing the expressway, however, is that it would free up a vast swath of land for redevelopment, thus increasing property taxes and generating wealth. That wouldn’t happen immediately, but given what has happened north and south of the Gardiner, it could clearly become prime real estate.
“If you keep it up,” Kirkland says, “you suppress land values. Take it down east of York and all that land will be worth more. Increased taxes would soon pay for the roughly $250 million it would cost to demolish it. Considering that the annual cost of maintaining the Gardiner is $25 million, it’s obvious there are better ways to spend city money.
When the easternmost portion of the Gardiner was torn down in 2001, after a decade of debate, many feared the worst. So when the sky didn’t fall, there was widespread relief. Sadly, the opportunity was squandered and all the city got for its efforts was big-box retail.
A reason was the low expectations Torontonians had for that part of town. It is viewed as a wasteland, largely because that’s what it has been for so long. Ironically, the Gardiner is at least responsible for that.
But as the waterfront comes back to life, it’s time to demand more. People now live in neighbourhoods that until recently were industrial. As the economy of Toronto evolves, land use must evolve with it. And so the Gardiner must go.
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