LORINC: Why aren’t we bundling transit into the Gardiner removal decision?

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With the sort of discretion normally reserved for wait staff and funeral directors, Waterfront Toronto’s (WT) board very quietly released its widely-anticipated position on the Gardiner East environmental assessment late Friday afternoon, well after city council had dispersed for the week.

The statement said that WT’s board voted to recommend the “remove” option as the best and most cost effective solution for the crumbling highway. The 180-degree policy shift is worth noting, given how fearful the waterfront mandarins were almost four years ago when Rob Ford swept into office on a mandate to halt the so-called war on the car.

Does WT’s view matter politically? Set aside for the moment the governance reality that the City of Toronto is a one-third shareholder. The board’s position is merely the opening act; the main event begins next week, when city staff delivers their own Gardiner report to the public works and infrastructure committee.

My guess is that the bureaucratic recommendation will line up with WT’s, probably with the caveat that council be enjoined to actually make a decision instead of dither, given the rapidly deteriorating state of the deck.

In an appeal to council’s tight-fistedness, the EA report, released earlier this month, noted that in the next century, the all-in cost of maintaining the Gardiner is significantly greater than knocking it down — $870 million to $470 million, in 2013 dollars, or $300 million to $240 million in “net present value” dollars.

As with the Scarborough subway, it’s entirely predictable that many suburban councillors will happily forsake their fiscal principles when it comes to car-friendly transportation infrastructure. But what about the swing votes, and the positions of the mayoral challengers (David Soknacki and, as of today, Karen Stintz)?

Here’s my question: what happens to this fractious debate if the Gardiner removal option is bundled with a detailed financing plan for the Queen’s Quay East LRT, which is estimated to cost almost $400 million and lacks a funding source?*

For reasons I can’t really grasp, those two pieces have never been put together. The EA is merely the latest waterfront planning document to wax on about the importance of encouraging commuters to take transit into the core.

And as anyone who’s followed the long-running discussion about waterfront/portlands redevelopment will know, the Queen’s Quay LRT is considered a key piece of the infrastructure puzzle. A 2006 EA by the TTC estimated that the East Bayfront and the Portlands would produce about 31,000 housing units, and up to 35,000 office and retail employees. Those figures, the EA concluded, translate into a Queen’s Quay LRT with peak-period hourly ridership of 4,250 people, a level that matches the Queen 501 streetcar.

The conventional excuse for inaction on the LRT is that neither the TTC nor WT have the capital dollars to spend on this project. But let’s unpack that claim:

The removal premium: While the calculations vary, the EA indicates that demolishing the Gardiner will save the city tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in both operating and capital costs. At least some of those savings can be directed to the LRT project.

Land sales: According to the EA, the city can expect to earn $220-$240 million (2013$) or $80-90 million (net present value) from land sales if the Gardiner is removed. There’s another windfall. Moreover, if the city/WT can assure developers that the LRT is now a funded component of the build-out (and not just a fond hope), land values (as well as commercial leases and condo price points) will certainly rise.

Development charges. The EA is silent on DC revenues, and WT officials couldn’t produce projections when I asked. But a back-of-the-envelope calculation using projected development activity and council’s new DC rates suggests the city could earn well over $400 million as these areas are built out. Of course, those funds won’t all go towards an LRT. But council currently earmarks about 8% of DC revenue for the Spadina subway extension (about a third of all DC income is dedicated to transit). Once Spadina is complete, there’s nothing to stop council from directing some portion of the overall DC revenue to the Queen’s Quay LRT.

Property and income tax revenue. Again, WT doesn’t have numbers, but the reality is that increased development activity in the East Bayfront/Portlands will produce a non-trivial tax stream for all three orders. The city, therefore, can make an application for federal and provincial infrastructure grants, noting that those dollars will cycle back down the road in the form of increased income tax revenues.

Of course, the LRT isn’t the only pricey waterfront infrastructure project begging for dollars; city officials say they are looking to these same revenue sources to underwrite the $900 million cost of the reconstruction of the mouth of the Don River, without which nothing can happen south of Keating Channel.

One doesn’t negate the other. My point is that the Gardiner removal will deliver a cash windfall that hasn’t been fully calculated, publicly disclosed or explicitly linked to the rest of what WT/City want to accomplish on the waterfront.

In the coming weeks, we’ll hear a lot about those lost ten minutes, and we’ll also hear a lot about the hefty price tag associated with maintaining the Gardiner.

