Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Fact-checking John Tory's Gardiner East talking points

By: Metro Published on Tue Jun 09 2015

At this point, it seems clear that John Tory is not going to change his mind on the future of the eastern part of the Gardiner Expressway. That’s a shame — it could have made for a great legacy-defining moment.

Thanks to Twitter's limitations, the mayor’s tweets are probably the purest distillation of his talking points. So let’s fact-check ‘em.

Hey, I’ve got great news: No matter what Toronto decides to do with this two-kilometre section of the Gardiner, we’ll still be a city with both expressways and transit. I guess that makes us great.

There’s nothing incorrect about what Tory is saying here, but it does imply a false choice. This isn’t a debate about removing an entire expressway. No one is saying Toronto should get rid of any of its expressways. We will still have expressways, I promise.

Agreed. But maintaining the Gardiner doesn’t get Toronto any closer to having better transit. Instead, it spends money that could be used to get better transit.

Setting aside lifecycle operating and maintenance costs for now, opting to replace the Gardiner East with an at-grade boulevard would save almost $100 million in near-term capital costs. It would also unlock 12 acres of developable land that could be sold for another $176 million, according to preliminary estimates.

That money could quickly be used for all kinds of transit improvements, whether it be an accelerated SmartTrack plan, improved streetcar and bus service or an investment in the promised East Bayfront LRT. The overall benefit of these kinds of improvements need to be weighed against the benefit of keeping the Gardiner East.

Which is why we should think very carefully about how we spend what little public money we have to fight congestion.

Tory is advocating a position that would devote public money to save three per cent of downtown commuters a few minutes a day. It's worth considering if there are ways Toronto could spend the same amount of money to benefit more people.

For instance, how many TTC riders experience regular delays in excess of five minutes on a regular basis due to crowding, mechanical problems and a lack of vehicles? What's the economic impact of major TTC problems like the city experienced yesterday morning?

A ridiculous assertion. In 2014, the hybrid option as proposed by developer First Gulf looked like this:

But that hybrid plan was ruled to be impossible, due to concerns about the curve radius and the availability of land near the rail corridor. The new hybrid is a vastly different scheme, one that hews much closer to simply maintaining the highway than what was originally envisioned.

To claim that anyone who expressed support for the First Gulf hybrid must also support the current hybrid plan is like saying anyone who liked the original Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes must also love the 2001 Tim Burton remake with Marky Mark.

The names may be the same, but the plans (and apes) are different.

The other problem I have with this argument is it obscures the fact people who commute by car via the Gardiner will experience increases in commute times over the next 15 years no matter what council decides.

According to the city’s own traffic models, travel times for motorists will increase — by as much as eight minutes one way in one case — even if the Gardiner East is left completely untouched.

So long as Toronto’s population is growing, there’s no fighting this traffic trend. Any road network benefit derived from an elevated Gardiner-DVP connection will be dwarfed by limited capacity across the city.

The best thing city hall can do is work to give people options for mobility beyond driving.

Wait, why are we imagining a city without any expressways? Is this just some sort of thought exercise? Like imagining a world without zinc?

Again, Toronto will still have expressways no matter what council decides to do with the Gardiner East. And nowhere in the hundreds of pages of staff and consultant reports I’ve looked at is there any serious talk of truck traffic infiltration into residential neighbourhoods.

I’m slapping a giant “CITATION NEEDED” on this one.

The Gardiner East is here to stay. Or maybe it's not. Maybe it will be buried. Perhaps we can sell it. Does the province want it? What is happening?
Courtesy of CodeBlueTO The Gardiner East is here to stay. Or maybe it's not. Maybe it will be buried. Perhaps we can sell it. Does the province want it? What is happening?

Let’s start with the mayor’s mention of “job loss.”

An economic analysis report put together by HR&A Advisors found that replacing the Gardiner with a boulevard would create the opportunity for 1,600 additional potential jobs relative to the base case.

Tory's plan, on the other hand, actually costs the city potential local employment, generating 430 fewer jobs compared to the base case. The drop is largely due to a loss of developable land caused by the new Cherry Street ramps and service road.

The same report also found that Toronto’s global competitiveness would not be affected by the Gardiner East decision. It did, however, suggest that the hybrid would be preferred for “downtown competitiveness.” But there’s no indication in the report that either option will lead to significant job losses.

As for the $37-million cost, this figure refers to the increased cost to automobile users. It’s a simple reflection of the annual increase of vehicle hours travelled at peak periods. Page 55 of the city's report warns against using this as an economic measure: “It should also be noted that a simple auto user cost calculation based on a value of time applied to travel time forecasts does not capture the net economic consequences.”

That doesn’t mean the figure should be dismissed, but it’s important to put it into context. This isn’t a $37-million cost that will be carried by the city government or the tax base. It also needs to be considered in terms of opportunity cost — if the city spent an amount of money equivalent to the Gardiner East hybrid cost on improving transit reliability, how much of that $37 million could be offset?

Tory can appeal to common sense all he wants. Here’s my sense, uncommon though it may be.

Tory's hybrid solution does little to combat the citywide trend of worsening traffic and increased travel times. Only transit investment, densification and a greater modal shift to active transportation can meaningfully make commuting better.

Since, according to the Gardiner East study, 68 per cent of people traveling downtown in the morning are using either TTC or GO Transit, it's fair to suggest transit investment that will keep jobs in Toronto, not an elevated highway connection.

As for “balance,” consider this: Over the next 10 years, Toronto will spend $970 million replacing the Gardiner west of Jarvis Street. That same amount could buy TTC accessibility improvements, technology like Automatic Train Control, extra buses and streetcars to improve transit city-wide, and a substantial down payment on new infrastructure.

But instead we’re talking about adding even more money to the giant pile we’re already set to spend on the Gardiner.

If there’s an imbalance, it’s transit that’s getting short-changed.

This is an opportunity to start fixing that.

This post was originally published at on 2015-06-09T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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