Roads Toronto

Signs of the times

Electronic sign on the Don Valley Parkway

I had access to a car yesterday, so I drove to a suburban supermarket to stock up on some large and bulky items we needed — things such as laundry detergent — to get through the next few weeks of physical distancing. Normally, I’ll walk to the nearest supermarket, only a few minutes away, but this way, I could get a lot done at once.

Though many shelves remain empty (pasta, rice, paper towels, and toilet paper remain in short supply), and cashier lines long (with tape marking where customers should wait, minimizing close contact), the mood remains friendly and polite among shoppers and staff alike. This is certainly a bright point in these difficult times.

IMG_6324Empty shelves at the supermarket

While running these essential errands, I took a GoPro camera, and mounted it to the front of the dashboard. It made for a very interesting view of the Gardiner Expressway at mid-morning, when the elevated highway is usually congested. When built, the Gardiner passed by rail yards, factories, and warehouses, south of the Downtown Core. Now the roadway runs between tall office and residential towers, with more being built all the time.

When it’s free-flowing, the Gardiner makes for a visually fascinating drive.

Toronto Uncategorized

Why the Gardiner Expressway remains a barrier to the waterfront

29295828846_d05ad61318_kThe Gardiner Expressway isn’t so much a barrier to the waterfront because it’s a looming, elevated eyesore: the railway viaduct isn’t pretty to look at either. It’s a barrier to the waterfront because the roadways around the Gardiner: the on ramps, dual left turn lanes, channelized right turns, and the ground-level Lake Shore Boulevard below it, are hostile to pedestrians. Pedestrians are expected to  yield to cars and trucks at many points; there are many missing crosswalks, and where pedestrians can cross, they must wait for long waits to do so as traffic light cycles prioritize through vehicles.

In the 1950s, when the Gardiner was planned, the waterfront was a mess of railway spur lines, warehouses, and grain silos. Downtown was several blocks north, on the other side of passenger rail yards and Union Station. So it was not the type of place — nor the era — where creating pedrestrian-friendly enviroments was deemed important.  But since then, the rail yards were redeveloped, the waterfront got new parks, cultural spaces, residents, and shops. The Gardiner Expressway hasn’t kept up.

At Spadina and Lake Shore, it took me 8 1/2 minutes to legally cross at Spadina and Lake Shore (and I’m a healthy, younger, able-bodied adult without parcels or a rolling a stroller). As pedestrians are banned from crossing east-west on the north side of the intersection, and north-south on the west side, I had to return to the corner of Spadina and Bremner/Fort York and walk on the other side. And even that was an unnecessary ordeal.

The local councillor, Joe Cressy (Ward 20) is on it, and is working on solutions for next year. The Bentway Park will be a good addition as well (even if I haven’t warmed to the name.) But it’s a shame that as a city has grown around this area, the Gardiner remains so difficult to get around on foot.

Read more in my latest article in Torontoist


Politics Toronto Urban Planning

The least-worst alternative for the Gardiner East

Back in May, I outlined the reasons why I supported the removal of the elevated Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street. Of the various options, which included maintaining the existing highway, a so-called “hybrid” section that would maintain most of the existing structure, but re-route the section between Cherry Streets and the Don Valley Parkway, and the removal option, which would see a widened Lake Shore Boulevard take over from the demolished freeway, similar to how New York City replaced the elevated West Side Highway.

The removal option was the cheapest of the three alternatives ($326 million in up-front capital costs and $135 million in ongoing maintenance over a 100-year lifecycle). The study’s traffic models claimed that removal would only increase travel times by 3-5 minutes. Removing the East Gardiner offers the most opportunities to develop the East Harbourfront. Then, I conceded that an eight-lane Lake Shore Boulevard won’t be the most pleasant street to cross, but it won’t be much different than University Avenue.

But for the benefit of east-end and suburban motorists and several vocal lobbies, council voted 24-21 for the “hybrid” option on June 11, 2015, despite higher costs ($414 million in up-front capital costs, and $505 million in maintenance over a 100-year lifecycle). The relatively close vote was an early test of John Tory’s hold on Toronto City Council.

Yesterday, the City of Toronto released two important SmartTrack studies. The first was on the projected ridership of Mayor John Tory’s signature campaign promise; the second was on the feasibility of the problematic Eglinton West spur, which observers pretty much expected would be replaced by the planned extension of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT. Ridership for SmartTrack would be high, but this is predicated on easy transfers, subway-like frequencies, and it being part of the regular TTC fare system. Fifteen-minute service, GO-like fares (which I’ve described as being unfairly expensive for intra-Toronto commutes) and a shorter line will, obviously, reduce ridership, and its relief of the TTC subway. But at least SmartTrack is getting smarter.

