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No Water Under This Bridge

gardiner1.jpg
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.

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