How about a dose of Jack Layton’s propositional politics?

Let’s start talking specifically about how the city will invest all those dollars it won’t be spend repairing the Gardiner’s corroded deck. City and waterfront officials are bullish about the downstream dividends. Now we need a smart re-investment plan. A contingent funding strategy for the LRT seems like an excellent place to start.

photo by David Michael Lamb

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* I have long had reservations about the assumption that removing the east end of the Gardiner will unlock the potential of the East Bayfront and the Portlands. It seemed to me that a busy eight-lane arterial road with buildings only along one side wouldn’t be any more urban than what currently exists. But encouragingly, the final version of the EA indicates that WT, in response to public feedback, is now looking at spurring development along both sides of the re-born Lakeshore in the Jarvis-to-Cherry Street corridor; WT’s 2010 Keating precinct plan proposes extensive development north of the Gardiner as it loops between Cherry and the Don River.

16 comments

  1. The employment projections in the 2006 EA are not realistic. As are most employment projections for Toronto. It is bad enough that even with the increased development charges will fall short of paying for the hard infrastructure costs, the property tax stream from residential development will be dwarfed by the operating costs.

  2. A correction re your claimed hourly ridership on the 501 Queen car. The service is scheduled at 12 cars per hour, nominally with the 75-foot long ALRVs, for a design capacity of about 1200 passengers per hour each way. More will fit under crush conditions, but offsetting is the presence of many 50-foot CLRVs on Queen because of the failing state of the ALRVs. By contrast, the King car operates, at peak 30 (mainly) CLRVs/hour for a design capacity of about 2500 (am peak inbound from Parkdale).

    The Waterfront East line’s projected demand is a one-way flow toward Union Station, and 4200 passengers per hour would require a service of 30 of the new streetcars/hour. That number is based on full buildout of the Port Lands, and so we’re probably looking at less service than this for many years, if not decades.

  3. “What happens to this fractious debate if the Gardiner removal option is bundled with a detailed financing plan for the Queen’s Quay East LRT, which is estimated to cost almost $400 million and lacks a funding source?*”

    Even more fractiousness. The LRT is obviously not a replacement for the Gardiner, and the Gardiner does not serve the function of the LRT.

  4. – It would seem the transit-bundling question relates much more to the DRL, or whatever we’re going to call that next week. We need to build another subway line into the core before we can seriously consider removing the Gardiner. I’m not discounting the LRT concern, but rapid-transit network capacity in the core is the real priority. Unfortunately, this plays more into the hands of people who blindly want to keep the Gardiner and who also feel downtown has enough subway. It is inconvenient truth nonetheless.
    – The Gardiner is ugly and potentially dangerous and surely going to be costly to maintain or repair. But as someone who walked to and from Queen’s Quay for many years while working at the Star (in the 1970s and 80s, then again a few years ago), I fear the barriers will be made worse by bringing traffic down to grade. The railway embankment and its lack of pedestrian porousness, Lake Shore Blvd. and the Jarvis ramps seem to be the biggest problems (the Gardiner barrier effect is at its worst along the waterfront west of the CNE grounds, where it is not elevated).
    – The Gardiner, if it is to be saved, needs a roof to minimize the need for road salt. A solar roof? An agricultural green roof? An art project?

  5. This is a helpful though basic question: where is the broader transit thinking? (I’m pleased to have the same point printed in the Sat. Star, just ahead of this post).

    It’s yet another travesty to piecemeal the problem and only examine one portion of the Gardiner, and not the broader travel demand etc.; there are some problems of some assumptions and their emphasis.

    Nobody’s been killed yet from the Gardiner falling apart. Peds and cyclists get killed a lot on TO roads though, and there’s not really that great reaction to fix things. Aah, peds and cyclists don’t count. Right. Caronto the carrupt…

    The portions of the Gardiner that are less good are the concrete, not the structure. It is likely one of those robust constructs that would endure war/bombings – the steel of the deck may be challenged but the supports are to bedrock. Can they not be adapted?

    It is the traffic as much as the physical structure that is the barrier to the waterfront.

    Why do we presume there’s such an automatic right to drive into the core on a daily basis when we know that transit is far more efficient – if we design right and provide it. At least there is user fee with existing GO and TTC. right? Why not start to charge the cars for usage NOW!