On the same day, we learned more about the City Council-supported “hybrid” options for the Gardiner East as City and Waterfront Toronto staff released detailed assessments on three potential alignments endorsed by the City’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. You can view the entire media presentation here.


Gardiner_media_presentation1     Gardiner_media_presentation2     Gardiner_media_presentation3
         Hybrid 1                             Hybrid 2                          Hybrid 3

Of the three, “Hybrid 1” is the cheapest to construct, as it uses the existing DVP-Gardiner ramp configuration, but impacts the naturalization of the mouth of the Don River, necessary for flood mitigation. By largely using existing infrastructure, it also minimizes construction delays. “Hybrid” concepts 2 and 3 move the ramps north, but they would be tighter, reducing traffic speeds. These two alternatives also open up more land for development.

“Hybrid 3” is preferred in all areas except for cost, as it has the greatest potential for development and has the least impact on the planned naturalization of the mouth of the Don. It’s estimated that “Hybrid 3” will cost $569 million to build, and $483 million in long-term maintenance costs, for a total of $1.052 billion. “Hybrid 1” would cost $424 to build, and $482 million in long-term maintenance costs.


CriteriaCriteria for the three Hybrid options, from slide 39 of the City of Toronto media presentation

As per David Rider’s report in the Star, we should expect that City and Waterfront Toronto staff expect to recommend “Hybrid 3” to the public works committee and city council. Local councillor Pam McConnell, who backed the “remove” option and still prefers it, will likely endorse the “Hybrid 3” alignment as well, as it delivers the most benefits to the community.

I’m still disappointed by last year’s vote to keep the Gardiner Expressway up, but I’ll concur with Councillor McConnell. If Mayor Tory and Council are determined to keep the unnecessary eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway up, it should be backing the least-worst option for doing so.

Politics Toronto

Gardiner East: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Megacity

On Thursday, June 11, Toronto City Council voted to maintain the Gardiner Expressway between Jarvis Street and the Don Valley Parkway, endorsing the “hybrid” option by a vote of 24-21. The previous vote, a motion to support the remove/boulevard option, was defeated by a 19-26 vote. The two inconsistent votes were by Councillors Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8) and Rob Ford (Ward 2), who didn’t like either of the two options on the table.

Immediately after that vote, I created the two maps below. The first shows the vote on whether to go with the less expensive option, to replace the East Gardiner with a boulevard. The second shows the final vote on the “hybrid” option strongly supported by the mayor, despite all the evidence that maintaining that portion of the elevated freeway wasn’t necessary. I shared these maps on Twitter.

TT - Gardiner VoteVote on the Remove/Boulevard option for the Gardiner East

TT - Gardiner Vote v2Vote on the “Hybrid” option for the Gardiner East

While all “downtown” councillors, representing nearly all the former City of Toronto and much of East York favoured the tear-down, it wasn’t entirely an urban-suburban split. Six councillors in Scarborough and North York, namely Paul Ainslie, Michael Thompson, Ron Moeser, Shelley Caroll, John Filion, and Maria Augimeri, voted for the Gardiner’s removal. Eight (including Perruzza and Ford) voted against the Mayor, making the decision to go with the “Hybrid” a close 24-21 vote, a blow to Tory’s promise as a reasoned “consensus builder.”

But almost as troubling as the vote, I soon started to notice mentions and replies to my Twitter feed calling for de-amalgamation. Here is a sample:

These reactionary responses, while understandable, ignore some inconvenient truths.

It’s easy to forget that Gardiner Expressway, along with the Don Valley Parkway and the Allen Road (the completed section of the infamous Spadina Expressway), were built by Metropolitan Toronto, an upper-tier government that was created by the province in 1953 in order to accommodate and control Toronto’s rapid growth. Its boundaries were the same as those of the post-1997 City of Toronto.

Metro Toronto was given the responsibility for many, including the TTC, all major roads, ambulances, police, most of the city’s public housing, waste collection, and the administration of social services. Metro had its own system of parks separate from the lower-tier cities and boroughs, and its own divisive politics. The Gardiner Expressway, one of Metro Toronto’s first mega-projects, was named for the first Chair of Metro Council, Frederick G. Gardiner. The old City of Toronto opposed Metro’s Spadina Expressway plans; it was the Province of Ontario that stepped in to stop the controversial freeway at Eglinton Avenue.

