Goodbye, Gardiner?

On Friday the Toronto Star led with a report that Mayor David Miller has finally gotten behind a plan to start tearing down the god awful Gardiner expressway along the Toronto waterfront. While the proposed plan doesn’t remove the entire expressway, it is a promising start.

The proposed plan (which is light on details) suggests tearing down the 2.5 kms of the Gardiner, from the Don Valley Parkway to Jarvis street. The stretch is highlighted below (click for larger image).

Anyone who has visited Toronto has most likely seen the Gardiner. It’s the very large, very pedestrian unfriendly, very dark, very Berlin-wallish divide you have to cross to get to the Skydome. As you can see from the map, it serves to cut off all of downtown from the waterfront, both physically in many parts and spatially across it all. In 1963 the Mayor of York, Norman Goodhead, said that “the Gardiner Expressway will someday be a monument to stupidity,” and I would tend to agree. Toronto is one of the few great North American waterfront cities that doesn’t have a vibrant, fully utilized waterfront. While some of this can be blamed on a lack of vision and fiscal pressures, an equal amount can be attributed to the divisive effects of the Gardiner.

Now, of course, the bitching and moaning by the usual suspects has already begun, with the likes of the Canadian Automobile Association (I don’t know why they would be opposed) and Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24) chiming in with such gems as: “It sends a very strong message from David Miller to the suburbs that we don’t want you down here…[p]eople that live north of the 401 should have an easy access into the downtown area and be able to bring a vehicle downtown.”

As the Globe and Mail points out, however, achieving real decreases in emissions takes more than a city pumping money into transit and other initiatives. It also requires a change in how everyone thinks, a change that is clearly not recognized by David Shiner. Yes, everyone should have easy access into downtown, but no, not everyone should be able to bring their vehicle. It is this car centric attitude that has gotten us in the current mess, Gardiner Expressway included.

While I think demolishing this stretch is a great start, I can see, eventually, the whole thing coming down. And for those who are worried about what this will do to commuting to downtown, I think those are valid concerns. The good news is that it will take a number of years for actual demolition to being, during which time the city’s “Transit City” light rail lines will be up and running. See, people who choose to live out in the ‘burbs, we’re thinking of you.

The real question now is whether the city will actually have the guts to follow through with this. The fact is, if you remove the car focus from the equation, there is nothing but bonuses in this plan: a more vibrant waterfront, more developments, more green space, more mass transit, and a better downtown overall.

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