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Toronto should light the underside of the elevated Gardiner Expressway

Back when Toronto was debating the future of the eastern portion of the elevated Gardiner Expressway, I was an annoying and vocal supporter of tearing it down and replacing it with an at-grade boulevard. I was blogging about it ad nauseam. I participated in Jane’s Walks where I spoke about the merits of removal. And I even created a petition that went to City Council the day the decision was being made.

But throughout all of this, I felt like I was in the minority. Most people said I was crazy (though former mayor John Sewell agreed with me). How will people and services get to downtown Toronto? This is critical infrastructure, they said. And indeed, Toronto voted not to remove it.

Whatever you feel was the right decision at the time, that ship has sailed. We tore down a leg of the Gardiner east of the Don River, at that was positive; but the rest of it is either staying intact or being relocated. In both cases, it will be elevated.

But I believe in looking forward, not backwards. And so with that, I think we should be doing everything we can urbanistically to make the Gardiner as nice as it can be. It is for this reason that I think The Bentway is an extraordinarily important project. And it is for this reason that I wish we would light the underside of the Gardiner so that when you’re driving on Lake Shore it makes you feel happy.

A good example of this in action is the Yan’an Elevated Highway in Shanghai (greenery, of course, also helps):

Relevant scene from Skyfall (James Bond):

But let me be clear before my inbox lights on fire: I am not suggesting that this is an approach to urbanism that is in any way desirable or worth emulating. I am not advocating for elevated highways running through the middle of dense downtowns and walkable city centers. All I am saying is that if we are stuck with something as dreary and as utilitarian as the Gardiner Expressway, the least we can do is make it kind of cool. And lighting can be a relatively cost effective way of doing that.


  1. I was (and am) a frequent and vocal opponent to tearing down the Gardiner, and have advocated building the “Gardiner Green Ribbon” as an 8km long linear park above the existing roadway. This was long before NYC’s High Line made it okay to think about such things. The elevated highway would remain below the park until it can be converted to a multimodal transitway. Given the embedded carbon and the heritage nature of this engineering feat, let alone the new traffic it would generate in the centre of thevcity demolition should not be an option. But sure, go ahead and light the underside!


  2. I can certainly agree that the Gardiner is unsightly, however, we are a world class city with a serious infrastructure issue.
    As someone who lives in the beach and worked downtown, what used to be a 20 minute / 8km commute prior to the 300 meters of the Gardiner removal, has turned into a 40 minute endeavour.
    As a fellow developer and lover of beautifully planned and designed architecture and infrastructure; I agree that we can turn this utilitarian (and greatly needed) transportation corridor into art.


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