Had Mike Harris’ PC government wasn’t elected in 1995 and the six cities and boroughs were never amalgamated, it would be a Metropolitan Toronto Council deciding the Gardiner’s fate, and we’d probably still see the same urban/suburban divide when it came to the final vote.

The case for amalgamation

I’ll come right out and say that the provincial government under Mike Harris made a terrible mistake when it decided, without warning, to amalgamate Metro and its six lower-tier municipalities into a megacity in 1997. Even though I lived in Brampton at the time, I opposed Bill 103 when it was introduced and enacted in 1997. But I think amalgamation was a mistake because the process was rushed, it was steamrolled over the objections of almost every local politician and engaged citizen, and the motivations were politically suspect – a left-leaning City of Toronto, led by an NDP-allied mayor was overwhelmed by a more Conservative-friendly suburban population, with Mel Lastman as the first mayor.

The first few years were painful as departments and agencies were melded together. Mayor Lastman’s property tax freezes did not help when the need for city services was growing. But what amalgamation did do was provide taxation and service equity across Toronto. York, the poorest of the six lower-tier cities, did not even have a full-service recreation centre and had a relatively poor parks and library system. That all changed, and generally, for the better.

The Toronto Public Library, which just opened its 100th branch, is the the envy of library systems around the world. It is the second largest system in North America (after New York’s) and has the highest circulation. When its budget was threatened in 2011 in the early days of the Ford administration, they had to back off due to an overwhelming public campaign.

Toronto Public Library - Scarborough Civic Centre BranchNew Scarborough Civic Centre Branch, photo by W Poon

I would argue that the TPL makes the best case for amalgamation. Before, each of the six cities had their own library systems, and the Toronto Reference Library was a separate entity. Library access and budgets were limited in some of the smaller systems, especially in York and East York. Amalgamation of the library system has created a more equitable system that’s the envy of the world. It has been expanding and renovating branches all across the city without any cries of regional favouritism. While the library system is still mostly a collection of reading materials, the TPL has adapted to the digital age, providing communal study spaces, media labs, new computer equipment and 3-D printers, and access to vast digital resources through its website, including current periodicals. The Toronto Public Library is something all Torontonians should be proud of.

So yes, there will often be an urban/suburban split on some issues, particularly on transportation items. I share the frustration after last week’s vote. We particularly need to elect a better council in 2018. And there always improvements that can be made to make this city work better for its diverse neighbourhoods, perhaps devolving more responsibilities to reformed community councils.

But I have little time any more for calls for de-amalgamation. It won’t change politics all that much. Let’s focus on making this city work.

Politics Toronto

Gardiner East update: a close vote, but one Tory is likely to win (updated)

East Gardiner Vote - June 8
Projected Gardiner East council vote as of Monday, June 8.

(Updated 5:00 PM, June 8)

With Councillors Jon Burnside and Raymond Cho coming out in support of the “Hybrid” option for the Gardiner East, and Councillor John Filion supporting the Removal/Boulevard option, here’s the latest map. Only seven councillors are considered “unknown” in their intentions for this week’s vote; John Tory and pro-expressway advocates only need two more councillors on their side to win a razor thin 23-22 vote. The new map, based on Matt Elliott’s tally (PDF here), is above. Councillor Jim Karygiannis withdrew his support for the “Hybrid” and is asking constituents for their feedback on Twitter.

As Council is divided mostly on suburban-urban lines, It’s worth noting that most Toronto commuters headed downtown take transit; even in the outer areas where transit access is lacking, and travel times long. In every ward completely north of Highway 401, more than 70 percent of weekday AM peak trips to Downtown Toronto are made by public transit – either TTC buses and subways or by GO train. In 39 of 44 wards, a majority of commuters take transit.

In only seven wards do auto commuters have more than 40 percent of the mode share. Only one ward, Ward 32, which includes the affluent Beach(es) neighbourhood, do auto commuters outnumber transit riders in the AM Peak. Good road access, high auto ownership rates and lousy TTC surface routes (the notoriously slow, short-turning 501 Queen Car) are the likely explanations for this anomaly. Downtown, in Wards 20, 27, and 28, at least half the commuters to downtown jobs, schools or institutions take “other” means of transportation; mostly walking or cycling.

Ironically, those councillors most in favour of rebuilding the Gardiner Expressway represent constituents who aren’t using the Gardiner Expressway – or any other road – to get downtown.

