Decision Time for Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway

The “hybrid” proposal favored by Mayor John Tory would rebuild the Gardiner East Expressway at twice the cost of tearing it down, and it won’t even move any more traffic. Image: Globe and Mail

Toronto is facing a critical decision about the aging elevated Gardiner East Expressway. Will Canada’s largest city go ahead with the plan to replace the one-mile-long concrete relic with a surface boulevard and walkable development? Or will it cling to yesterday’s infrastructure?

Toronto's Gardiner East Expressway. Photo:
Toronto’s Gardiner East Expressway. Photo:

The debate has been heating up ahead of a key City Council meeting next week.

A poll released Monday showed a plurality of Toronto residents prefer tearing down the Gardiner to rebuilding it. Among respondents, 45 percent supported the teardown, compared to 33 percent who favored rebuilding. The remaining respondents didn’t know enough to answer or didn’t like either option.

Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory this week reiterated his opposition to the teardown, saying, “I didn’t get elected to make traffic worse, and let’s be clear, removing that piece of the Gardiner will almost certainly make traffic worse.”

But just 3 percent of downtown Toronto workers commute on the Gardiner East. As teardown proponents have pointed out, the boulevard option doesn’t reduce traffic capacity compared to the rebuilding option supported by Tory, and even the feared decline in driving speeds is likely overhyped, given everything we now know about how drivers adjust to new conditions.

Tearing down the 1.7 kilometer road and replacing it with a boulevard, meanwhile, will cost about half as much as the mayor’s preferred “hybrid” proposal, which would rebuild the Gardiner East “with three of its support trusses/ramps slightly modified.”

Among the coalition supporting the teardown is the city’s chief planning official, Jennifer Keesmaat, who said it would allow the city to build connected “complete communities” within walking distance of downtown.

Part of the Gardiner was demolished in 2001 and replaced with a boulevard — and somehow Toronto managed to avoid grinding to a halt.

7 thoughts on Decision Time for Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway

  1. “Part of the Gardiner was demolished in 2001 and replaced with a
    boulevard — and somehow Toronto managed to avoid grinding to a halt.”

    This quip is distracting from an important point. In direct rebuttal, the part that they are considering tearing down now has many more vehicles using it than the stub that was torn down. Mind you, most of these vehicles are exiting the highway towards downtown. so a boulevard option doesn’t reduce their travel time much and alternative routes are available. The remaining traffic is the ones traveling from the Beaches neighbourhood through downtown that would have used the previous highway stub, so close to the same cost benefit argument can be made for the East Gardiner as was made for the stub.

  2. Here is what the City of Toronto’s Public Health Department has to say about motor vehicle operators in that city. The following text is from the Department’s publication “Air Pollution Burden of Illness from Traffic in Toronto: Problems and Solutions.” It may be found on-line at:

    The current study determined that traffic gives rise to about 440 premature deaths and 1,700 hospitalizations per year in Toronto. While the majority of hospitalizations involve the elderly, traffic-related pollution also has significant adverse effects on children. Children experience more than 1,200 acute bronchitis episodes per year as a result of air pollution from traffic. Children are also likely to experience the majority of asthma symptom days (about 68,000), given that asthma prevalence and asthma hospitalization rates are about twice as high in children as adults…

    This study estimates that mortality-related costs associated with traffic pollution in Toronto are about $2.2 billion.

  3. It’s disheartening when elected officials avoid looking at actual data when making huge decisions like this.

  4. Troy’s a bit of a fool. Luckily, Toronto has a “weak mayor, strong city council” system. So the real question is what City Council wants. I really hope they support the teardown — there is no benefit to this part of the Gardiner, as it has no through traffic to speak of.

    It’s also notable that with the Gardiner down, this becomes some of the most valuable land in Toronto. And the “boulevard” has a smaller footprint than the Gardiner + existing roads which will also be subsumed in the boulevard.

    So the developers should be on the side of the teardown.

  5. The council voted for the hybrid option, so the expressway stays put (it will be rebuild between 2018-2021).

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