On October 16, 2013, the second public meeting in the Gardiner East Environmental Assessment presented additional information and refinement of the options for dealing with the expressway’s segment between the Don River and Jarvis Street.
The purpose of the meeting was to report on the options that would receive further analysis in the next step of the EA and to provide comparative information about costs and benefits of the various schemes. Broadly, there are four families of options:
- Maintain the existing expressway with necessary repairs to make it sound for several decades’ more service.
- Replace the expressway on a new structure either above or below ground.
- Improve the existing expressway by selective reconstruction to open up space under the road deck.
- Remove the expressway and create an at-grade boulevard.
Some options have been dropped from further study:
- An underground alignment 1km long transitioning to/from existing elevated structured at the Don and at Jarvis.
- An elevated alignment over the rail corridor.
- A surface alignment on a berm abutting the south side of the rail corridor.
For any tunnel option, an important consideration is that most of the traffic arriving from the DVP and Lake Shore East is bound for the core area rather than as through trips to the western side of Toronto and beyond. Therefore, access ramps are essential to any option that is not at grade so that traffic can actually get to downtown. (By contrast, the “Big Dig” in Boston provided a link between the north and south sides of the core area on a route where 80% of the travel is through traffic and does not create demand for local ramp structures.)
The study claims that 80% of inbound trips have downtown destinations and this argues against a tunnel from which access would be difficult. However, consider the origin-destination charts on page 15 of the presentation:
Of the traffic arriving from the DVP:
- 40% leaves at Richmond Street
- 7% exits to Lake Shore
- 53% continues onto the Gardiner East, subdivided as
- 10% exits at Jarvis/Sherbourne
- 25% exits at Spadina/York/Bay
- 18% travels beyond downtown.
If we were contemplating a tunnel across all of downtown, the argument about ramps and O-D patterns would be valid, but in this case, from the point of view of such a tunnel, most traffic is “through” traffic. Only 10% of traffic that would enter a tunnel westbound at the Don leaves at Jarvis, and even this would be served if an off-ramp were incorporated in the transition from tunnel to elevated. Similar arguments apply to the other O-D maps above.
The real problems with a tunnel are its cost and the barrier effect created by ramps linking the tunnel to the elevated structures at the Don and at Jarvis Street.
The schemes involving the rail corridor have both been dropped because they cannot be fitted into the space available. In the case of an elevated, there is no room for the support structures needed (not to mention access ramps), and in the case of the berm, the area is reserved for future expansion of rail operations.
A far more important issue hinted at by the presentation but not explored in detail is the wider context of transportation into the core area.
The study assumes several improvements to the transit system which are in various stages of funding, but which have no delivery dates. [page 16]
- “Downtown” Relief Line (part of the Next Wave of Big Move projects)
- Broadview and Cherry Streetcars (no funding beyond track construction on Cherry to the rail corridor)
- Waterfront East LRT (some funding in proposed Development Charges Bylaw)
- GO Lakeshore and Stouffville service improvements (scope used in model vs funded/planned improvements unknown)
- Higher capacity on streetcar fleet/system (depends on service levels actually provided)
- Increased capacity on existing YUS and BD subway lines (some funded, most not)
- Union Station expansion (in progress)
The balance of transit, cycling, walking, auto and telecommuting will change, and time-of-day demand patterns will shift away from the peak. Moreover, some travel will be diverted (in an unspecified way) due to capacity constraints in the area under study.
[For an overview of development across Toronto in general, please see How Does The City Grow by the Toronto Planning Department.]
Between 2011 and 2031, population and employment in the area under study will grow dramatically with population more than doubling and employment growing by more than 50% [page 18].
Population in this area is already rising very quickly at a rate far greater than transportation facilities can keep up. This growing downtown population contributes to a rise mainly in local transit trips by 2031 with smaller increases in auto and walking/cycling. [page 19]
Trips into the core are expected to increase by over 25% with the lion’s share projected to be on GO Transit [page 20].
The presentation does not break down the components of the transit increase, but the delta is about 40% or 70k trips in the AM Peak. That is a very substantial increase and would require at least 30k more inbound capacity in the peak hour. Where and when all of this will be provided is a mystery.
Another important travel component is the trips beginning downtown but travelling outward [page 21].
