19 June 2009 | Posted inBlog News & Updates
Posted by Justin
Big things happened in Toronto yesterday. A local Architect presented his idea for what he would do to with our inter-city expressway, the Gardiner Expressway. The same expressway the city has been talking about tearing down/repairing/doing nothing with, for almost a quarter of a century. It’s a great time to do it also, with the city will be going on strike come Sunday night. But never the less, I thought I would show my friends to the south as not many people from Toronto actually look at my content.
The Gardiner Expressway, built between 1955-1966. Named after Robert G. Gardiner, (our Robert Moses) was the Chair of the now defunct Metro Council. It stretches about 20 kilometers running east west, and like most intercity expressways. The elevated road could be described as being a barrier or an eyesore towards its adjacent communities. Problem with Toronto is that it also doesn’t have just an expressway to contend with. But also the main rail corridor that runs from Detroit to Montreal bisecting an adjacent area, cutting the city off from its waterfront. Many call this area the rail lands. I call it a noisemaker. While the government would call it a ‘non-priority issue.’
See Canada doesn’t have the population to really contend with the U.S. of A, so there will never be any sort of ‘Big Dig,’ like Boston. The city planners, and local government were inept to see the potential of the rail lands before all of the waterfront condos were built. So they missed on the opportunity to bury the expressway. So now the city is left with arguing. Mainly from the suburban commuters, who use the artery everyday, and the urban dwellers that live beside the highway. While the real issue of the highway is maintenance. In previous years, large swaths of concrete have been falling down on the daily commuter, because of the amount of road salt that is has been used on it over the years. Studies have shown it would cost significant more to fix the road deck, with the cheapest option to tear it down.
The story of the Gardiner Expressway really begins with a single building. The Toronto Harbour Commission (now known as Harbour Sixty Restaurant)
It began it’s life as a modest, 6 storey little retreat at the edge of the water. Welcoming all to Toronto, similar but not on the same scale, as the Statue of Liberty. (This is the Canadian version of the Statue of Liberty)
There it is sitting really quiet, (on the right) in a cute kind of way. On the waters edge.
You can see the rail corridor running east-west, just inland before the city proper begins.
And then the roaring 20′s came, and the Harbour Commission decides it’s time to expand, with the introduction of the Toronto Waterfront Development plan. Someone, somewhere probably got tired of walking across the CN Rail lines, and decided that it was time to reclaim almost 2000 acres of land, south of the train tracks.
(It’s kind of ironic that it’s taken almost 100 years since. For the city to implement any kind of strategy for it’s waterfront.)
That was their plan, this is what we got:
Image showing land being reclaimed. Road identified running east-west along harbourfront.
Image showing Rail Lands, and Gardiner Expressway. Before CN Tower is built.
Around 1972 – CN Tower is completed. First residential condos appear on waterfront. Gardiner Expressway (shown in red is built), Harbour Commision building show in blue.
Harbour Commision building today shown in blue. You can view a large photo here
The Gardiner Expressway today:
I honestly think Toronto is the most over-planned city in the world. So many studies, and various proposals have been produced, with little no action taking place. So here are a few different ‘proposals’ for the Expressway.
- Will cost $1-billion dollars. (Everything seems to cost a billion dollars)
- Problems with several obstacles, including: River, Street Car tunnels, sewage pipes, lake-water cooling plant, etc.
Leave it as is, and spruce up area underneath
- Will make commuter happy
- Probably won’t attract much users
- Still disconnects waterfront with city
Vision from Local Architect. Basically install 8 metres above the Expressway, a green roof and park space. (Link to Toronto Star Article)
The problem I see with this proposal is that it’s making what is a barrier, even taller. Although I can appreciate the desire to enhance the public realm with a linear park along the waterfront; I think this proposal creates more problems, then it eliminates. It’s almost as if it is trying to hard to make a statement.
Some might say it is bold. I would say it’s unfortunate it got out in the media.
Toronto Viaduct Proposal – remove portion of highway, and create a bridge-like structure above the rail corridor.
I purely put this in because it seems whenever a new proposal comes for the Gardiner Expressway, the advocates start calling on this monstrosity.
I’m not sure who the designers are, but they seem to have forgotten about a few little things, like: value of adjacent land, access on and off, safety, money, and what the neighbours in the adjacent condos would think of having a 10 storey tall vehicular tube running beside their balcony. I honestly just think it looks ridiculous.
Okay yes, there is some merit to diverting the highway over the rail corridor. But first, as I’ve mentioned before, the rail companies think they own the city, second, it doesn’t need to be a super-structure, and third, the logistics of achieving the purpose of this artery, might outweigh the benefits of creating such a mess.
Waterfront Toronto’s Plan – Remove eastern most portion of expressway. Creating an 8 lane ‘Boulevard’ at grade.
The argument for this is to remove the visual barrier, by creating a two-stage crossing with an at-grade ‘Boulevard.’
Of all the proposals, this one seems to have the greatest pedestrian realm enhancement to it. It actually suggests people will be using this space. The problem with this is scheme is that it is going to take 3 years to determine if it is a viable option. Followed by another 4-5 years to determine who will pay for it, followed by another 4-5 years for construction (I am factoring in, that there will probably be a court battle, a labour strike, and some sort of celebrations to commemorate each piece being removed.)
I really don’t think there is one solution that will keep everyone happy. There is a vast disconnect between the suburban and urban dwellers and their vision for the city. It will probably come down to which form of government (Conservatives in the Suburbs, Liberals in the city) is in power at the time. Which will determine the fate of the highway.
Having lived beside the highway, I’ve noticed several things in daily traffic patterns. The first being, the majority of users do not traverse straight across the city, they will always get off the expressway before they reach the central part of the waterfront, and secondly. There is only high traffic volume during the rush hour commute. Any other time, the traffic is moderate to low.
But if I were in charge, I would do several things, which I haven’t seen proposed.
1. I would keep the Expressway intact on the western edge of the city.
2. When the expressway gets closer to the city, and the condo towers stat to appear. I would reverse the highway with space underneath. Basically creating a covered highway, with vegetation and community space similar to the local architect without building the Expressway higher.
3. When the Expressway gets into the city with the highest densities. It would convert into a boulevard at grade. Leaving some portions of the elevated deck to allow movement above the Boulevard. Which will allow pedestrians the opportunity to avoid the long processions of crossing the street and provide a linear park for the city dwellers.