Thoughts on Taking Down The Gardiner East

On Friday, Waterfront Toronto announced a plan to relocate the Gardiner Expressway from Jarvis to the DVP into a surface road parallel to the rail corridor.  For reasons that are unclear, the Environmental Assessment for this project will take four years — even longer that the infinitely tedious transit EAs for simple lines like Cherry Street through which many of us have suffered.

(The issues about how long or short an EA should be are complex in their own right and I won’t dwell on them here.)

In brief, the scheme replaces the elevated road with an at-grade eight-lane divided street, with  University Avenue cited as the prototype.  The new road would be north of the existing expressway structure allowing all of the land south of the rail corridor to be reconfigured and redeveloped.

Traffic projections indicate a slight rise in travel times for trips through this area.  Not unexpectedly, the motoring lobby already predicts at least doom and gloom, if not fire and brimstone for good measure.  I have no sympathy for them at all. 

The eastern part of the Gardiner is lightly used.  Even during the AM peak, the traffic flowing south on the DVP past my apartment (just north of Bloor) is rarely bumper-to-bumper because so many cars leave the road further north.  Jammed traffic means there has been an accident, not that there is no capacity.  Northbound backlogs on the DVP are inevitably caused by accidents much further north, by early closings downtown on long weekends, and by the end of major sporting events.  The queue rarely reaches to Dundas Street.  Lowering the capacity west of the Don will have little effect on overall travel times because the main areas of congestion lie elsewhere.

The new configuration will simplify the work on rearranging roads at the Don Mouth where a knot formed by Lake Shore, Cherry, Parliament, and Queen’s Quay (not to mention the Gardiner) is a very pedestrian-hostile environment.  Moreover, with the new “Waterfront Boulevard” being a street, not an expressway, connections with local roads will not require ramp structures, only traffic lights.

Why we have to wait eight years for this wonderful new arrangement is a mystery, but I am sure that many consultants will retire, or at least buy a nice house in the country, on this project.

Mixed in with Friday’s announcement are two other items of more than passing interest.

The York Street Ramp

Although we don’t have any details, there is a plan to realign the York Street off ramp, the corkscrew that occupies much of the northeast corner of Queen’s Quay and York.  When I can find out what exactly is involved, I will publish details here.

The neighbourhood groups along Queen’s Quay have been pushing for this for some time, but until we know the details, we won’t see whether all we get is a larger parkette but also a new off-ramp fouling up some other intersection.

The Front Street Extension

This road is now about as dead as it can be without  the requisite wooden stake through its heart.  Even Councillor Joe Pantalone, long an advocate for this road, says it is something for another generation, according to media reports.  Meanwhile, former Councillor Dominelli, a landowner in the Liberty Village area long reputed to be pushing for the FSE, has actually stated he just wants a local road, thank you, so that he can get on with his redevelopment.

Considering how long many people have tried to get just that proposal on the table and been rebuffed at every turn, this is a very strange development.  Finally, we can get on with properly designing and building roads to serve the community from Bathurst to Dufferin, rather than an off-ramp to the expressway serving commuters from Burlington.

In deference to his long battles on this front [you can groan here], I propose that the new road be called Hamish Boulevard.

19 thoughts on “Thoughts on Taking Down The Gardiner East

  1. It’s interesting how everything kinda floods at once.

    I’m actually less thrilled at the FSE being knocked off as many might think. All along, I’ve been pushing for transit options instead of any road construction, and we’ve been unable or unwilling to seriously and genuinely look beyond the Metro-era Edsels (eg. WWLRT) to GO trains, a Front St. transitway, or maybe a dozen other options best identified with a good corridor study, some imagination and firm political will to spend well and wisely on good transit.

    This doesn’t include the WWLRT in my view – echoed in its own EA from 1993 which coincidentally urged the EA study of such a direct route in via Front St. as one possibility – but we had other things to spend our millions on, so 16 years later, it’s still unstudied.

    And this is how the ice caps melt.

    I don’t actually consider any new road by the railtracks to be worthwhile either – it’s still going to cost maybe $60 to $110 million, and it’s simply not worth it as there’s a lot of duplication already there with Liberty St. linking between Dufferin and Strachan, and from there, it’s not too big a deal in a car to go around things to get back to Front St.

