John Tory Goes Full Ford in his Gardiner Expressway Speech
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John Tory Goes Full Ford in his Gardiner Expressway Speech

We fact-checked John Tory's claims and arguments about the east Gardiner in his speech to the Empire Club.

On Monday, Mayor John Tory took to the Empire Club to pitch a rebuild of the Gardiner east of Jarvis as is, with an additional off-ramp. The event, co-sponsored by CAA, which has been lobbying on the issue, was part of Tory’s public-relations blitz to build support for what will be a close council vote on an issue that will cost up to $919 million.

But some of his facts and arguments do not add up. Some claims were disingenuous, and others were outright false. We went through the speech to separate fact from fiction in advance of tomorrow’s council session, where the issue will be debated; those familiar with our fact-checks will recognize that Tory’s mendacity in this speech was greater than any we have checked since Rob Ford’s 2014 speech to the Economic Club—not a mark to which one should aspire.

We have divided false and questionable claims into two categories: straight-up falsehoods in red, and statements that are not quite as straightforward, but may be disingenuous or questionable, are in orange.

Line by line, here’s how John Tory’s east Gardiner speech aligns with reality.

This week, one name looms large above us—Gardiner. A towering giant, a true citybuilder, his stamp is felt throughout Toronto. From the Don Valley Parkway to the Bloor/Danforth subway line, and of course: the Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway. Built over 10 years starting in the mid-’50s, at the time it was built the Gardiner threaded its way through fields and parking lots. It was to be, as “Big Daddy” Gardiner predicted, a critical piece of infrastructure for a growing city.

Even then it was a tough sell. He had to convince Council to build it in sections. Hilariously, they built both the east and western portions first, making the controversial downtown portion inevitable.1 At the time, when urging council to make the decision to put shovels in the ground, Gardiner threatened his fellow councillors that they could go no longer without a decision because “the whole east end of the city will be on our shoulders like three tons of bricks.”2

1 This isn’t accurate. Council always planned to build an expressway, and indeed the original plan was for an expressway from the Humber River to Woodbine Avenue; the expressway was planned when the “outer portions” were built, but those portions (which eventually became the Queensway extension and the Lakeshore East extension to Woodbine) were never actually part of the Gardiner, which should be fairly obvious considering the Gardiner never connected to either of them. The road we all think of as “the Gardiner” was built in stages, west to east, and its route changed mid-construction several times.

2 Frederick Gardiner actually said this about the construction of the Don Valley Parkway, not the Gardiner.

It’s amazing how some things never change. While he felt expressways were critical, Gardiner also saw the importance of building transit. At the very first meeting of Metro Council in 1956,3, Gardiner stated, “It is a snare and a delusion to spend millions on expressways in the belief that they alone will solve traffic problems.”

3 To be clear: that was the first 1956 meeting of Metro Council, not the first meeting ever, since Metro Council was founded in 1954. (Incidentally, we feel we should mention that judging by the wording of Tory’s speech here, it appears likely that his speechwriter simply borrowed liberally—and uncarefully—from Frederick Gardiner’s Wikipedia page.)

I couldn’t agree more—because in a growing city like Toronto, then or now, it’s not one or the other. It’s both. Yes, we need transit—much, much more transit. We need SmartTrack4 and the waterfront LRT and the Downtown Relief Line. We need it all. To me, those saying it’s a choice between better roadways or more transit simply don’t get it. Great cities have both.5

4 As Torontoist contributor and transit advocate Steve Munro has discussed in detail, the need for SmartTrack is, at best, extremely debatable—and at worst it is a white elephant of a transit proposal.

