I wasn’t really surprised when Mayor John Tory announced that he’d be supporting the “hybrid” option for the East Gardiner Expressway last week. But I was surprised by his timing.
After a few weeks of playing coy, Tory publicly confirmed his support for the hybrid on Tuesday, the day before city hall’s Public Works committee was scheduled to meet to discuss the expressway’s future. As he laid out his view, dozens of people had already signed up to give public deputations to the committee — residents, business representatives, advocates, planning experts and others.
By staking his claim to one side of the debate before the meeting, Tory was effectively telling those people that he didn’t need to hear what they had to say. His mind was already made up.
It was a tactical mistake. Not just because it went against Tory’s reputation as a politician who wants to hear from the public, but because the deputants who came out in support of removing the East Gardiner made some really great arguments — arguments Tory should have heard before publicly making up his mind.
Though a few came out to support keeping the Gardiner — like CAA and the Toronto Region Board of Trade — the vast majority of deputants were in favour of removing the East Gardiner and replacing it with a boulevard.
It was a heavyweight line-up. Former City of Toronto Chief Planner Paul Bedford declared Toronto would be the “laughingstock of the world” if council decided to keep the East Gardiner. World famous architect Michael Kirkland came prepared with slides from other cities, showing places where elevated highways were removed and cities weren’t chocked with congestion. And members of the waterfront advocacy group CodeBlueTO kept things on point with well-reasoned arguments.
And then there was planning lawyer Jane Pepino, who threw a significant and unexpected wrench into the debate.
The value of the 3C Lakeshore development? “Huge,” said Pepino.
That seems like something worth considering. But by the time Pepino spoke, Tory had already made his views known.
And while the public works committee eventually decided to make no decision on the Gardiner, asking only for more reports on potential traffic impacts and ramp configurations in advance of the final council debate in June, the mayor now finds himself supporting an East Gardiner option that could have profound planning — and maybe legal — consequences.
Worse, it’s a position that he seemingly is only able to support through weak arguments.
How many times, for example, are we going to hear that the proposed eight-lane boulevard that would replace the Gardiner would be pedestrian-hostile? Do people not get that Lake Shore Boulevard underneath the Gardiner is already pedestrian-hostile — and wider than the proposed replacement boulevard?
Worst of all of Tory’s arguments is the idea that his support for the hybrid option is only natural, given that he supported the hybrid during his election campaign. (Tory is also quick to point out that opponents Olivia Chow and Doug Ford did the same.)
This ignores that the hybrid has substantially changed since it was first proposed, going from a completely realigned highway connector to a scheme that basically leaves the Gardiner where it is and moves some ramps. The name might be the same, but the plan is different.
I get that, at a glance, the hybrid seems like an attractive political option for Tory. It looks like the safe middle-ground — even the name “hybrid” screams compromise. But dig a little deeper and that narrative quickly falls apart. The hybrid costs more than even just maintaining the section of highway as it is, offers few benefits over just removing the damn thing, and vastly limits the potential of Toronto's eastern waterfront.
And yet this is the direction the mayor has decided to go. But, hey, there’s still time to pull a U-turn.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/torys-toronto-matt-elliott/2015/05/20/on-the-gardiner-john-tory-is-heading-in-the-wrong-direction.html on 2015-05-20T00:00:00.000Z