Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

There is no design that will make any Gardiner hybrid option a good idea

The Gardiner East.
The Gardiner East.

Months after Toronto City Council voted 24-21 in favour of the “hybrid option” for the section of the Gardiner Expressway between Jarvis Street and the Don Valley Parkway, there’s some buyer’s remorse in the air at city hall.

It’s like some councillors want to return the Gardiner they bought to the store and get something that fits them a little better.

Last week, the city’s public works and infrastructure committee heard about three official “hybrid alternative design concepts.” They also got wind of two Gardiner East designs put together by third parties.

The first, supported by former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford, would replace this stretch of expressway with a new viaduct next to the rail corridor.

The second, put together by a team of planning consultants, is more ambitious, calling for the Gardiner East to be rebuilt on top of the rail corridor and then for a park to be built on top of the Gardiner. It’d create a Gardiner sandwich, basically.

I understand the appeal. People love sandwiches. And there’s a natural tendency for municipal politicians to identify compromise solutions to big issues. Good compromises can lead to nice moments of political unity and solutions that balance needs.
But none of these newfangled hybrids make for good compromises.

They can’t. Because council already rejected the best Gardiner compromise: removing the small two-kilometre stretch between Jarvis and the DVP and replacing it with a boulevard.

It was both cost-effective and fair. It acknowledged that while, yes, there’s no avoiding spending at least a billion dollars to repair the most-used parts of the Gardiner, the evidence suggests the city can knock down this tiny eastern part and save a lot of cash. All with minimal traffic impact.

That was the decision that should have been made.

It wasn’t, of course. And now councillors are left with a range of expressway designs that mostly attempt to pretty up a hybrid pig.

Nearly all of them will come with costs in excess of the $919-million price tag attached to the hybrid design. Most would have longer construction timelines. And some would even slow traffic thanks to reduced speeds, which only raises the question: If slower speeds are acceptable, why not just get rid of the expressway altogether?

More importantly, all of them share the same problem. They call for overbuilt infrastructure. Wasteful and inefficient, they’re more than Toronto needs to handle traffic levels — at the cost of public money that could have gone to public transit.

In the end, council’s Gardiner East debate was never about expressway design. It was about priorities. Councillors chose to prioritize an expressway connection over needed investments in transit. There’s no design that will ever make that choice a good one.

This post was originally published at on 2015-09-28T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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