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No Water Under This Bridge

Photo by wvs from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
The ever-painful sight of the dilapidated pillars, scraggly grass, and utterly desolate concrete landscape of the Gardiner Expressway is enough to make even the most enthusiastic Torontonian sigh with annoyance. How to prevent these angry exhalations was the the topic of conversation Wednesday night at Harbourfont. As part of their Viewpoints series and in conjunction with the release of Spacing‘s latest issue, Car and the City, a panel was convened to try to find a reasonable answer to the seemingly age-old question: “What to do with the Gardiner Expressway?” Two expert witnesses came to testify, and the event was presided over by Spacing‘s Publisher, Matthew Blackett.

First on the stand was architect and urban designer Calvin Brook, who is responsible for the new St. Clair Streetcar track. Second was Jose Gutierrez, a civil engineer from Toronto, by way of Chile, and the force behind the Toronto Waterfront Viaduct (TWV).
Both panelists agreed that the underdevelopment of the waterfront area is caused by its relative isolation from the downtown core by two “barriers”: the rail tracks that run parallel to the Gardiner, slightly further to the North, and the Expressway itself. Surprisingly, the two agreed that the real problem lies in the rail tracks, rather than the infamous Gardiner.
gardiner2.jpgBrook, who has written previously on this subject, stipulated that the problem with this space is not a transportation factor, but an aesthetic one. He calls for a re-evaluation of the space beneath the Expressway, with the goal of working with the existing structures. “We have the opportunity,” he commented, “to create a vibrant, eclectic, and participatory public realm.” With the introduction of “green pockets and islands,” a proper replanting of those pathetic grassy spots and concrete medians, the space underneath will become more habitable, and perhaps, home to some of Brook’s other imaginings, such as public art lighting installations (up the pillars), galleries, cafes and nightclubs. These would be built on two “infills” of land that would create North-South connections, and a “public forum” that would draw the bustle of King and Front Streets down to a more peaceful, pedestrian friendly environment.
With Brook gunning for a re-negotiation of the existing structure, enter Gutierrez, with his plan to insert an entirely new construction in to the fray: the mentioned viaduct, which would run directly over the rail tracks, allowing the Gardiner Expressway to be significantly downsized, and the surrounding area further developed with parks, and condos, and all things commercial. The TWV would hold eight to ten lanes of automobile traffic, as well as two light rapid-transit lanes, and dual pedestrian and bike lanes. The crowning glory of the viaduct would be the skyPATH, which would be a totally enclosed, climate-controlled, pedestrian and cyclist-friendly walkway that would hang on the underside of the viaduct. If you thought it couldn’t get any better, Gutierrez unveiled his plan to create housing in the enormous pylons that support the bridge, resulting in what looks like the love child of London’s Millennium and Tower bridges, what Gutierrez calls “an organic structure.”
Of course, when it comes to the economic side of things, details get a little hazy. Gutierrez’s project clocks in at a whopping $1.66 billion (less, however, than an underground expressway would go for), while Brooks declined to offer a price tag for his solution. Needless to say, road tolls will probably end up playing a major funding role, or perhaps the main cash source will come from diverting a cut of the gas tax. Plus, there’s always the failsafe option of raising the price of Lakeshore real estate. Because the financial vagaries, neither of these ideas seem particularly plausible at this point, but there’s always hope. In the meantime, staying far away from that crumbling concrete seems like the best option available.
Photo by hyfen from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


  • TokyoTuds

    TWV is a classic example of “give a man a hammer, and everything looks like a nail”. Ask civil engineer the solution ,and he builds bridges.
    If you want o bow to the almighty Gardiner and leave this blight on the landscape, it may as well be inexpensive. The Ginza remains arguably the most expensive real estate in the world, and in Ginza 8-chome, they just build buildings under the elevated expressway: build nightclubs under the f%$k”!g Gardiner and the patrons will never hear the traffic.
    Heated interlocking brick sidewalks keep the snow clear, and the way inviting. The sidewalks would cost a fraction of the 1.6B dollar TWV, and let private companies build buildings!

  • rek

    Put night clubs under the Gardiner and you get even more of a wall between the lake and the city. Plus, nightclub districts are barren wastelands 16 hours of the waking day, so we’re talking about replacing desolation with desolation.

  • uskyscraper

    T-rex, you are mistaken in your understanding of “wall”. The lack of through streets with good sightlines are the problem, not the blocks between them.
    I’m all for doing anything with the underside of the Gardiner – shops (like Europe), basketball courts (like NYC), bike paths (also NYC), transit (SF), whatever – just take out Lakeshore Blvd first so that the obstruction is limited to the width of the Gardiner and really jazz up those through street underpasses to enhance the connection with the rest of the city. The High Line it is not, but it could be much, much better.

  • rek

    I’m not sure how putting a 3(?) storey building under the Gardiner could improve sight lines between downtown and the lake.

  • pman

    Why not just demolish the elevated portion of the Gardiner east of the Ex over to the DVP, and the part of the DVP south of Richmond/Adelaide ramps, and tunnel new Gardiner exits/entrances to Richmond/Adelaide and Front east of Bathurst? The project could be funded with a combination of tolls on the Gardiner/DVP and a levy on central Toronto commercial parking. I don’t understand why Toronto needs to provide a seamless connection from the QEW to the 401 via the Gardiner/DVP so western suburbanites can cruise by downtown on their way to Oshawa.

  • Robert Lubinski

    Maybe so people who live in eastern Scarborough can get home?

  • TokyoTuds

    NIghtclubs was just my first example. uskyscraper is right, anything under the Gardiner would help. Sight-lines to the lake will always be impossible with the Gardiner there, so if that is the priority it needs to be torn down and buried. That is actually my preference.
    When I went to bed I also came up with another idea. Bury the Gardiner, and lease the space above them for 99 years where offices, shops and condos could be built. It’d be no different than having a subway line below you, and generate income for the building and maintenance of the buried freeway.
    Check out the just-opened Yamate Tunnel in central Tokyo:
    I imagine at the end of the video, you are emerging at the DVP. Also, listen starting at about 0:29 for the lilting voice of the car navigation system announcing how many metres to each exit.
    Here is the wiki rundown:
    We need to use some imagination, and be willing to pay what it costs to realise the dreams. It won’t come cheap, but you otherwise get what you pay for.

  • rek

    I find Lakeshore more of a pedestrian impediment than the Gardiner, to be honest.

  • TokyoTuds

    “I find Lakeshore more of a pedestrian impediment than the Gardiner, to be honest.”
    Good point …. !