New Report: Tearing Down the Gardiner is Our Best Bet
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New Report: Tearing Down the Gardiner is Our Best Bet

It's falling apart, and now the officials who have been charged with examining the road's long-term future say we should just remove the eastern leg of the Gardiner altogether.

Tear it down. That’s the upshot of a new report examining the long-term future of the 2.4 kilometre stretch of the Gardiner Expressway that runs east of Jarvis.

That report is part of a full environmental assessment, necessary because the roadway is crumbling and soon won’t be safe to drive on, or under. The four options that are on the table: maintain the roadway as-is and undertake massive repairs to ensure it is safe; keep the Gardiner but try to improve its aesthetics and the ways it interacts with the public realm; replace it with a new roadway; and remove it altogether.

Officials today refused to call their findings a recommendation, but their analysis clearly favours the last option: removing the eastern leg of the Gardiner and investing in a street level eight lane high capacity boulevard. This would open up new commercial and residential development, help the growing waterfront community become more vibrant and better integrated with neighbourhoods to the north, and increase waterfront access for pedestrians and cyclists.

Mayor Rob Ford and public works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) strongly reject this advice, objecting to the increased travel time for drivers in that part of the city. (The stretch of the Gardiner in question is the least-used part of the roadway.) According to the study, by 2031 if the road is maintained travel time will go up by five minutes; if it’s replaced it would go up by 15 minutes. Both those estimates assume that local transit will be improved through increased GO service, the construction of the East Bayfront LRT, and the construction of some version of the downtown relief line.

Minnan-Wong and Ford would prefer we maintain the Gardiner; it’s estimated that will cost about $300 million in capital repairs and projected maintenance. Removing the Gardiner would cost $220 million, and also unlock an estimated $80-90 million in new government land value. The economic impact of removing the Gardiner is unclear, but Waterfront Toronto estimated it would be several times greater than that land value figure. (In their technical briefing, Waterfront Toronto officials pointed out that the local community has tripled in the last five years.)

The two other options—improving the existing Gardiner or replacing it with a new elevated roadway—received poor marks from the public during the three rounds of public consultation, in part because these options were deemed too expensive.

Member of the public can learn more about the report at a meeting on Thursday. A debate on the options is expected to take place at City Hall in April; if council signs off on the report then the environment assessment will move on to the next step: developing a detailed design. That design will come back for another vote, in the new term of council—at which point whoever is in office could try to reverse the current council’s decision.

In short, this is set to become a major election issue.

Minnan-Wong criticized the recommended approach for replacing a three storey expressway with what he predicted would be four to 10 storey condos. He also rejected one of the modeling predictions, that 25 per cent of current Gardiner users east of Jarvis would voluntarily switch to transit as road capacity is reduced. (The model predicts that if the Gardiner is maintained then 15 per cent of current users will switch to transit.)

Because of the environment assessment and contract-tendering processes, whatever council chooses won’t happen immediately: the earliest construction could begin on any of the options is 2019.

All renderings provided by the City of Toronto.