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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The space underneath the Gardiner

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I rode my bike across the waterfront Sunday afternoon from Jameson to Kew Gardens in the Beaches. Just north of the bike trail crossing at Cherry Street and Lake Shore Blvd. is a wide-open space under the Gardiner Expressway (photo above). I stumbled upon a similar sized space on my recent trip to Vancouver, but they used the area to much greater effect.

Back in the 1970s, Vancouver had it’s own version of the Spadina Expressway experience [see Spacing’s Flickr set for Spadina Expressway renderings]. The Strathcona Freeway was proposed to feed into the downtown area from the east cutting through neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Strathcona and Commercial Drive, among others. The expressway was fought and won by local residents and Vancouver remains the only major metropolitan city in North America without an expressway.

But there are ghosts of the Strathcona Freeway. The Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts (photo above) were built in anticipation of the freeway but their intended use was never fulfilled. This is the same fate that befell the bridge on Bathurst just north of St. Clair West which was built to support future on- and off-ramps for the Spadina Expressway.

What’s most interesting is how Vancouver has converted the space below these viaduct into a decent skateboard park (photo above and below).

Toronto needs to figure out what to do with the Gardiner Expressway sooner or later (as previously discussed on the Spacing Wire) so we can get on with either transforming it into a different kind of transit corridor or improve on the structure already in place. If we go with the latter, the City needs to seriously think of how to reinvigorate the spaces surrounding the expressway. Vancouver’s example is a good place to start.

all photos by Matthew Blackett



  1. Though it may not be ‘beautiful” the large area under the Gardiner at Cherry Street (or part of it) is likely to be used for the loop at the south end of the Cherry Street streetcar line (due to be built in 2008/09) and the Queen’s Quay East line (due to be built in 2009/10). There is some discussion of this on Steve Munro’s website ( and more on the Waterfront Toronto www site.

    One thing which COULD be done quite quickly and quite cheaply would be to extend the East-West cycle path which runs between the Gardiner and the Railway Embankment. It now runs from the Don River through Cherry Street to Parliament Street and could easily go as far as Jarvis Street and, possibly, through to Yonge Street (which is supposedly getting a North-South path from Queens Quay to Esplanade later this year.

  2. If I could have one wish, it would be that Lakeshore Ave, under the Gardiner is narrowed and made pedestrian friendly. That is the real barrier.

  3. I’m with Luke. The Gardiner is not so bad, it’s either raised or sunken through the core so it doesn’t interfere so much.

    Lakeshore, on the other hand, routes way too much exhaust-spewing traffic right next to the bike path and presents a huge obstacle to walking down to the lake.

    I’d like to see a re-vamped Lakeshore with high-speed streetcars running down the middle, one or two lanes of traffic each way and big wide bike lanes for fast-moving cyclists.

  4. One challenge to putting things under the gardiner is to ensure that chunks of the gardiner don’t fall onto those using the space below.

  5. The big obstacle to the emjoyment of the lake and the waterfront is much less the roads than the traffic upon it. So why are we so obsessed with catering to the SOVs that warm the climate while fouling our air?
    We need to invest in effective transit instead of the FSE and the WWLRT – these two are Metro-era relics and should be archived, not built, and we could save maybe a few hundred million at the same time, though the clean-up of the land from the lead exhaust could eat up a lot of the savings eh?

  6. In its usual pursuit of aesthetic over social analysis a Spacing post again ignores the Gardiner’s social history, the tales of those who lived under it and were driven out. Reminds me a bit about how that Utopia book just leveled all the poor neighborhoods, putting parks on top of them with no question of where these people and the services they use would go. Really, it would make one think that even those with an eye for “good” urban planning – really are still just blind technocrats. Out.

  7. The Utopia books leveled neighbourhoods? I didn’t know books could do that. Writers should make more money if they’re that strong. Are you sure you read all the essays? Because I’m certain you didn’t, because if you did you wouldn’t have wrote that.

    Also, please pick up a copy of the Winter “Intersections” issue of Spacing — we have an article about the many streets of parkdale that were removed for the Gardiner.

    Out (indeed).


  8. The Gardiner should be torn down now. It should be replaced with a four-lane (NOT eight-lane or ten-lane) road with a streetcar right-of-way in the centre.

  9. I am a skateboarder form Toronto and I am strongly in favour of a skatepark/plaza being constructed under the gardiner expressway at certain vacant locations. A number of major cities across North America such as Philidelphia, Vancouver, and other cities have taken action and made great use of land that could not be used for any other function, and it has turned out to be very successful. There are many benefits that would accompany such a plan. Land that may have been used for a skatepark would be kept green and provide space for other sports. No land would be lost if a park were to be built under the Gardiner. Also, it would be easier access for skateboarders within the city who use TTC as transit, and be great shelter for rainy days allowing the continous use of the park. Furthermore, a skatepark does not have to be an unatractive mass of cement. With the right designers and financial support a skatepark has the potential to look attractive and inviting to all people. Skatboarding is here to stay and there are sustainable solutions to support this sport. It will only grow in popularity as all sports do over the years. If any one is in favour of taking action or knows the best way to get the attention this matter deserves please respond to this message.

  10. i agree with rob toronto should have its own burnside,fdr,washington street skate park uder the gardiner but all the skateboarders that plan on skating ti sound help create it like burnside and washigton street it will give them a plan to be creating something postive and not just hanging arround doing nothing