April 15, 2016

Community Building under the Gardiner

In November 2015, Project: Under Gardiner was launched with a $25 million donation from Judy and Wil Matthews.[1] It is a 1.75 kilometre or 10 acre linear park which goes underneath Toronto's Gardiner Expressway – currently undergoing a $150 million rehabilitation – from Liberty Village (west of Strachan Avenue) to CityPlace at Spadina Avenue, with community hubs planned along the route. The project is expected to start construction in October 2016 and open in July 2017. To learn more about this project from a cycling perspective, I took part in the first Under Gardiner walking tour on Sunday, April 10 hosted by Jake Tobin Garrett of Park People and attended by dozens of local residents. Representatives from Public Work (the engineering firm leading the project) and Waterfront Toronto were also present.
Map of Project: Under Gardiner

The walking tour stopped at the following locations:
  • Strachan Avenue
  • Fort York Visitor Centre
  • Proposed crossing at Fort York Boulevard
  • Plaza at Bathurst Street

Garrett asked participants at each stop what they wanted to see from a programming perspective. A Creative Action Hub is being proposed at Strachan with a boardwalk, seating area, children's playground, and skate-park. This active and performance oriented section will be positioned as the project’s gateway. Discussions with Fort York are ongoing in getting part of the adjacent parking lot greened.
Jake Tobin Garrett (centre) guiding participants on walking tour
Cyclists and those with disabilities will be able to access Under Gardiner via a ramp at the western end of Strachan, which then loops around to the trail. Northbound cyclists coming from the Waterfront can access the trail north of Fleet Street to avoid making a U-turn at East Liberty Street. With a bi-directional cycle track proposed on the new street south of Liberty Village, maybe that could be connected Under Gardiner? While that would likely require a tunnel or bridge to cross the railroad tracks, Under Gardiner is considering extending the trail to Exhibition GO station.
Yellow beam was used for Under Gardiner launch
The Gardiner is at its highest point by the Fort York Visitor Centre, which could fit a five storey building. The yellow painted beam was used for the launch, but there are plans to use this space to showcase different artwork. Certain performances will be done, while the original lake shoreline will be traced. With the Gardiner acting as a roof, it will be possible to use metropolitan rigging to create 3D spaces, water tables, and special lighting effects.
A bridge was proposed where Gardiner crosses Fort York Boulevard
A disconnect with Under Gardiner occurs at Fort York Boulevard, which lead to an environmental assessment studying four options. These were to do nothing, an at-grade crossing, a bridge, or a tunnel. The environmental assessment recommended the bridge option – estimated to cost $4 – 6 million – for continuity and accommodation of the proposed Waterfront LRT. Some advocates I spoke to expressed concerns about the bridge cost, the requirement of cyclists to dismount and walk bicycles on ramps, and potential for pedestrian-cyclist conflict. This conflict becomes evident at the plaza on Bathurst Street, where benches, boulders, and other objects make it impractical for cyclists to get around; not to mention crossing at Bathurst. From this plaza to Spadina, the land is privately owned (vs publicly owned west of the plaza) and the use is described as more passive with amenities such as markets and a dog off-leash area.
A proposal I came up with as an alternate to bridge at Fort York Boulevard

Instead of a bridge, the cycling component could stop at Fort York Boulevard and a bi-directional cycle track could go along that road to Bathurst Street (#1 in diagram); closely following a proposed skating path alignment for the winter months. This path could branch off to connect with Northern Linear Park (#2) and bike lanes could be installed on Bathurst from Fort York to Queen’s Quay (#3). This arrangement – combined with the West Toronto Railpath extension and Fort York Bridge – would provide safe cycling routes from the Junction Triangle to Skydome and the Waterfront; while also addressing crossing issues at Spadina Avenue. Under Gardiner could then be made pedestrian only from Bathurst to Spadina.
This path which goes under Bathurst Street could connect to Northern Linear Park
A presentation was also held on Thursday, April 7, which conflicted with the Parkdale-Roncesvalles Cycling Town Hall. Thanks to Christopher McKinnon, he provided links to the presentation deck and display boards for design framework, programming, environmental assessment, and context. If you are looking to do a walking tour of Under Gardiner, there are two more in the works. One will be during Jane's Walk in May and the other sometime in June. You can also provide feedback about the project at hello@undergardiner.com.

Happy trails!
Rob Z (e-mail)


[1] Alex Bozikovic. The Globe and Mail. “$25-million project reimagines area under Gardiner with paths, cultural spaces”. November 16, 2015. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/public-space-project-reimagines-area-under-gardiner-with-paths-cultural-spaces/article27280670/.

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