2015 Villain: The East Gardiner "Hybrid" Plan
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2015 Villain: The East Gardiner “Hybrid” Plan

Nominated for: showing the worst kind of decision-making we have come to fear from city hall.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Underused and falling apart, the East Gardiner Expressway needed fixing—a matter subject to little debate, and one that John Tory vowed to resolve once in office. But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and as proposals emerged on how exactly to deal with the Gardiner, contention within city hall reached a fever pitch.

The city briefly considered four potential solutions—maintain, improve, repair or remove the structure—before honing in on the “improve” or “remove” options.

Removing the east portion of the elevated expressway would see the 2.2 kilometre stretch from Jarvis to the DVP torn down and replaced with an eight-lane boulevard (a la University Avenue) along Lake Shore. Improving the structure, dubbed the “hybrid” option, would leave it more or less as is, plus some shuffling of on/off ramp placements.

By early May 2015, tearing down the Gardiner seemed like a no-brainer. The plan would cost an estimated $461 million—less than half the cost of the so-called hybrid—and would potentially benefit from an additional $150 million in land sale profits. The savings would go towards improving public transit and revitalizing the area with commercial storefronts, sidewalks and trees along the boulevard.

The Environmental Assessment came out in favour of removing the expressway. So did Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. “We have an opportunity to create a brand new streetscape in our city by taking down this antiquated, dark, crumbling infrastructure and reinvesting in the public realm,” she said at a conference at U of T.

But Tory campaigned on the promise to ease congestion; to #getTOmoving. Removing the East Gardiner would increase commute times to a couple thousand drivers by two to three minutes—something the new mayor could not endorse. Instead, he played to drivers’ fears of nightmarish traffic that would congest arterial streets, create commuting chaos, and steal time away from their families.

In reality, the boulevard option would add about three minutes of travel time during peak traffic. And that would only affect the three per cent of morning commuters who use the East Gardiner—68 per cent, by contrast, use the TTC.

Despite the evidence, on June 10 council voted 24-21 in favour of the hybrid. Now, they (and we) are stuck with a “100-year decision” that does nothing to address congestion, sprawl, absurd travel times or the myriad problems with the TTC.