The saga of the Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway (affectionately known as “the Gardiner”) has been around almost as long as the City of Toronto as we know it today. After the formation of Metro Toronto in 1953, the Gardiner was one of the very first projects proposed and executed by the newly formed government; but almost since day one, congestion, delays, and repair work has plagued the Gardiner, earning it the nickname “the mistake by the lake” [i].
Today, orange cones and heavy machinery have become as much a part of the Gardiner as its crumbling concrete. It’s no wonder that ‘what to do with the Gardiner’ has become a hot topic. Talk of boulevards, hybrids and tear-downs has been going on for some time, but what does it all mean and where are we now?
This latest conversation around what to do with the Gardiner began in the early 2000s as a part of the millennium waterfront revitalization project. Since then, a study conducted by Waterfront Toronto resulted in four possible options that City Council later voted on. The four options : Remove, Replace, Enhance, Maintain are described below:
The Gardiner Expressway is a highway that bypasses downtown Toronto and travels 18 kilometers along the shore of Lake Ontario between Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) in the west and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) in the east.
On average 350,000 people use the Gardiner daily
The City of Toronto spends $6-10 million each year on repairs and maintenance of the Gardiner[i]
The Gardiner Expressway is entirely owned by the Municipality of Toronto, unlike the QEW, which is owned by the Province of Ontario.
In 2015 the City of Toronto Council reviewed and voted on proposed rehabilitation options for the eastern portion of the Gardiner, between Jarvis St. and the DVP (2.4 kilometer section), which currently exists as an elevated roadway
Council voted in June 2015 in favour of undertaking a major renewal of the eastern portion of the Gardiner which will also seek to revitalize the undeveloped lands below the elevated structure
The Waterfront Toronto Study
Waterfront Toronto conducted an environmental assessment that sought to assess the proposed options from a variety of different angles. Beyond just considering environmental impacts, the study also looked at economics, urban design and transportation and infrastructure and engaged the general public in extensive consultation sessions.
The City Council Vote
In June 2015, City of Toronto councillors voted to determine which of the four options to pursue. It was a tight race but the Enhance options (known as Hybrid) won by three votes. In general, the votes were split between downtown and suburban councillors. The downtown councillors largely favoured the remove option, wanting to eliminate what is often considered a physical barrier between the city and the waterfront. However, the suburban councillors had greater concerns for congestion and therefore preferred to preserve and optimize the elevated structure. The remove option received 19 votes in favour and 26 against, replace was also voted down 29-15 and the maintain option received the support of only one councillor [iii].
Overall, the hybrid option was favoured because it would not increase travel times over the current arrangement, whereas the remove option was projected to add 3-5 minutes to the daily commute of people entering the city from various points in the west and north-western parts of the city. The hybrid option is also less costly upfront but has a higher cost in the long term for maintenance.
The hybrid option will maintain the elevated expressway but this portion will be overhauled with a new road deck, removal of portions of existing ramps west of Logan Avenue and construction of new two-lane ramps in the Keating precinct [iv].
The latest news on the project is that the City was presented with three different proposals for the actual execution of the hybrid design and Council voted in favour of the design know as Hybrid 3. Each of the designs varied in their alignment relative to the current roadway. The Hybrid 3 moves the road furthest north compared with the other options, which opens up more land by the waterfront for development including mixed-use buildings and a public park [v]
Construction is supposed to begin in 2018 and expected to take about five years. There is still a lot up in the air with the Gardiner’s plans; what’s going under the elevated portion? Will there be tolls? And as for what is going to happen to the remaining 15.6 kilometers of the Gardiner… we’ll just have to wait and see.
Hilary Whiting has a fascination with urban environments which is informed by her background in civil engineering. She loves seeing how people, infrastructure and nature collide in our cities. Her main area of interest is transportation where she is looking at how infrastructure can be better engineered to improve urban safety, accessibility and sustainability.
[i]“A Brief History of the Gardiner Expressway”, Cole Engineering. 2016. Retrieved on February 27, 2016 from http://www.coleengineering.ca/blog/2015/09/a-brief-history-of-the-gardiner-expressway
[ii] “Gardiner East Environmental Assessment”, Waterfront Toronto. Retrieved on February 27, 2016 from http://www.waterfrontoronto.ca/explore_projects2/the_wider_waterfront/the_gardiner_expressway
[iii] “Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard East Reconfiguration Environmental Assessment (EA) and Integrated Urban Design Study - Updated Evaluation of Alternatives”, City of Toronto. 2015. Retrieved on February 27, 2016 from http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2015.PW4.1
[iv] “Hybrid Alternative”, Waterfront Toronto. Retrieved on February 27, 2016 from http://gardinereast.ca/sites/default/files//documents/Backgrounder%20for%20Gardiner%20EA%20--%20Hybrid.pdf
[v] “Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard East Reconfiguration Environmental Assessment (EA) and Integrated Urban Design Study - Evaluation of Preferred Design” City of Toronto, March 31, 2016. Retrieved on April 1, 2016 from http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2016/pw/bgrd/backgroundfile-90624.pdf