Sunday, March 2, 2014

Eastern Gardiner Expressway tear down a mistake

TORONTO - He’s long gone from City Hall but it appears the Waterfront Wet Dreams of former mayor David Miller and his cabal of anti-car advocates live on.

On Tuesday, the city’s public works committee will review yet another plan, this one initiated by the city’s bureaucrats, to tear down the 2.4-kilometre eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway, from Jarvis St. to Logan Ave, and replace it with an eight-lane stretch of Lake Shore Blvd.

“It should look a little like University Ave. and a little like Lake Shore Blvd. and it would make use of contemporary urban design,” says David Stonehouse, director with the city’s Waterfront Secretariat. “It would have street trees, sidewalks, bicycle trails and there will be new mixed use commercial residential development ... (which) would face the new Lake Shore Blvd.”

The cost of the removal is calculated at $417-million compared to the $230-million set aside in the city’s current 10-year capital plan to rehabilitate that stretch of the Gardiner, starting in 2020.

The report notes a removal of the eastern portion will increase the Gardiner’s capital repair program over the next 13 years to a “preliminary estimate” of $850-million compared to the previous calculation of $663-million.

But the report also claims that the removal of that stretch will allow the city to sell $80-million to $90-million worth of land ripe for 260,000 square metres of development.

And so here we go again — pie-in-the-sky predictions premised on assumptions that are at best, a stretch.

It’s certainly far from the first time this recipe for traffic chaos has been on the radar. It first gathered steam in 2008 when Waterfront Toronto officials realized it was far too expensive to take down the entire elevated portion of the Gardiner east of Spadina Ave. as they’d hoped in a $1-million report Miller kept under wraps until after the 2006 election.

With Miller’s blessing, a $7.7-million Environmental Assessment (EA) was commenced in 2009 to look at options for the eastern stretch of the expressway.

In late 2010, after $3-million had been spent on the terms of reference, the environmental assessment was quietly put on hold by Waterfront Toronto officials, who likely recognized that they’d get nowhere with Mayor Rob Ford.

In January 2013, then-budget chief Mike Del Grande agreed to revive the study when the subject of the more than $500-million in long overdue capital repairs needed to rehabilitate the Gardiner over 10 years became a lightning rod at budget time.

The problem was the Gardiner had been starved of capital repairs during Miller’s entire term.

In 2007, when chunks of concrete were tumbling from the Gardiner, only $1.3-million was spent to repair the entire expressway. During Miller’s seven years in office, a paltry $36.5-million was spent on repairs compared to $44-million during Rob Ford’s first three years in office.

“It was almost wilful neglect (during the David Miller years) to put it (the Gardiner) in a position of saying you need to take it down,” says Del Grande, noting the lefties went “nuts” when he tried to put enough money back in the budget to fix it.

The grand vision that a variety of transit initiatives would be put in place to compensate for the reduced road capacity remained just that — a grand vision.

Former TTC chairman Adam Giambrone waxed poetic in 2008 about all the Transit City light-rail routes that would be up and running by the time the eastern stretch of the Gardiner was dismantled.

No lines were ever built, or even started.

Yet, the city report that goes before public works committee on Tuesday includes calculations of traffic congestion and travel time increases — resulting from the removal of the Gardiner’s eastern leg — which are predicated on several transit improvements being in place. Those projects are a downtown relief subway line, the Waterfront East LRT, the Cherry St. LRT south of King St. East and Go Transit improvements.

“If unsupported by transit service, all four environmental assessment options (including removal) would place additional pressure ... on the road network, especially for automobile trips on the Don Valley Parkway to the Port Lands,” the report says.

Even if such transit were in place — and there’s no hope of that happening in the near future — the report says travel times will increase more with the removal of the eastern leg of the Gardiner than any other option for that stretch of highway.

In fact, travel times for a trip from Victoria Park and Finch Aves. to Union Station or from Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton to Union Station are projected to increase by as much as 15 minutes per trip in 2031 over the time it took to drive those distances in 2012.

The report really tries to gloss over the fact that if the eastern Gardiner was removed, 12 lanes of traffic (six on Lake Shore Blvd. E. and six on the Gardiner) would be squeezed into a mere eight lanes.

According to the figures presented in the environmental assessment and replicated in the city report, each Gardiner lane has a capacity of 1,800 vehicles per hour compared to a capacity of 800 for each Lake Shore Blvd lane.

In the environmental assessment study area, the Gardiner’s six lanes have a traffic volume of about 110,000 vehicles per day compared to the Lake Shore’s six lanes, which carry about 13,000 cars per day.

But evidently the city’s bureaucrats don’t seem to be concerned about where those cars will go due to that reduced capacity.