The absolute volume of trips is small, roughly one seventh of inbound trips in 2006, but these are predicted to roughly double by 2031 when the counterpeak travel will be one quarter of the peak demand. Auto and TTC travel will handle by far the majority of the increase. This has implications both for the downtown road network especially considering that all of those outbound commutes in the AM become inbound traffic in the PM when roads are generally busier. Also, this does not say much for the benefit of frequent two-way all-day service on GO and suggests either that the model is wrong, or that we are seeing the limitations of non-core service on the GO network.
In a separate review of transportation capacity, the presentation compares network capacity with demand across a screenline at the Don River from Lake Shore to Bloor [page 67].
Existing peak hour demand is just over 70k split roughly 60/40 between transit and auto travel. Future total demand is projected to be over 90k. Depending on the option chosen for the expressway, the auto network capacity will either remain the same or will be decreased by amounts varying between roughly 25-30%. Transit will have to absorb all of the increased travel demand.
One point worth noting in the chart above is that the greatest auto capacity is for the “maintain” option which has a wider (existing) Gardiner than the three others. Although this capacity is present today, it is not fully utilized, and it is unclear whether there is enough feeder capacity on Lake Shore East and the DVP (allowing for traffic that exits before it gets to the Gardiner) to actually use all of the capacity a “maintain” option would provide in 2031.
Projected auto travel times are modelled for 2031 conditions under each scenario with the “remove” option faring the worst [page 69].
However, not mentioned in the presentation materials is the fact that the model uses the 8-lane version of the at-grade boulevard even though it shows a 10-lane version as an option. The modelling has not yet been done for the wider boulevard, but already the Toronto Star, in an editorial, has dismissed the “remove” option on the basis of the extra travel time it would entail. The more suspicious among us might think that a worst-case scenario has been proposed to ensure the “remove” option’s demise.
Ten lanes may sound like a large boulevard, but it would be comparable to University Avenue [page 59]. The main difference is that the wide space taken the median on University would be narrowed to accommodate two more lanes.
Also missing from the chart is a comparison with existing travel times. How much more congestion will there be thanks to greater demands on local roads leading to and from the expressway network?
The cost summary [page 77] compares the four options.
Highest is the “replace” option because it requires both the demolition of the existing structures and the construction of a completely new expressway. The capital cost would be $610-910m 2013$. Second highest is the “improve” option because it requires major changes to the existing structures.
The two options in striking distance of each other are “maintain” and “remove” at $235m and $240-360m respectively. The net present value of operating costs of “maintain” are highest of the four at $80m with “remove” at $15m. This reflects the high cost of continued maintenance on the elevated structure versus an at-grade boulevard.
Additional benefits for land value and for release of development parcels apply to all options except “maintain” because there would be no change in the physical massing of the expressway under that option. From a purely political budgeting point of view, however, increased land values are “soft” in that they do not necessarily accrue in full to the City, and they depend on development actually happening more than a decade in the future when construction is completed. The cost of whatever option is chosen must be borne now with a hope that future revenues might offset this.
From an urban design standpoint, the “remove” option leaves the eastern waterfront with the best option, but at some cost to the motoring public. Exactly what this cost will be is unknown because the larger-capacity 10-lane version of the boulevard has not been modelled.
Politically, the decision will come to Council in the April 2014 right in the middle of an extremely contentious election where transportation will be a central issue. The timing is poor, but City staff claim that selection of one option is needed now in order for the design and procurement process to complete before the expected demise of the existing structure. This is a rather facile excuse considering how long the matter has already been delayed thanks to pandering to Mayor Ford that stopped the study dead in its tracks for three years.
I am sure that a delay beyond the 2014 election will not be fatal to the plans and could bring debate in a more rational environment, if that term can possibly be applied to Toronto. If anything, Council, the TTC and Metrolinx need to discuss this in the wider context of travel at the regional level and at the fine-grained neighbourhood level for which little provision has been made to date.
This study only considers one part of core-oriented travel because that is the scope of work. Equally important are issues of subway relief and of the rail corridors to the north, northwest and west, not to mention growing downtown traffic congestion. Decisions made now will affect the character of Toronto for decades to come, and they cannot be made piecemeal one expressway, one subway, one streetcar, one bikeway, one sidewalk at a time.
It is fashionable to treat downtown as adequately served and to focus attention outward on the suburbs. This is foolhardy both because it attempts to divide one part of the city from another, but also because history tells us that downtown will grow whether politicians want it to or not.