This week the City of Toronto and Waterfront Toronto released a report containing a preliminary analysis of four options for dealing with the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street, which is nearing the end of its useful lifespan. Those options are to maintain, improve, replace or remove the 2.4 kilometre stretch.
Although the report does not contain a formal recommendation, it includes a detailed evaluation of each option based on comprehensive criteria including the potential impacts on the economy, travel times, land values, the pedestrian realm and even view planes. In order to familiarize our readers with the findings of the report, we have prepared a basic summary of the four options, outlining some of the major pros and cons of each.
Maintaining the Gardiner would cost approximately $870 million over 100 years and would entail reconstruction of the deck of the expressway as well as the realignment of Lake Shore Boulevard through the Keating Precinct. Deck reconstruction would be done in segments and would require partial lane closures of the Gardiner for about six years. While this option would provide commuters with the shortest travel times out of all four options, it would not address the noise, pollution, lack of pedestrian safety, barriers to the waterfront and other problems that the expressway currently presents.
The plan for improving the Gardiner would cost approximately $865 million over 100 years and would entail the deck of the expressway being rebuilt with four lanes, rather than the current six, (this is the least traveled portion of the highway), as well as new landscaping to enhance the public realm under and around the Gardiner. Like the maintain option, this would require partial lane closures on the Gardiner for about six years.
The plan originally called for relocating Lake Shore Boulevard under the expressway, however after initial public consultation this was deemed to be too expensive. The new plan calls for Lake Shore Boulevard to remain in place but for the replacement of the southern eastbound lane east of Jarvis Street with a new walking and cycling trail. For a commuter from the Victoria Park/Finch or Kipling/Lake Shore neighbourhoods in 2031, this option would mean a five minute increase in commuting time over the maintain option.
Replacing the Gardiner would be the most expensive option at approximately $1.39 billion over 100 years. The eight-year construction timeline would require complete closure of the eastern stretch of the expressway, and would therefore cause the most disruption to motorists.
It would see the expressway replaced with a higher and narrower 4-lane expressway supported by a single splayed column, which would allow more sunlight to reach the spaces underneath. Lake Shore Boulevard would be relocated under the expressway, opening up about 5 acres of land for public realm improvements and potential development opportunities. Sales of these lands could fetch the City up to $160 million. For a commuter from the Victoria Park/Finch or Kipling/Lake Shore neighbourhoods in 2031, this option would mean a five minute increase in commuting time over the maintain option.
Removing the Gardiner would be the cheapest option costing approximately $470 million over 100 years. It would entail turning Lake Shore Boulevard into an 8-lane, tree-lined boulevard, requiring three years to demolish the expressway and another three years to complete the boulevard.
Removing the expressway certainly represents the best option from an urban design point-of-view. It would have the most positive impact on local noise levels and air quality, would include a new promenade along the north side of the Keating Channel and would allow for the redesign of many of the intersections along Lake Shore Boulevard which are currently some of the most dangerous in the city.
It would also provide the greatest number of options for potential redevelopment, as 85% of the total land on the north and south sides of the boulevard—about 10 acres—would become available. By selling these surplus lands to developers, the City could recuperate up to $240 million and ensure that the boulevard is lined with retail, patios and other pedestrian-friendly uses, including a new walking and cycling trail. In turn, these new uses would provide a boost to the economies of the local emerging neighbourhoods.
The remove option envisions the new boulevard functioning much like a major downtown artery like University Avenue or Jarvis Street, however some fear that as a main traffic thoroughfare connecting the DVP to the Gardiner, it would still be an unpleasant experience for pedestrians while also under servicing motorists. For a commuter from the Victoria Park/Finch neighbourhood in 2031, this option would mean a ten minute increase in commuting time over the maintain option, and five minute increase for commuters from the Kipling/Lake Shore neighbourhood.
Appreciating the implication of increased commuting times requires some understanding of how much commuters into the city depend on the Gardiner. Analysis of traffic shows that at the peak of morning rush hour on any given weekday, 49% of people commuting into downtown take the TTC, 19% take GO Transit, 4% walk and 28% drive. Of those who drive, only a quarter enter via the Gardiner. Over the next 20 years the percentage of commuters entering downtown is projected to increase by about 50%, however virtually none of that increase is expected via the Gardiner as it has already reached capacity.
It should be noted that the numbers and projections in the report were based on the assumption that the East Bayfront LRT/Broadview Streetcar Extension, Downtown Relief Line and GO Service improvements will be in place by 2031 as new transit alternatives are required in all four of the possible scenarios. For those interested, a detailed presentation of the report by Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto can be accessed here.
A formal recommendation to City Council has yet to be made, however given the preliminary analysis it is widely expected that the remove option will be the selection made by staff. Although some council members have already made their positions known in the media, it’s expected that a final decision will ultimately be made by a new council following the municipal election this fall. In the meantime, if you would like to have your say, you have a couple weeks to submit comments to the City here. Otherwise, feel free to post a comment below!
Rami Kozman is a commercial real estate lawyer in Toronto and can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/ramikozman.