Toronto City Council Blows Its Chance to Transform Downtown

Toronto could have had a waterfront boulevard but the Council voted to keep an elevated highway instead. Image: ##http://www.blogto.com/city/2015/06/toronto_votes_for_hybrid_option_on_east_gardiner/##Blog TO##
Toronto could have replaced its downtown elevated highway with a surface boulevard, but the City Council voted to keep an elevated highway instead. Image via Blog TO

Tearing down Toronto’s Gardiner East Expressway would remove a hulking blight from downtown, improve access to the waterfront, open up land for walkable development, and save hundreds of millions of dollars compared to rebuilding the highway.

But that didn’t convince the City Council.

In a 24-21 vote yesterday, the Council opted to rebuild the aging Gardiner with some minor modifications instead of pursuing the “boulevard” option that would have removed a 1.7-kilometer segment of the highway.

Replacing the elevated road with a surface street would have cost $137 million less upfront (in Canadian dollars) than rebuilding it, and nearly $500 million less in total costs over the next 100 years.

While Rob Ford may no longer be mayor, his successor, John Tory, pushed hard for keeping the highway, saying it was a vote to “keep congestion under control.”

But history and experience don’t support Tory’s view. The removal of center-city highways like the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Miller Highway in New York, and the Park East in Milwaukee shows that drivers quickly adapt by choosing new routes, consolidating trips, or opting for different modes of travel — and carmageddon doesn’t materialize.

Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmat, supported removing the Gardiner, as did the city’s top public health official, a long roster of former Toronto mayors and planners, the Council for Canadian Urbanism, and all the City Council representatives who represent areas that the disputed section of highway cuts through.

Against Tory and the representatives of Toronto’s outer districts, that wasn’t enough.

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