5 Nobody is opposed to having more and better transit and superior roadways. The issue is entirely one of cost. As has become depressing usual for John Tory’s mayoralty, he is cheerfully ignoring the fact that transit and roadwork both cost a large amount of money and the city does not, in fact, have that money. Really, John Tory’s position is not that we should have “both” transit and expressways, but in fact that we should have new transit and rebuilt expressways and no property tax increases beyond the rate of inflation and a two-percent reduction of expenses in every department at City Hall, including the TTC and the roads department. It is perhaps charitable to call this a fantasy. Of course, we have gone into considerable detail in the past, repeatedly, as to how John Tory’s numbers do not add up. A political reality is that there are always scarce resources, and we must prioritize accordingly. John Tory has prioritized rebuilding an underused expressway along the waterfront; he should be judged on that.

Unfortunately, we haven’t kept up with Gardiner’s efforts to build transit and infrastructure for the city we are today, and more importantly, the city we will become. We are a great city, but today we are playing catch-up. Our roadways and our transit system are overburdened, overcrowded, and overrun. We are one of the most congested cities in North America. It costs our citizens countless hours of their time. It costs our economy billions annually, and that means jobs.

And when I talk about the negative effect on business and our economy, when I say it will cost us jobs this is not a myth. Take, for example, the Ontario Food Terminal—it’s the hub where most of the city’s fresh produce and food is distributed and is located on the waterfront.6 They have said removing the Gardiner East would seriously impede their ability to deliver food. That means they don’t know if they’ll be able to deliver food to restaurants, to grocery stores as they have in the past.7 That’s food on your table at home. That’s what I mean when I say that the consequences are real, and they are far-reaching. That is how critical this decision is before us.

6 The Ontario Food Terminal is about a kilometre and change from the waterfront. If it’s “on the waterfront,” so is a significant portion of King Street.

7 Tory here is strongly implying that if we do not commit to the hybrid option, food delivery will be impacted to the point where actual delivery of the food will be uncertain. This is fear-mongering hyperbole unbecoming of his office.

It’s also about time, time better spent at home with their families. Time they cannot get back, because time is not a commodity. It cannot be bought. And I refuse to take any more time from the people of this city. They are giving up enough already. And to me that’s what this is really about. All through the election campaign and in the six months since I became mayor, it’s the number one thing I hear from people—that people are sick and tired of having their time taken from them while stuck in traffic or stuck on a subway platform.

We have to do better. We have to take actions as a council that will make life better for our residents. This week we are faced with a decision on what to do with a 1.7-kilometre stretch of the eastern Gardiner. Now, let me be clear: the rest of the Gardiner will remain, over 90 per cent of the roadway to be fixed up but left in place. In fact, most of the western Gardiner has been surrounded by condos and development. The Gardiner we know today threads its way next to condos and office towers. We have steadily grown up around it as a city, and that trend is set to continue.

But when it comes to the future of this small eastern portion, which makes up the critical connection between the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner, we have three options.

We can maintain the Gardiner as is, repairing it to ensure it remains safe for drivers and pedestrians walking nearby. Option two: We can tear it down and replace it with an eight-lane roadway at street level. And finally, option three is the hybrid approach, which would remove a section of the expressway and open up lands to the east of the Gardiner, but also—and this is critically important—it will maintain a continuous connection with the Don Valley Parkway.

During the election campaign I favoured the hybrid option.8 So did Mr. Ford9 and Ms. Chow.10 So did David Soknacki.11 Why? Because not only was it the right thing to do for the city, it was what the people wanted. And let’s be clear, it is also what the people voted for. Which is why I, and a number of my council colleagues, will be voting for that same option later this week.

8 Tory has been spouting this line for weeks and it has been an outright lie. The “hybrid option” discussed during the campaign was akin to what is pictured in this article—it freed up significant city-owned property for development. However, that hybrid option proved to be impossible to actually build in real life because the curve of the rampway connecting the Gardiner to the DVP was too acute. The current “hybrid option” that Team Tory is pushing essentially maintains the Gardiner as-is, but creates new ramps to handle the Don River’s mouth being re-naturalized.

9 Rob Ford (and Doug) favoured preserving the Gardiner as-is during the 2014 campaign. Tory should be aware of this considering that Rob recently insisted he will refuse to vote for the hybrid option. (Rob Ford is nothing if not consistent in his advocacy for terrible ideas.)

