Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Why the fate of the Gardiner Expressway must rest on our heads, not our hearts

By: Metro Published on Mon May 04 2015

I found some shade from the sun this weekend under the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway.

Beneath the hulking structure — only a little concerned about being crushed by falling debris — I joined about 100 people for a Jane’s Walk with a Shakespearean title: “Gardiner Expressway: to be or not to be?”

We were there, basically, to think about whether they should tear the sucker down.

The debate over the future of the eastern Gardiner has very much become a head-versus-heart issue.

As the numbers tell it, the story is pretty simple. There are two remaining options on the table. Removing the elevated highway east of Jarvis Street and building a ground-level road is the cheaper choice, but will mean slightly longer commute times for drivers, as projected by traffic models versus the baseline.

The other option, dubbed the hybrid, costs more, but will be about two or three minutes faster for car commuters at peak times, as it preserves an uninterrupted link between the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway.

And so the fundamental question looks like this: Is saving the three per cent of commuters — the proportion who use this part of the Gardiner — two or three minutes on their morning commute worth an extra $88 million in upfront capital costs and $370 million in life-cycle maintenance costs?

The head says no, emphatically so. There are better places to spend that combined half-billion dollars, whether it’s affordable housing or transit.

But, at least for a lot of people, the heart disagrees. It rejects the traffic models, going instead with an intuitive feeling that says removing any part of the Gardiner would have serious congestion impacts. Mostly the heart just feels like the city is hard enough to get around as it is — should we really be doing something that makes it worse?

I heard some of those “heart” arguments as the group weaved its way past cracked concrete pillars, rust-stained steel girders and abandoned railway tracks. I also heard some people using their heads to make arguments for removal.

For me, the most striking moment came when we passed by the Keating Channel, just east of Cherry Street. It’s currently almost invisible next to the pillars of the highway. There’s a ton of opportunity here, but only if the highway comes down.

An urbanist could look at this and see waterfront cafés and pedestrian promenades. A capitalist could look at it and see big dollar signs.

Either way: big potential. Transformative potential.

But that potential won’t be realized if this decision is made too quickly, and certainly not if analysis and modelling gives way to fears of traffic chaos. If there ever was a decision that deserved thorough consideration — governed by our heads and not our hearts — this is it.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-05-04T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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