May 18, 2015

Tear Down Gardiner East!

To follow up on the quest to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront, one obstacle prevents this process from reaching its full potential; that being the Gardiner Expressway. Over the past couple of years, there have been reports of falling concrete including one as recently as March; indicating the sixty year old expressway is nearing the end of its lifespan.[1] On June 9 – 10, City Council will have to decide between one of two options for the portion of the Gardiner east of Jarvis Street. Either that portion gets removed and replaced with an at-grade boulevard, or it is replaced with a so-called “hybrid” option which changes access ramps compared to the status quo.
2013 Ride for Heart on the Gardiner Expressway

On paper, this decision should be a no brainer. Per the latest public presentation in April 2015,[2] only three percent of commuters get to downtown Toronto by using Gardiner East, which is less than the forty-nine percent who use the TTC and the four percent who walk or bike. While removal would add 2-3 minutes to commute times compared to the hybrid option, it would cost half as much (or $460 million less over a 100 year life cycle) and provide $139 million in additional revenue from city owned land, which in turn would create development, public spaces, and jobs.

When former Chief Planner Paul Bedford made a deputation at the March 13, 2015 Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting (video below), he mentioned cities around the world such as New York and San Francisco removed their highways; resulting in reduced commuter times and revitalized city cores. He even mentioned Toronto would become the laughing stock of the world if council were to support the hybrid option, given the additional $460 million could be spent on more important priorities such as housing and transit, including Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal. One item Bedford did not take into account is the growing importance of cycling as a solution to gridlock.

Even with the overwhelming evidence favouring the remove option, Mayor Tory publicly supported the hybrid option. Given Tory’s business background and his desire to build SmartTrack, WHAT THE HECK IS HE THINKING? Such a decision would not be as easily tolerated in the business world, though different consequences apply depending on the company’s ownership. For private companies, their major creditor aside from owner contributed capital is usually a bank or another financial institution.

As part of their due diligence, financial institutions request financial statements, business plans, and conduct periodic audits in order to determine whether to grant (or increase) a loan to the company. For public companies, they also respond to agencies like the Ontario Securities Commission and shareholders, which are represented by a board of directors. If a business CEO provides a subpar business plan or the plan triggers a breach in loan covenants, the financial institution could deny the loan or recall existing loans. In the case of public companies, shareholders could pressure the board of directors to fire the CEO.

Quarterly earning considerations aside, businesses are not necessarily subject to four year terms as elected officials are, which makes ignoring fact based decision making for short term gain more prevalent in governments. There have been three recent instances where this has happened with regard to Toronto’s transit woes.
Eglinton Crosstown LRT Tunnel Boring Machine
  1. In 1995, incoming Ontario Premier Mike Harris scrapped the Eglinton West subway line when it was under construction. It wasn’t until eighteen years later when the successor Eglinton Crosstown LRT would start construction and is expected to open in 2020.
  2. In 2010, incoming Mayor Rob Ford scrapped Transit City when the Sheppard East LRT was under construction. While overturned by council in 2012, Metrolinx’s recent deferral means construction would not start until 2021; risking the project’s abandonment
  3. In 2013, City Council opted to replace the Scarborough RT with a subway when the LRT option would have cost less, serviced more residents, and be completed sooner.
It is time Mayor Tory and City Council return to fact based decision making by removing Gardiner East and using the savings towards real gridlock solutions. If you live in Toronto, I urge you to sign this petition calling for the removal of Gardiner East. Writing a letter to Mayor Tory and your city councillor is also recommended.

Respect the facts!
Rob Z (e-mail)



[1] Natalie Alcoba. National Post. “Gardiner Expressway still safe, Toronto official says after concrete (again) falls from aging highway.” March 17, 2015.
[2] John Livey and Christopher Glaisek. City of Toronto. “Gardiner East Public Information Centre #4 – April 2015.”

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