10 Olivia Chow favoured the “original” hybrid option during the 2014 campaign, not Tory’s revamped version.

11 David Soknacki favoured the “original” hybrid option during the 2014 campaign, not Tory’s revamped version.

But to me the real question is: Are we willing to do something we know will make congestion worse12, that will continue to cost our economy and productivity and cost us jobs13? Are we really willing to take more time from the people of this city? For too long, we have approved office towers and condos without properly considering the impact on our transit system and our roadways. We are making up for some of those bad decisions and bad planning, but what we absolutely can’t do is make one more bad decision and tear down the Gardiner East. That would essentially be saying “your time really isn’t that important to us. Too bad. You’re out of luck.”

I have to say I shake my head when I hear the argument, “It’s only 10 minutes more. It’s not that bad.”14 Tell that to a parent who is panicked and rushing home from work to pick their child up from daycare. Tell that to a worker who will not make their delivery on time. Tell that to the commuter who already spends an hour or more every day in their car.

12 To clarify, every option will see increased travel times, in part because the city is projected to grow. The so-called hybrid option will see travel times increase less than removal.

13 According to the City staff report [PDF] and the medical officer of health, the removal option is better for the economy, and would create more jobs. Removal would create 2,800 jobs, while Tory’s preferred option would create 770. In fact, maintaining the current course would create 430 more jobs, because the off-ramps from Cherry Street cut off potential employment lands.

14 Tory’s repeated use of the “10 minutes” figure cherry-picks one statistic from a U of T report commissioned by pro-hybrid lobbyists. The 10-minute figure refers to the delay that someone would undergo traveling from Park Lawn to the DVP during rush hour—almost the entirety of the downtown Gardiner, and not coincidentally a route that very, very few motorists take on a regular basis—and even then, assumes that the “boulevard” option would not have a centre island and that pedestrians would be able to cross in one traffic light. If there is a centre island and pedestrians need two lights to cross, the delay drops to 4.5 minutes, according to the study Tory cites. Further to the study, the authors were “not aware of the specific data or configurations being considered by the City—nor was that factored into the study.” In other words, what they studied does not have the same parameters, information or assumptions as the plans council will vote on.

The fact is, those who say that we can tear down the Gardiner East and that the traffic will sort itself out: they’re dreaming15. Worse, they are not being straightforward. We can’t sever the link between the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner16—a critical link in our city’s transportation grid—and not dramatically affect the quality of life for people in this city.

15 Tory is referring to “disappearing traffic” here, an observable phenomenon that has been extensively studied and peer-reviewed in cities around the world [PDF]. To ignore such a significant body of evidence in favour of one’s own assumptions suggests it is not John Tory’s critics who are dreaming.

16 The remove option does not prevent drivers from driving from the Gardiner end at Jarvis to the DVP on-ramps near Cherry Street. There is simply no link being “severed.”

Not just drivers either. The traffic has to go somewhere. It won’t just vanish. So where will it go? Arterial streets. Key east-west arteries for sure, but it will also go to residential streets as well. So imagine your street, the street in front of your house or your apartment building, suddenly inheriting traffic which used to bypass these areas using a Parkway-Gardiner connection. Trucks rumbling down the street where your kids play.17 After all, the concrete and the building materials we’ll need to revitalize and rebuild the waterfront have to get their somehow.

17 Tory is being shockingly dishonest here. Trucks are not going to start traveling down residential roads to get to commercial destinations; even if Tory’s claims of an additional 10 minutes were in any way honest or in good faith—and they aren’t—it still makes more sense for the trucks to stay on the Gardiner in the traffic than try to start traveling on residential roads. Additionally, there are specific trucking routes throughout the city which exclude certain areas, like residential communities. Tory and his team would be more familiar with this if they had more experience at city hall.

