Whither the Gardiner?

By Ben Bull
Published September 29, 2006

A quick skim through the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation's report on how to dismantle the Gardiner Expressway left me an overwhelming feeling of being, er, underwhelmed.

While it's easy to criticize what for the most part appears to be a reasonably diligent analysis of the Expressway "problem" in Toronto, this report leaves too many unanswered questions to be ignored.

The main recommendation offered by the Corporation is to knock the Expressway down at Spadina, increase traffic capacity along Front, and turn Lakeshore into a "University Avenue type thoroughfare".

However, several components of this recommendation don't hold up. First, the description of Lakeshore as a "University Avenue type thoroughfare" is almost certainly a stretch. The proposal calls for a five lane highway - in each direction - between Spadina and Jarvis, and then four lanes each way to the Don River.

Las Ramblas this ain't.

The centre median will, apparently, be nice and wide and spruced up with lots of greenery.

I don't know about you but a ten lane highway is a ten lane highway, and no amount of sprucing up is going to make me want to cross it. If this is the necessary impediment we must endure in order to tear down the Gardiner, then I have to ask what exactly we have gained.

I thought the whole point of the Gardiner removal exercise was to open up access to the waterfront? If I have to navigate ten lanes of traffic to get from my downtown home to the water, well, let's face it - it ain't going to happen.

Sure, it will nice to have the eyesore removed (hell - it stares at me everyday from my back window) but without easy waterfront access, what's the point?

My other disappointment with the report - and like I say, I have only skimmed it at this point - is that it does not appear to address the bigger issue of transit in general.

Where do all these Gardiner trips originate? Where are people going? Can they not take other routes? Are there any other transit options, such as the GO train or TTC, available to them?

Surely any viable proposal for blocking off this artery should include an attempt to reduce, or at least properly redirect, the traffic flows.

A councillor in the Front and Simcoe area, a neighbourhood which would be severely affected by the proposed widening of Front, has complained that the "solution is worse than the problem".

I would go further and suggest that the solution has not been thoroughly thought out, and that no recommendation for tearing down a highway is complete until a traffic reduction analysis has been completed.

Having said all this, I am pleased to see road removal on this city's agenda at last. It's not something I expect to see anytime soon in Hamilton. It's progress.

After all, as one Star columnist put it today, "widening highways to ease congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity."

Despite this, it seems to me that it's just not helping matters when we treat traffic congestion as a one-sided issue.

This is not just about the car. Transit includes all modes from foot to pedal to automobile, and until we start looking at our transit issues holistically, we will never get a workable solution.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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