I created these two maps with data from the table created by Laurence Lui (Google Drive PDF here). He obtained and disseminated survey data from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey,  a comprehensive travel survey conducted every five years in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Downtown AM Peak Mode Share - Transit

Downtown AM Peak Mode Share - Auto

Politics Toronto

The East Gardiner: a chance to get it right

IMG_9169-002A snapshot I took back in March 2001 of the Gardiner Expressway’s demolition at Carlaw Avenue.

In June, 1999, Toronto City Council, after much debate, voted 44-8 to demolish the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway. The section of elevated freeway from the Don River to Leslie Street, which opened in 1966, was underused and in need of serious repair.

The East Gardiner extension was built to connect with the Scarborough Expressway, part of a larger network of freeways proposed by Metropolitan Toronto that were never built. The Scarborough Expressway would have connected to Highway 401 near Port Union Road, cancelled in the aftermath of the June 3, 1971 decision of the Ontario Government overturning an Ontario Municipal Board decision permitting construction of the Spadina Expressway.

Council debated the merits of maintaining the 1.3 kilometre section of the Gardiner Expressway; several members resisted removal. Tom Jakobek, representing the Beaches neighbourhood and later disgraced in the MFP computer leasing scandal, was its most vocal defender.

“Cars are an important necessity in this society. Why would anyone want to eliminate road capacity anywhere, when it’s located in the middle of an industrial area and people use it?”

But the pro-demolition side won out. Of the 50 public deputations before that June 1999 vote, those in favour of demolition outnumbered opponents by a 2:1 ratio. Automobile groups and some Scarborough and Beaches residents were the most opposed as two new traffic lights would be added to their westward commutes.

Nine of the councillors who voted for demolition still serve today: Maria Augimeri, Raymond Cho, John Filion, Giorgio Mammoliti, Pam McConnell, Joe Mihevc, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Frances Nunziata, and David Shiner. Also voting with the majority were councillors Jack Layton, David Miller, and Olivia Chow. Mayor Mel Lastman did not vote on the final motion.

Among the eight opposed to the demolition were Jakobek and Sandra Bussin (both councillors represented the Beaches neighbourhood), along with conservatives Doug Holyday and Norm Kelly, both who would become Rob Ford’s deputy mayors.

Fullscreen capture 13052015 92518 PMAerial photograph of the Gardiner Expressway eastern extension in 1992. the Leslie Street ramps are on the far right, the Unilever lands to the right of the Don Valley Park way flyover ramps. Image from Toronto Archives

Demolition began on April 28, 2000, a year later, it was gone, part from a few pillars left over near Leslie Street. A new bike path, and an improved Lake Shore Boulevard were built in the Gardiner’s place, and the traffic jams never materialized. In fact, parallel routes — Dundas Street and Eastern Avenue — were reduced to two lanes from four to accomodate new bike lanes. East-end residents coped.


Now, once again, we’re debating the future of the eastern Gardiner Expressway, this time the section between Jarvis Street and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP). Like the demolished section east of the DVP, city council is facing a crucial decision on whether to maintain the crumbling structure, or demolish it in favour of a widened Lake Shore Boulevard. Like the demolished section east of the DVP, the Jarvis-DVP section is underused and in need of major repairs.

The consultants in charge of the environmental assessment (EA) fr the Gardiner Expressway & Lake Shore Boulevard Reconfiguration Environmental Assessment & Urban Design Study have a website where you can find out more about the options and the process.

At first, four alternative solutions were considered:

  • Maintain the elevated expressway (spend money only to rehabilitate the structure, this is the status quo option)
  • Improve the urban fabric while maintaining the existing expressway (basically the status quo with some ground-level improvements for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Replace with a new above-or-below grade expressway; and
  • Remove the elevated expressway and build a new [wider Lake Shore Boulevard.]

It’s worth noting that the EA consultants recommended the remove option, replacing the six-lane Gardiner east of Jarvis Street with an eight-lane Lake Shore Boulevard.

But after feedback from the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) and First Gulf, the owners of the massive former Unilever lands at the foot of the Don River, there were two options carried forward for further public review: the “hybrid” option and the remove option. Both options would allow First Gulf to redevelop the 30 acre parcel, part of a larger 60 acre plan for up to 12 million square feet of commercial (office and retail) space. The public presentation [PDF] can be found here. 