To really show you what this means I want to read you an email I got before the Gardiner debate even began, when we announced that we would be opening lanes on the Expressway’s western deck almost two months early:

Yesterday my commute went from 45 to 60 minutes back down to under 20 minutes. I don’t think I realized just how stressful it had become until I found myself singing “it’s open, it’s open, it’s open” with tears in my eyes as I sailed down the Gardiner at 80 kilometres per hour yesterday morning. Thank you for getting it done early. As an adult I get to spend an extra half hour with my daughter this morning and every morning after that. These things make a difference in people’s lives.

That’s just one. I could read you emails like that all day. And again, that’s what this has to be about, at least in part: helping people get to work on time, giving them more time with the kids, with their families, their friends18. A great city is where you have the time to enjoy all of the great features; the waterfront, the museums, the restaurants and festivals. It’s not one plagued with endless traffic delays, congestion and gridlock. That is not the city I was elected to build.

18 While Tory and his supporters often cite the debunked 10-minute number, the difference in peak hour between the so-called hybrid and the boulevard option is two to three minutes, according to the City study. But the average difference in time across all trips along the section is only 52 seconds, as off-peak differences are more negligible. So when we conjure these images of supermoms and superdads racing home to hug their children, that’s the amount of time we’re talking about.

Now to say the debate on this issue has been vigorous would be an understatement. But there has also been a lot of misinformation out there which is why I also want to talk to you a bit about the arguments being presented.

First, let’s tackle cost and why I believe the hybrid is the fiscally responsible choice. There have been a lot of numbers floating out there about all three options. But if we want to get a real sense of the cost we should look at how much money the city would need in the bank today19 to build any of these three options.

19 Well, no, not really. It’s easier to work with everything in 2015 dollars (or 2013 dollars, in the case of the City study) because that provides us with an easy base from which to add and subtract, but ongoing maintenance expenses/costs of congestion/lost development/what have you will be expressed in future dollars, whose value we do not know but which will likely be lower as time progresses (assuming inflation continues to some degree).

That breaks down as follows: $336 million for the hybrid, $240 million to remove the Gardiner East, or $291 million to maintain it as is. The difference between the hybrid and remove options is $96 million. But what keeps getting lost is that none of these projections include the cost of congestion. Both the Toronto Board of Trade and City staff agree that removing the Gardiner East would cost our economy at least $37 million per year due to increased congestion and lost productivity. So, in effect, three years after we remove the Gardiner, the difference between price between remove and hybrid is essentially a wash.20 And after that it would actually cost this city money and jobs, year after year after year.

20 Firstly, Tory isn’t accounting for the cost of maintenance, and the remove option is cheaper to maintain than the hybrid option—$505 million versus $135 million. Which is $370 million, so really, even if John Tory’s math is correct—and it’s far from certain, as you’ll see below—that’s an extra 10 years on top of the three he’s claiming.

If we told citizens of this city we’re going to spend money to increase their commute times they’d say we are nuts, and they’d be right. Which is why I believe the fiscally responsible choice is the hybrid—the one that doesn’t increase congestion, the one that doesn’t take more time from the people of this city, the one that will not harm our growing economy.

Now what about access to the waterfront? The hybrid removes as much of the Gardiner East as possible, opening up the Toronto Port Lands and our waterfront, enabling billions in development21 and thousands of jobs while still maintaining the critical, continuous, express connection between the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway. Now some say leaving up even a small portion of the Gardiner East, as the hybrid would do to maintain that connection, would block access to Toronto’s waterfront.

21 We’re going to use John Tory’s own numbers here from the 2014 campaign. He claimed that the “hybrid” option (and remember, that was a different option in the campaign than what we now refer to as the “hybrid,” as it freed up much more public land for development than the current hybrid option) would create 5.5 new acres of new development lands, whereas the remove option would create 17.5 new acres—and that the difference represented $150 million in land value and potential investment of $2 billion. And again: that was the previous hybrid option. The present option frees up much, much less land.