    I would certainly be in favour of a transitway on the south of the district though, with connection to the Ex GO stop and rather than a tunnel, just a transitway bridge over the railtracks to link to Front St. and then in.

    It also might be a lot cheaper to stay on the south side of the railways past Dufferin, to squeeze the cars and avoid the tight embankment. If a link to the Roncesvalles is necessary, do it further west and then backtrack to save how many million$?

    Regrettably, the harsh terminology of blindp officialdumb pops up when describing the obdurate refusal of the TTC to truly expand thinking and the scope of EAs to something broader, and more effective.

    Can the TTC, now that finally the FSE is knocked back, seek to truly spike it with transit? It’s important because I think two workhorse transitways serving a few hundred thousand people could be developed if we truly did think of putting transit back onto Front St., and extending transitways past Bathurst.

    Speaking of wordplay, while I’m definitely a bit bruised from the five year quest to have transit options instead of a road, one term that I may have coined derived from this FSE helps make it all worthwhile: the term being carrupt! as in Caronto the Carrupt.

    However, it’s got nearly global application and meaning.


  2. You’re going to see transit on Bremner/Fort York, but not Font street east of Bathurst. Concord has already built the extension of Bremner with a median in place to allow for a streetcar ROW, and Fort York Blvd. is uninhabited such that no one cares how many lanes the streetcars get. If any ROW is aligned to serve Liberty Village, it would probably turn south at Strachan.


  3. Here’s a plan which might be a good one: bury the Gardiner where it’s now elevated AND at least partially cover it with this boulevard that’s being proposed. Granted, there is the issue of car, truck and bus exhausts but by, say, having openings in the middle of the boulevard that could be a solution to that issue. Perhaps other ways of dealing with engine exhausts could be found. I hope some other people pick up on this proposal because I really think this is very much worth considering.

    Steve: There are big problems with an underground expressway on at least three counts:

    It is under the water table and construction will be a challenge.
    There is no possibility of connection to local streets.
    The grades needed to get underground east of Jarvis and back up to elevated height at the Don would require long ramps at each end linking the tunnel to the existing highway. This would partly defeat the purpose of the scheme which is to make the road “disappear” by running it at grade as a boulevard.


  4. Hi Steve,

    If that section of Gardiner gets taken down and the whole area is rebuilt, will any new transit lines be positioned between the rail corridor and the new boulevard?

    I’d imagine two pairs of “urban” rail tracks there. One (LRT / streetcar on ROW) for local service as well as for faster service to Queen East, Beaches, southern Kingston Rd. The other (either HRT or LRT, no local stops) for Downtown Relief Line, in case the latter takes a route through or near Union rather than under Queen.

    Even if the light rail paradigm prevails on Downtown Relief Line, it is preferable to use separate tracks for DRL and for the local / Queen East service, for higher total capacity and to allow express operation of DRL.

    Steve: I don’t think anyone thought of a DRL corridor, although there remains the problem of what to do west of Jarvis Street. As for an alternate route for local cars like the 501, I think not. You can only fragment the Queen service so much, given the fairly wide headways, before the wait for a specific branch exceeds the benefit of the express service to a specific point.


  5. My father brought back this ditty from a Spring Thaw show in the late 50s. (Apologies to the now unknown author) (Apologies if I’ve posted this here before.)

    East side, west side, all around the town
    Apartment blocks are building; Castle Frank is coming down.
    The subway can’t get started
    And Gardner’s blowing his cork
    Because his brand new expressway’s just
    A sidewalk in Fort York!


  6. DRL would tunnel from west of Jarvis to Union, or perhaps to St. Lawrence Market, dependent on the selected route through downtown.

    As for the Queen East / Beaches and Kingston Rd. services, I’d think that all cars going that far would run via that new ROW in lieu of Gardiner, and then to Union via the Bay St. tunnel. Basically, same idea as Waterfront West LRT, except the trip time would be shorter because the eastern termini are closer.

    Streetcars from Queen / Yonge would run east only as far as the branching point, or perhaps the closest loop.


  7. Until recently, I drove from Sheppard/Leslie to King/Strachan every day.

    The DVP southbound at bloor is usually “lightly” loaded, but only becase the standing-wave at Don Mills holds back the flood of traffic.