The remove option (as illustrated on Pages 23-29 of the presentation) results in the demolition of 2.2-kilometres of the Gardiner, replacing it with a eight-lane Lake Shore Boulevard. There would be signalized at-grade intersections at Jarvis, Sherbourne, Parliament, and Cherry Streets (with more intersections possible as the East Harbourfront lands develop), and flyover ramps connecting the widened Lake Shore Blvd with the Don Valley Parkway. The removal option would cost $326 million in up-front capital costs (demolition and the construction of new ramps) and $135 million in ongoing maintenance over a 100-year lifecycle. The study’s traffic models claim that removal would only increase travel times by 3-5 minutes.

It’s also worth noting that most commuters headed to the downtown core take transit: nearly half take the TTC, another 19 percent take GO Transit. Only 28 percent of downtown-bound commuters drive, and of those, 3% use the section of the Gardiner Expressway in question.

Page 8 of the Gardiner East presentation

The “hybrid” option, (as illustrated on Pages 36-42 of the presentation) maintains the Gardiner as-is west of Cherry Street, with new off-ramps to Lake Shore Boulevard east of Cherry and fly-over ramps to the DVP, elevated. It would cost $414 million in up-front capital costs, and $505 million in maintenance over a 100-year lifecycle. There would be no increase in travel times, all other variables remaining the same.

This is why I place quotation marks around “hybrid” — except for a short section east of Cherry, the hybrid option pretty much preserves the status quo. The pedestrian experience isn’t improved, fewer parcels between Yonge and Cherry streets are available for development, and the long-term capital costs are higher. Really, the remove option is a hybrid. It cements the retention of the Gardiner west of Jarvis Street for the long term, it includes expensive flyovers to the DVP, and it widens Lake Shore Boulevard to absorb auto capacity. Calling what almost amounts to the status quo as a “hybrid”option is a brilliant stroke of marketing, or simply a cynical attempt to push through a more expensive, auto-friendly scheme.

Opposition to the Gardiner removal is led by the Gardiner Coalition, which includes the Canadian Automobile Association (which promoted freeway expansion in Toronto before), the Canadian Courier & Logistics Association, the Ontario Trucking Association, Redpath Sugar and the Toronto Industry Network. The coalition of motorists and industry commissioned a separate report by the University of Toronto’s Eric Miller, that claimed that travel times would increase by 10 minutes. Why does Eric Miller’s name sound familiar? He was the lead transportation adviser to Tory’s campaign and a supporter of Tory’s SmartTrack platform.

On May 11, 2015, ahead of council debate, John Tory spoke in favour of the “hybrid” option, sounding a lot like Tom Jakobek in 1999: “no matter how much transit we get built, and I intend to try and get a lot built during my time as mayor, we are still going to have people driving around in cars and trucks, it’s a reality.” Tory echoed comments made earlier in April by Tory’s Deputy Mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong:

“I did not get elected to increase congestion, I did not,” Minnan-Wong insisted. “The residents in the area that I represent in Don Mills are going to be negatively impacted. I was elected to solve congestion problems.”

It’s interesting how self-styled fiscal conservatives prefer to spend more money on roads when given the choice, isn’t it? Remember Minnan-Wong’s rants against pink umbrellas at popular Sugar Beach or washrooms at waterfront parks? If there’s money to throw at unnecessary expressway construction, what about the TCHC public housing repair backlog? Or accelerating work to make the TTC more accessible? Why worry about a small number of commuters to the downtown core?

Fullscreen capture 14052015 123133 AMExisting, hybrid, remove: Page 47 of the Gardiner East presentation

It’s worth noting that John Duffy, former Policy Director for John Tory’s mayoral campaign, is a registered lobbyist for First Gulf. Duffy is also planning a $1-million public-relations blitz to promote Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan, which would have a stop right at the Unilever site’s front door. Eric Miller’s and John Duffy’s names coming keep coming up. I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.

To be fair, First Gulf has stated several times that either the remove or the hybrid option for the East Gardiner suits their needs for developing the site, and denies supporting either option.

I strongly support the remove option. It’s the cheapest alternative, but it offers the most opportunities to develop the East Harbourfront. Yes, an eight-lane Lake Shore Boulevard won’t be the most pleasant street to cross, but it won’t be much different than University Avenue. If designed right, it could be a Grand Boulevard.

Council will be making a once-in-a-lifetime decision. There’s plenty of other, better ways that money spent on rebuilding the East Gardiner could be spent on. Hopefully council sees the wisdom of the remove option despite the myopic desires of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

IMG_2180-001Manhattan’s West Side Drive, which replaced an elevated freeway. New York is doing fine.