I would invite you all to look at the photo behind me. You’ll notice two photos that look remarkably the same and both have what looks like a large second highway slightly to the north of the Gardiner. But that’s not a roadway, it’s a rail yard. A rail yard that will not be moved in our lifetime. That area spans eight kilometres along the central waterfront and is 120 meters wide. There are only eight pedestrian access points to get to the waterfront, often through gloomy tunnels or equally drab bridges.

Many experts say that, and not the Gardiner, blocks access to the waterfront. Looking at the photo, I can’t help but agree. So again, when people stir up emotions claiming that we’re irrevocably blocking our waterfront by maintaining a very small section of the eastern Gardiner, I simply point them to the facts. And the facts are clear to see. First, the waterfront has redeveloped quite nicely with the Gardiner in place to date. And second, all the boulevards in the world are not going to fix an eight-kilometre rail yard.22

So let’s make the right decision, the balanced23 decision. Let’s remove as much of the Gardiner East as possible but still leave that critical connection to the DVP.

22 It’s true that the rail yard is there. It’s also true that there is a lot of land south of the rail yard which could be developed in the remove option and which cannot be developed in the hybrid option. The trains have nothing to do with that. An argument against the rail yard is not a sensible argument for the Gardiner.

23 This is the first time in this speech John Tory will refer to his preference as “balanced.” Let’s be clear: the hybrid option, as currently constructed, is not a compromise position, no matter how much John Tory wants to pretend he’s a gentle moderate who takes the best from all viewpoints to create a harmonious third way. It is a choice to effectively keep the Gardiner in place as it is. John Tory likes the status quo.

Now let’s talk about how these options affect traffic congestion. As I mentioned earlier, time is precious. Time is not a commodity you can just buy more of. While experts disagree on just exactly how much time we are taking from the people of Toronto, the facts remain: removing that piece of the Gardiner will make traffic worse. Whether it’s three to five minutes, or 1024, there is no doubt that there will be a negative impact on commute times. And that’s before we factor in the millions of new residents everyone agrees are coming to the Toronto region over the next few years.25

24 It is not 10 minutes, as seen in note 14. While traffic times could increase three to five minutes in the peak morning hour under the removal scenario, they will increase two to three minutes under Tory’s preference, for a two- to three-minute difference. And as noted in note 18, the average trip increase along this section of the Gardiner would be 52 seconds.

25 The Ministry of Finance projects three million additional people in the GTA by 2041, which is a little more than “the next few years.” But let’s set aside the fact that Toronto is growing and point out what we have stated before: so long as Toronto is growing, worsening traffic congestion is inevitable. More people means more congestion, unless you find ways to take them off the roads, like through better transit, and more appealing pedestrian environments.

And it’s before the chaos of construction—five years’ worth for the remove option versus two and a half for the hybrid. That’s bad news for families, bad news for business, bad news for the environment and bad news for the quality of life overall. I did not get elected to make congestion worse, and frankly neither did any member of city council. Again, the right thing to do, the balanced26 thing to do, is to remove as much of the Gardiner east as possible but still leave that critical connection to the DVP so we can keep this city moving!

I will say one thing; rather than talk about what makes life easier for the people of Toronto, a lot of the debate has centred around what is “a great city.” In fact some— ironically some of the same people who didn’t make the choice to build the transit and infrastructure needed to accommodate our growing city over the last few decades—have gone so far to say Toronto would be a laughingstock27 if we kept the small portion of the eastern Gardiner up. What would make people laugh is the idea that one of the most congested cities in North America would consciously choose to make congestion worse.

Again, to me a great city is a city which must include the ability to get to work on time and get home on time. And let’s be clear: great cities have expressways. Many of them have many more than we do, not to mention more transit. Vancouver—one of the most livable cities in the world as voted by the Economist for several years—has an elevated expressway that runs through the city of Granville Island. That expressway is celebrated. It is animated. Again, great cities have expressways.