    I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, however, that there is routinely a traffic jam on the westbound Gardiner, beginning anywhere from Jarvis all the way back to the DVP. What has apparently changed is those thousands of new condos and townhouses have been built both downtown and in the east end. There aren’t any new jobs downtown, and so many of those people must drive across the bottom of the city every morning to get to their jobs in Mississauga.

    (Old) Toronto has become a bedroom community for Mississauga and Richmond Hill :-).


  8. I was also giving some thought to transit post-Gardiner. I’m concerned that the 8/10-lane Lakeshore will make it difficult to obtain transit priority for the Cherry car when crossing it and that perhaps a grade separation could be explored there – would be $$$$ though.

    Certainly I think that taking down the Gardiner means making an immediate start on the Queens Quay East street extension from Parliament to Cherry to provide diversion options for services like 172/72.

    An ambitious approach would involve laying track on that and a connecting track to a delta at Parliament and King (taking out the bus loop) assuming that streetcar track/wiring could pass underneath the Parliament Gardiner and rail bridges.

    This would start the QQE LRT off but also give a diversion route for Cherry cars when construction work takes place at the Cherry/Lakeshore intersection, with the route reverting to Cherry-King when work is completed but retaining useful diversion capacity.


  9. Apoplogies to Stephen Cheung whose comment was deleted in error. The gist was that new transit in the eastern harbour area needs to be in place before the Gardiner comes down.

    Please submit it again.


  10. Well, that was the gist of my comment. Even if that section of the Gardiner is not used as often as the western stretch, cutting it down and replacing it with a large boulevard is still going to cause delays, whether you like it or not. I know of people who decried the demise of the section of the Gardiner that went to Leslie Street, and that it added minutes to their commute. Others say that the traffic signals in the area can cause some forms of congestion.

    That section between Jarvis and the DVP is more heavily travelled than the former section east of the DVP. It serves as a vital connector between the east and west sections of Downtown Toronto. How are they going to address the turns from the proposed roadway to the DVP? How will the traffic timings work? I would bet my marbles that the proposed roadway will see nothing but trouble and lots of traffic jams, even if it is “not as frequently used”.

    The only available transit alternative is the 72A Pape bus which runs on Commissioners, and that’s about it. It runs very limited service and could not possibly be considered as reliable. The only other service in the area is the King and Queen streetcars and we all know what a ride on those two lines will be like.

    Any attempt to bring down any expressway in any form is going to cause problems unless there is sufficient transit in the area to pick up the slack. And I’m not talking about a simple bus route, it has to be LRT or HRT.


  11. Steve, There is a new four lane “ramp road” being built with this project that will still connect the Gardiner to DVP. It will be built alongside the rail berm, exiting from the Gardiner at Jarvis. It’s in the plans. The new Lakeshore will have eight lanes through from from Jarvis. This plan I can approve of since it gives the East Bayfront and West Donlands new life.

    Cars will either get off at Jarvis or take the ramp road to the DVP. This will not cause gridlock because it has solutions for all. I am wondering why the media or the Mayor didn’t mention this. I tried to post the link from the star that shows this ramp road but my computer would not allow it.

    We can actually extend Queens Quay east to Cherry and run the LRT there. It would also allow a re-configured Cherry to run south much better than what we have. The dust that this tear down will cause is ignored now but wait … the People around there are going to be in for a surprise. This should not take four years to assess and four years to build. It should and could be done in three. They should ask for an EA exemption on this one. If they can and must, dynamite the thing since there are not many buildings out there that can be damaged.

    Steve: Thanks for pointing this out, although I am not absolutely sure that the Star’s map was accurate. It includes a note stating that it was based on past proposals, and one thing the current announcement notably lacks is details. The pretty pictures have appeared before in reports on tearing down the whole expressway.

    There are still major issues about the existing eastbound ramps at York and at Jarvis that need to be reconfigured, and how their new form will interact with other proposals for the area.

    The extension of the Queen’s Quay line is already in the plans with a three-way junction at a new Cherry / Queen’s Quay / Lake Shore intersection.

    As for the Mayor, his big problem was that Waterfront Toronto chose to make the announcement while he was out of town, and he participated by phone — not the best way to make a big impression.

    Waterfront Toronto has a lot of projects in the works, but if you are not following them all closely (and in some cases even if you read everything available) it’s hard to see the overall picture.