    Why is it falling apart? Bad maintenance? Salt arising from underneath eg. Lakeshore?? Is there no penalty for those who didn’t maintain it? Could poultices leech out the salts? What about netting suspended underneath?

    As part of the transit options, when I was resisting the Front St. Extension, I was going on a lot about a Front St. transitway – while it may be somewhat built upon and thus now impossible, the bulk of politicians and varied staffs etc., could NOT manage to think about doing a transit project instead of a $255M road project – and even when in year 6 or so I found the best back-up for Front St. in the 1993 WWLRT EA – nope.

    Even now, the thousands of staff and the bulk of politicians etc. are likely not thinking of the logistics of repair ie. some/much of the traffic will need to become transit. So why not start Right Now with busways on the Gardiner/Lakeshore? And we also need a good e/w bike lane in from Parkdale though it would compete with the TTC.

    Aah, Caronto the Carrupt… the amanglemated motoropolis… not the province is any much smarter or less carrupt either, though they did expand the GO service in two significant ways in the last decade in this corridor.

    Oh, and with the land – how much of it is contaminated with lead? A receding back profile of lead on either side would be helpful, if facts matter. And where did it come from? And who gets to pay for its clean-up? How about motorists? and NOT the public!

    EAs also need to include embodied energy/resource/CO2 including concrete.

  6. The Gardiner East seems to have a very specific scope, so much so that they are not even talking about the proposal to remove the York-Bay-Yonge off-ramp and replace it with an off-ramp to Simcoe street.

  7. Another source of income is the savings in health-care costs due to not having lethal cancer-causing car pollution from the removed Gardiner. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown reports that the health-care costs due to people in Toronto being poisoned by car drivers is $2.2 billion per year.

    A good chunk of that is due to the Gardiner, and those savings can be spent on other things rather than medical treatment for people who have been poisoned by car drivers. See:

    http://www.smartcommutetoronto.ca/media/uploads/TPH%202007%20Rerpot%20-%20air_pollution_burden.pdf

  8. What the heck does a Queen Quay LRT have to do with Gardner? It offers very little in terms of replacement. I see the people that drive into the City – they do not have devil horns. If you can’t contribute anything relevant – don’t type.

  9. Update on Karen Stintz’s “hybrid proposal” for the Gardiner East, which would involve bringing down the highway between Jarvis and Cherry, while re-routing the elevated section between Cherry and the Don to free-up land on the north shore of the Keating Channel. According to Waterfront Toronto spokesperson Andrew Hilton, this option “was raised earlier in the EA process, but didn’t make the cut in terms of what specific options would be considered – as the public benefits part of that option would be minimal with only about 400m of the road at grade. In terms of what could happen with the hybrid option, it could be explored at the next stage of the EA (the alternative design), but it would have to be analyzed to see what kind of benefits it would provide.” Council, he says, could request to add the hybrid option to the next phase of the EA.

  10. It makes a lot of sense to, at the least, apply any money earned from development along a removed Gardiner East to the much-needed streetcar that would service the area.

    I was concerned about how a wide replacement boulevard would impact the accessibility of the area, but the plans in the “Remove” option emphasize that it would in fact be narrower than University Avenue. So, especially with buildings on either side, I think the net result would be improved accessibility and walking environment. The problem of the tunnel under the tracks would definitely need to be addressed, but that can be done (e.g. the pedestrian tunnels from Union station).

  11. One other more technical point: a busway would be easy to do atop the Gardiner but is there any weight/structural restriction on having a streetcar track replace a traffic lane? And can a limitation be eased by removing the concrete bed of the current roadway in those lanes and doing a lighter trackbed? I know the “light” rail transit is like 26 tons minimum, but it is that sort of let’s explore the options thinking that is very absent.

  12. I’m not against removing or improving the Gardner… it’s just everything I’ve read has yet to explain how all that south bound traffic on the Don Valley will benefit with the removal of the eastern section of the Gardener. Once you put a red light at the DVP and Lakeshore, isn’t that going to create another huge traffic problem? Won’t the DVP and Lakeshore just look like what Spadina and the Lakeshore looks like now?

    And yes, transit is a more effective mode of transportation for getting people downtown, but it’s not for moving product.

    Shipping trucks still need to move consumer and commercial goods, not to mention food, to shops downtown. Increase travel time, means increase costs for the end user.

    I’m just saying those who scream that the Gardener should be removed, seem to believe all car traffic will magically disappear with it.

