After nearly 13 hours and more than 30 public deputations, the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) opted to defer responsibility for choosing a final option for the Gardiner Expressway to Toronto City Council.
The committee supported committee chair Jaye Robinson’s amendments seeking further investigation by city staff of the two main options for the elevated eastern portion of the Gardiner – removing it completely and expanding Lake Shore Boulevard or opting for a costlier “hybrid” plan to preserve the connection with the Don Valley Parkway and build new on-ramps to facilitate planned waterfront development east of Cherry Street. However, city council as a whole will ultimately decide on what to do with the expressway, most likely at its June 10 convening.
“This is a complex issue and we’re not experts,” said Robinson on the committee’s decision to pass on a final recommendation. “The key is to make a decision June 10 and that’s what I’m pressing for.”
From 9:30 in the morning and into early evening Wednesday, the PWIC heard deputations from 32 scheduled speakers who had five minutes each to make their case for either Gardiner option, and then take questions from the committee members as well as visiting city councillors.
Deputants from the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the Canadian Automobile Association, the Toronto Financial District and other entities all spoke out in favour of the hybrid option, as well as David Turnbull from the Courier and Logistics Association. He claimed the hybrid option was better for reducing greenhouse gases since removing 1.7 kilometres of the elevated section east of Jarvis Street and expanding Lake Shore below to an eight lane boulevard would mean more congestion in the form of idling vehicles.
Speaking in favour of the removal option, renowned architect Michael Kirkland pointed out how cities like New York and San Francisco benefitted from removing their own aging expressways and, contrary to Turnbull’s argument, didn’t see a marked increase in congestion.
“Those cities’ experiences show after (the expressway) was torn down everyone suffered from collective amnesia and forgot it was ever there,” said Kirkland.
Former Toronto chief city planner and Metrolinx board member Paul Bedford also spoke strongly in favour of the removal option.
He warned Toronto risked becoming a laughingstock in the eyes of the international community if it ignored current trends and kept the elevated Gardiner.
Bedford also dismissed the argument the hybrid option for the Gardiner would cut down congestion, as Mayor John Tory suggested earlier in the day, pointing to cities like Los Angeles which has a 16 lane expressway – and worse gridlock than Toronto.
“Building the Gardiner hybrid won’t do anything to improve congestion, it’s a myth,” said Bedford.
Jane Pepino, representing waterfront developer 3C Lakeshore, said the hybrid option would drive a wedge through the company’s 14 acres of land within the Keating Channel precinct.
Pepino said she couldn’t understand why there wasn’t more public consultation for the hybrid option, which was first presented publicly last month.
“If you’re surprised, we’re gobsmacked,” said Pepino.
Alfredo Romano of Castlepont Nuna said the developer only became aware of the hybrid option – which was first proposed by developer First Gulf and then modified by city and WaterfrontTO planners – last month.
Romano also noted one of Castlepoint’s clients, courier giant FedEx Canada which is planning a facility on the waterfront, did its own study of the Gardiner plans and opted to support the removal option.
Despite the fact it was his company which first put forward the initial hybrid proposal, First Gulf CEO David Gerofsky said the company had no preference since both that and the remove option present an equal amount of development potential.
First Gulf wants to create new employment areas in the former Unilever lands located near the east Don River and either option can make that possible, said Gerofsky. But he warned failing to improve transit could result in the scuttling of that plan.
He said the company first proposed the hybrid option last year because it was convinced the removal option, which was recommended by city staff as the best outcome for the Gardiner, would lose a vote, with a majority of city council preoccupied with projected increases to travel times for drivers. Ultimately the PWIC opted to defer the decision on the Gardiner to allow for better study of the hybrid option.
Of particular concern to Gerofsky, he said, was the option to maintain the Gardiner which would have also entailed adding a new on-ramp from the DVP at Logan Avenue, which would have blocked access to the Unilever site.
“It was an honest proposal,” he said of First Gulf’s initial hybrid proposal. “Since then it’s been taken by city staff and they’ve studied it and come up with a new alignment.”
“Our advice to council is, please make a decision and don’t delay any longer. The time has come to make a decision.”