London, England—one of the greatest and oldest cities in the world—has developed one of the most expansive animated expressways in the world. Today underneath the Westway Expressway28 there are tennis courts, rock climbing walls, skateboard parks, riding stables and sports fields. It’s incredible. It’s what we can do here in Toronto:29 imaginative, animated public space without increasing congestion and damaging the economy.

26 See note 23.

27 The “some” John Tory refers to here is former chief city planner Paul Bedford, although he does not have the courage to use his name. The idea that Bedford, a respected and dedicated civil servant who still contributes to the public discourse, would not want to improve transit and did not do his utmost to plan and build a better city is both laughable and unfair. John Tory should be ashamed for the suggestion.

28 The Westway is also being reconstructed to add cycle lanes, which will lower its vehicle capacity and increase congestion—but Tory didn’t mention that bit.

29 In case John Tory hasn’t noticed, there’s already something underneath the elevated portion of the Gardiner being debated—namely, Lake Shore Boulevard. It’s kind of difficult to build skate parks and tennis courts when there’s already an enormous goddamn road in the way. In fact, architect Paul Raff, who designed public art it Underpass Park, recently wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star arguing that for the good of the city and the use of public space the east Gardiner must come down. John Tory did not mention that.

And I could go on. New York.30 Amsterdam. Tokyo. All of these cities have managed to make use of the space underneath the expressways, transforming dead space into vibrant pieces of the urban fabric. We’ve started to do that here with the Fort York Centre and Underpass Park. That’s what innovative, forward-thinking cities can do.

But because we have spent years dithering, not making decisions, kicking decisions downfield, we find ourselves up against it. Once again, we are playing catch-up when it comes to our infrastructure. I intend to take on the challenge personally. I will take the talent we have and, using the examples from around the world, bring the space under the Gardiner to life, make it welcoming urban space. Skate parks in Philadelphia, markets in Rio and an art gallery in Amsterdam. The possibilities are endless.31

30 New York doesn’t have a major elevated expressway any more (small parts of the Bruckner Expressway are elevated but not a particularly lengthy amount). It is true that New York has done some remarkable work revitalizing the elevated West Side Highway—but they did that by replacing it with an at-grade highway. It is also somewhat difficult to imagine John Tory, who opposed the Eglinton Connects initiative during the campaign before softening his stance, would invest similar public realm improvements under the Gardiner.

31 See note 29.

And so I say respectfully to those who disagree with me: I remain convinced that my position is the most sensible, balanced32 position for the mayor of the entire city—not perfect, but the best available option. I am not mayor for the downtown developers, or for one political faction or another, or the mayor for cars or bikes or trucks33. I’m the mayor of one Toronto—the mayor who must take the broad interest of all Torontonians, all parts of the city, all aspects of a challenge into account and then try to do what I think is right.

I am confident that the hybrid option is the best choice for this city as a whole and the best way forward. It’s the best way to keep our city and our economy moving34, the best way to unlock potential and value in emerging areas35. It is best for investment and jobs36—that is why many major business organizations and unions support hybrid. They are in the job creation and employment business and they know that sound transportation decision making is key to getting and keeping jobs in Toronto. You can’t build a great city without jobs, as many as possible, and it is interesting to pause and reflect on the question of why so many of Toronto’s businesses and leading unions support the hybrid option. We have a city to build, and that must include keeping people moving and getting more people employed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I offered myself for this job to lead in the process of making a really good city great. My sole motive in public service is to build up the city I love. To make it stronger, fairer and more prosperous. Most days that just involves applying balance and common sense—picking the best from among what are always imperfect options, difficult as that choice often is. That is what I have tried to do here and I enter this week’s debate eager to listen, but satisfied the hybrid option is the best thing to do in the overall best interests of the city we all love.

32 See note 23.

33 As NOW journalist Jonathan Goldsbie noted, after finishing his speech the mayor went back to the head table, where he joined a representative from CAA.

34 See note 13.

35 See note 21.

36 See note 13.