In their 37-page report, city officials cite consultant’s research that claims travellers “adapt” to any reduction in road capacity and a significant share of vehicles simply “evaporate” from the road network, leading to “no observable negative impacts.”

Del Grande says he told the city bureaucrats years ago when the idea of removing the Gardiner first came up that they should shut down the entire expressway for a weekend to get a better measurement of the “chaos it would cause” and the “reaction of the public.”

Council’s left-wing, predictably, didn’t like that idea.

Del Grande says he has no doubt condos will be built on the lands available if the eastern Gardiner is removed, adding that the excuses about the major arterial being a “barrier” to the Waterfront don’t wash with him.

In fact, the report notes First Gulf is already considering building up to 10-million square feet of office and retail space on the old Unilever site at the corner of Lake Shore Blvd. and the DVP.

Public works committee chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong, who is vociferously against the eastern Gardiner take down, says there are a lot of developers who are just waiting for it to come down “for their own financial gain.”

In response to questioning, Kyle Knoeck, manager of community planning the city’s Toronto and East York District, said the plan for that area does not specify development density but that new development will be subject to “limits in height, density and built form.”

Yes, just like the limits imposed on the flurry of condos built on the western end of Queen’s Quay!

Other than perhaps the developers who stand to gain from the eastern Gardiner’s demise and the leftists, there is plenty of opposition to the city’s proposal.

Grant Humes, Executive director of the Toronto Financial District BIA, said given the congestion that already exists getting into downtown, the only viable option at this point is to maintain the Gardiner.

“It’s all about access ... to take down this piece of infrastructure when you don’t have anything to replace it defies logic,” he said, noting 200,000 people a day come into the financial district’s 15 square blocks.

Minnan-Wong has no faith in the promises of what’s to come should the eastern stretch of the Gardiner be removed.

“They say it is going to be a beautiful street where everyone is going to want to sit out at cafes and sip their lattes,” he said.

“When was the last time you saw an eight-lane street where someone wants to sit out on a bench and have a picnic?

“It’s going to fail on all counts ... There will be increased congestion and it’s not going to be a beautiful street because beautiful streets are narrow.”


    1992: The Crombie Commission proposed the removal of entire elevated portion of Gardiner — from Exhibition Place to the highway’s eastern extremity — and to replace it with a network of tunnels and roads.
    1999-2001: The 1.3-kilometre section of elevated Gardiner from Don River to Leslie St. was dismantled, leaving Lake Shore Blvd. E. to accommodate traffic.
    2000: Toronto Revitalization Task Force, headed by Robert Fung, proposed taking down the remainder of elevated Gardiner.
    2004: In a secret $1-million report, Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. (now Waterfront Toronto) recommended the creation of a 10-lane Great Street — similar to University Ave. — to replace the elevated expressway east of Spadina Ave.
    2008: After cost estimates of Great Street escalated, Waterfront Toronto decided to focus on a 2.4-kilometre stretch at the eastern end of the Gardiner.
    2009: City council approved a $7.8-million environmental assessment of the eastern Gardiner.
    2010: The environmental assessment was put on hold after Waterfront Toronto spent $3 million to develop terms of reference for the project.
    Early 2013: The dormant environmental assessment was revived.
    Early 2014: City officials recommended removing the 2.4-kilometre eastern portion of Gardiner at a cost of $417 million.


    ROB FORD: “If this plan isn’t a war on the car, I don’t know what is. The last time I checked I didn’t see people delivering a whole tonne of furniture on their shoulders riding a bike. This is going to hurt buinesses. Congestion will be 10 times worse. The Gardiner will be a complete nightmare. For them to remove this is absolutely asinine. I’m going to fight like a dog to keep it.”
    DAVID SOKNACKI; “The Gardiner is an important part of city infrastructure. It is absolutely essential that the city does not choke off its prosperity in the core. I don’t support taking it down until there is replacement transit. We already have one of the slowest commute times in North American and this is going to add five to 10 minutes to the commute if it comes down.”
    KAREN STINTZ: “To really reduce congestion we should consider the hybrid approach, which constructs a new elevated Expressway link to the DVP while the old one is still in use, and only tears down the old East Gardiner portion after the new link is operational. The link between the Gardiner Expressway and the DVP is never broken and we never cause that kind of traffic chaos. I think we need to look more closely at the costs and details surrounding all these proposals and choose an option that minimizes the congestion impact, while at the same time respects taxpayers.”
    JOHN TORY: “I can’t support any proposal that increases traffic commute times given the importance I’ve placed on transit and traffic as part of my platform. Those concerned should go back to the drawing board and find a proposal that actually does not increase commute times. That’s the last thing we need right now.”
    OLIVIA CHOW: No comment obtained. She’s still trying to decide whether to run.

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