    Thanks,

  13. Could there be some kind of rainbow expressway for high speed unicorns thrown into the package? And two ebike lanes – one for each type.

  14. Prioritizing transit should be #1, and cheap busways is how Curitiba did things for 1% of the capital cost of a subway. But if we had a transitway for rush hours, sharing it with freight in the off-peak hours might be possible. But there may be enough overall TTC and GO demand for an expedited route into/through the core that a freight priority may have to recede further. Thinning the overall traffic out with tolls could be a 15% reduction? And could we try this just because it’s grossly unfair to have the limited access ferry to the Toronto Island be soo much of a user pay to become a money-maker, while the stinking and polluting Gardiner/Lakeshore gets to poison us/air/land with no abuser-pay. Not to impugn the individuals that use it because at times it is the best way to go, but collectively, car transport is not sustainable/clean, and we get that theory in a few Official Plans, just there’s a gap between theory and practice, as I have a few of those myself….

  15. What if you could replace the Gardiner Expressway whilst keeping undisturbed traffic on the current Gardiner during the construction?
     
    The “Big Idea” is to “Relocate” the Gardiner. The best relocation option is a partially submerged tunnel few meters south of the current shoreline.
     
     
    How will your big idea transform Toronto?
     
    This Big Idea:
    -will keep undisturbed traffic on Gardiner during construction.
    -all construction and delivery is done through the lake with floating equipment thus has no considerable construction impact north of the shoreline.
    -it is a very good value.
    -has a very short construction time.
     
    The idea combines the advantages of all four alternatives evaluated through the 2009 Environmental Assessment, without carrying over any of their disadvantages:
     
    ·         Maintain:  Maintains the Gardiner until it is relocated.
    ·         Improve and Replace: Improves and replaces the Gardiner with 2×3 through lanes or up to 2×4 through lanes and optional 2×2 cross-city lanes.
    ·         Remove: Once opened, the Gardiner can be removed.
     
    Perhaps the EA alternative “Replace” could bring in long term a solution, but  will “Remove” the Gardiner during the construction, thus will result in a worst traffic congestion as was in 1954.
     
     
    How much your big idea wold cost and how would it be financed?

     
    The partially submersed and prefabricated tunnel will add a 50 m wide land and possibly an artificial island, to be used for green space, recreation or perhaps development. Boston, New York, Chicago, etc. is all proud of the added land. The added 50 m land, the decommissioned Gardiner and the artificial island could result in land transaction up to $5 billion, more than the anticipated construction cost.
     
     
    How will be implemented your big idea?

    The best delivery would be through Infrastructure Ontario as a DBFM Design-Build Finance-Maintain -Program.
     
    The tunnel will have two levels in order to minimize the footprint, the lower level for through lanes and the upper level for entrances-exits, ventilation and LRT or marina crossing.
     
    Reversing the 2×3 through lanes (the EBL in the north tube and the WBL in the south tube) results in considerable construction savings, reduces entrance-exit footprints and improves their geometry.
     
    The proposed construction method would result in minimum construction cost and time.
     
    The relocation will reduce the risky utility relocates, easements, expropriations, possible interference with further transportation improvement plans and reduces considerably the volume of excavation.
     
    The around 10,000 ton tunnel segments to be prefabricated in a dry dock outside Toronto,  delivered with floating attachments to the dredged destination.
     
    Dredging, anchoring and installation will be done over the lake, thus the construction will have minimal impact, no need for noisy and dusty shoring, no construction traffic.
     
    Only a minimal fraction of the construction workers will have to work directly on the site.
     
    The tunnel can add or add later on, for a minimum cost an underground East LRT, connected to the Union Station through the Waterfront West LRT and possibly add a second, underground West LRT.  The LRT could be replaced with cross-city lanes. 
     
    Perhaps the tunnel could be extended farther east, eventually up to the 401 through the Frenchman’s Bay. This possible addition would ease the traffic on the 401 and DVP and considerably would reduce the travel distance and travel time, subsequently the pollution.
     
    The tunnel’s lifecycle could be up to 150 years, due provisions to add anchors later on.  
     
    So what about 2164?
     
    Perhaps a temporary solution under, above  and/or around the Queens Quay East, Queens West and the Lakeshore Boulevard West, until the Shore Line Tunnel is reconstructed, if the City will preserve land for  this option. But who knows, perhaps no need of motorists in 150 years. This solution was considered but eliminated for the current proposal.

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