  12. Killing that FSE means that we are stuck with the rest of the elevated Gardiner possibly forever. No one seems to get, in their fits of righteous indignation, that the only rationale of the FSE was a network one: getting traffic off the central Gardiner requires by basic logistics another exit point between Jameson and Spadina. Oh well…another victory for perception over substance. Or maybe Pantalone is right: a future generation will discover the merits of road pricing and be able to finance the endless billions for the only viable option B: a giant tunnel.

    Steve: Future generations will be spending too much on gas, if they can get it, to finance a tunnel. Meanwhile, I have always felt that the FSE/Gardiner link was a forced arrangement of the kind so favoured by planners and politicians. Get people to assume that the thing they really want is impossible without swallowing some bitter pill, and they will approve anything.

    The problem is that the road advocates hope we swallow the pill (in this case the FSE) but never quite get around to the “beneficial” part of the arrangement (taking down the Gardiner). Building new roads encourages more traffic, and magically taking down the Gardiner might still be “impossible” even with the FSE in place.


  13. Steve

    this portion of the gardiner has 50,000 cars travel on it every day, according to the city’s 24-hour traffic study.

    University av, has 25,000, and we all see how busy it can get

    If you want to create a pedestrian unfriendly environment, then this is exactly the proper thing to do.

    Steve: It’s important to know how this traffic is redistributed onto the replacement road network. As I have already remarked, the gaping hole in Waterfront Toronto’s presentation is the absence of a map.


  14. Does anyone know what the plan is for Lakeshore? My initial read was that it would be moved along with the gardiner, but I’m hearing that this may not be the case. If the lakeshore is left alone, then the plan might work – its still a bad plan if the lakeshore is left alone, but at least it’s not a horrible one.

    Steve: I am still trying to find out how accurate the map in the Star last week was.


  15. w zenetos post covers what I was trying to post yesterday. I don’t think The Star’s map was exactly right. I’m going by the ‘Great Street’ alternative in the larger study.

    Reading the overall study can be a bit confusing because the Eastern section work is done last – which changes the transitional logistics somewhat. All alternatives show new ramps to the DVP from the center lanes of the new arterial. (These ramps have a tighter radius than the current ramps.)

    The media reports seemed to imply that the DVP would simply stop at a T-intersection – such as at Lakeshore and the Don Roadway. This would be offer no improvement in the attractiveness for pedestrians – and would not match with the claim of only adding two minutes to trips.

    I think the plan is workable if it indeed includes the replacement ramps to the DVP and DVPEastern/Ricmond interchange work. It does seem odd that the media release was so short on details.


  16. Also (and feel free to merge these three seperate comments into one if you wish) after reading the concerns about the 503/502, I think that the point needs to be made that taking down the gardiner will have MAJOR impacts on this area, not just for cars, or even transit, but for the city and perception. All of a sudden Richmond and Adelaide are no longer roads, but extentions of the DVP – something as seemingly minor as this can have a huge impact on future plans.


  17. Richmond and Adelaide already are extentions of the DVP. That’s why this section is so lightly travelled. Most people using the DVP to get downtown already get off at Bloor or Richmond. Tear it down.


  18. If the FSE is indeed dead what are the chances that it will actually be revived as a local street? On the subject of the Gardiner, why is only the section from Jarvis on east being targeted to be torn down and replaced by a surface road?

    Steve: It’s hard to say whether there will be a local street, or if the existing roads will be left as is. There could be an argument for a new street west from Bathurst as a continuation of Front, but how far it would go and what it would connect with need some discussion.


  19. No amount of local transit will be an alternative for the east end Gardiner. Nobody (Ok maybe 8 people a day) gets on the Gardiner to get from Yonge to Cherry. They get on at Bay to get to Oshawa. They get on at Carlaw to get to Mississauga. The sugar plant, the soap plant, the cement plant. the maybe soon movie studios and all of those seemingly desirable employment areas want to get goods in and out without worrying about running over a kid in a stroller, or some streetcar opening its doors.

    Now, you might say that such tourists are not really welcome here any more, let them move the remaining factories up to Malton, but you might want to tell them that to their faces. Or do as they do in some parts of the world, build a wall. Seems a bit short-sighted to me.


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