Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Minnan-Wong's congestion remarks a worrying start to Gardiner debate

By: Metro Published on Fri Apr 17 2015

Moments after sitting through a long, even-handed and quite nerdy technical briefing on the Gardiner Expressway East Environmental Assessment Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong stood up at a press conference to brush aside much of what he had just learned.

“I didn’t get elected to increase congestion. I did not,” Minnan-Wong told reporters, before launching into a speech passionately advocating for the “hybrid” option as the only sensible path forward for the crumbling expressway.

To hear him tell it, data showing two- or three-minute travel time increases be damned, removing the part of the Gardiner between Jarvis Street and the Don Valley Parkway and replacing it with an at-grade boulevard would create historic and terrible traffic tie-ups.

That's exactly the kind of reaction I was worried about when this debate came up again. For Minnan-Wong, all the assembled data seemed to get eclipsed by a gut feeling he had about what removing part of the Gardiner would really mean for traffic.

It was a concerning thing to witness. If the right solution was so obvious from the beginning, and politicians aren’t going to trust the data and the process behind things like environmental assessments, why even bother with this kind of analysis in the first place?

Worse, Minnan-Wong’s tough talk about not increasing congestion doesn't fit the findings in the Gardiner EA. Sure, he may not have been elected to increase congestion, but the hybrid option he’s backing for the Gardiner does just that.

There’s no getting around it. The hybrid sees the removal of the on- and off-ramps to Lake Shore Boulevard on the east side of the Don River, replacing them with new ramps closer to Cherry Street, where traffic models suggest drivers coming to the Gardiner from neighbourhoods like Leslieville and the Beaches will see an additional morning rush delay of up to three minutes versus the current Gardiner configuration.

So if Minnan-Wong’s only concern is congestion, it’s not clear why he’s supporting the hybrid option at all. Why not simply support rehabbing and repairing the existing structure? It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than the hybrid.

Plus, it would save those east-end drivers that precious three minutes each morning.

If the answer to that question is, as I suspect, that maintaining the existing configuration isn’t tenable because it doesn’t allow for development planned for the Unilever site on the east side of the Don River, then that just leads to more questions.

If hybrid supporters will admit that a small amount of increased congestion is a worthwhile trade-off to unlock valuable development, then they need to explain why that trade-off doesn’t extend to the other side of the Don River.

Between Jarvis and the DVP, removing a small section of the Gardiner will unlock land that city staff say could be sold for up to $150 million in immediate government revenue, all while increasing travel times by that same two to three minutes.

That developable land could also be used as part of a tax increment financing plan, helping to fund projects like SmartTrack.

I have yet to hear a satisfying explanation as to why it makes sense to spend more money on a hybrid solution to enable development at the Unilever site when there’s an alternative that costs far less and enables both the Unilever development and twelve acres of development on the west side of the river.

The arguments just aren’t there. Maybe they’ll come later.

Beyond anything else, we should really want this Gardiner debate to be about the data and findings represented in the reports presented.

I’m tired of hysterical rhetoric. I’m tired of people acting like this is a debate about whether we should keep the entire Gardiner or not. I’m tired of people glossing over the fact that, fundamentally, this is about whether saving three per cent of commuters two or three minutes a day is worth a half-billion dollars.

Speaking of fundamentals, in the middle of his speech Wednesday, Minnan-Wong somehow got on the subject of fundamental realities.

“Cars are a fundamental reality. Trucks are a fundamental reality. The economy is a fundamental reality,” he said.

I don’t disagree. But, in this debate, the data is a fundamental reality, too — and so is the cost.

This post was originally published at on 2015-04-17T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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