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Revisiting the Gardiner East debate

Last week I argued that the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway (Jarvis Street over to the Don Valley Expressway) should be torn down and replaced by an enlarged Lake Shore Boulevard.

To quickly summarize, here’s why I support removing the Gardiner East:

  • Now is the time to do it (before we develop the surrounding area and it becomes both more expensive and more difficult to do it).
  • It would go a long way to stitching our disconnected downtown back to the lake and realizing our ambitions for the revitalization of the waterfront.
  • Unlocking the full potential of our waterfront is hugely important.
  • In my opinion, the only way to build a big, well functioning city, is on the backbone of public transportation. And this—the tearing down of the Gardiner East—could represent that paradigm shift.
  • It is a portion of the Expressway that has relatively low traffic volumes.
  • It’s the cheapest option on the table.

Somewhat surprisingly though, a lot of people disagreed with me. They told me that adding anything to our already long commutes would be simply unconscionable and that they would not support it, no matter how much it improved our waterfront.

So in the spirit of avoiding confirmation bias (that is, only seeking out things that reinforce an already established belief), I thought I would share the following article: “Like It or Not, Most Urban Freeways Are Here to Stay.” It’s from Atlantic Cities and there are 3 key take-aways that I’d like to point out.

First, I thought it was interesting that the interstate system in the United States was, from the onset, always conceived of as a solution to urban congestion. I always thought it was about connecting the country, but that, apparently, was a secondary goal.

Second, cities all across North America are engaging in the same debate about what to do with their aging highways. Detroit is debating. New Orleans is debating. And so is Syracuse. Toronto is not alone. But we could be alone in taking the lead on this issue.

Third, the author basically acknowledges that, while not ideal, we’re stuck for the time being with all these freeways and that the better solution is going to be a really tough slog:

“This is not an easy assignment, seeing as how cars are purchases we make with our hearts, more than our heads. Logic won’t convince Americans to change their ways. What will? Maybe, over time, prohibitive fuel prices and withering tolls, and, most importantly, investment in useful and convenient public transit. Only when the carrot is irresistible, and the stick stings too sharply to bear, will the shift begin, and it will take years to play out.”

And while I would agree that it’s not going to be easy, that’s par for the course with anything truly worthwhile. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. But they’re not. And that’s why there are leaders and there are followers.

People in Toronto like to talk about how our City sometimes lacks vision. Well, here’s our chance. I’m not worrying about what the commute is going to be like tomorrow, because I know there’s an even better solution for that problem. I’m worried about something even bigger. I’m worried about the kind of city we’re all going to leave behind to our children.

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