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Gardiner Expressway environmental assessment briefing

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This morning I was at the technical media briefing for the Environmental Assessment Terms of Reference report for the Gardiner Expressway that will be tabled with the City’s executive committee tomorrow and the City Council on July 6/7.  The draft outlines what exactly the environmental assessment will be studying, the methods it will be using as well as its project goals.

I’ve summarized the five goals outlined in the draft:

1. Revitalize the Waterfront – includes urban design excellence, increase tourism, make new amenities for both regional and local users, and approach the project as “an opportunity for City-building” in a global context
2. Reconnect the City with the Lake – create visual, physical and cognitive connections, design attractive public realm, connect downtown and new waterfront communities
3. Balance Modes of Travel – incorporate the likely modal shifts that will occur in transit in the coming decades
4. Achieve Sustainability – among other things, promote social engagement/interaction, integrate ecology and natural systems with urbanism, contribute to the improvement of public health including air quality
5, Create Value – using revitalization as a catalyst for investment and good development that “maximize net economic and environmental benefits”

Four broad alternatives will be studied in regards to the Gardiner Expressway:

1. “Do Nothing” – which, despite the sound of the title, entails $50 million over ten years in maintenance and upkeep
2. Improve – modify the Gardiner as well as Lake Shore Boulevard with “architecturally significant ‘wrapper’ around the structure,” possible relocation of some supports and on-ramps, etc
3. Replace – this includes potentially turning Lake Shore Boulevard into some sort of a hybrid street, possibly burying the tunnel or building a new elevated expressway above the rail corridor
4. Remove – expressway eliminated and replaced with a “lower-capacity, lower-speed facility” that would reconfigure Lake Shore Boulevard into a “grand street”

Waterfront Toronto has already publicly recommended pulling down the Gardiner, so the other three alternatives are in place to help make the EA more fair and unbiased.  What’s nice about this EA, despite its unsurprisingly lengthy timeline, is that it includes an Urban Design component, where a master plan of potential land development layouts and the designs of 30% of created public spaces will be encorporated into the EA.

This means that upon completion in October 2011, there will be several alternative blueprints ready at hand to be used.  Having such alternatives ready and incorporated into the EA process might help to make better use of the 3 years and $8 million worth of research that EA will turn up.

The biggest stumbling block the EA could encounter would be a change in political leadership.  If there is radical shift in City Hall in the next three years, the EA could be discontinued before its study is completed.  This could potentially stop all the momentum that is buildign in the waterfront revitalization project dead in its tracks.

To become part of the next round of public consultations or just stay on top of what’s going on at Waterfront Toronto, sign up on their website

Photo courtesy of Waterfront Toronto



  1. What a bunch of nonsense.

    City building in a global context.
    Cognitive connections with the lake.
    Modal shifts (in a city who’s residents increasingly must leave the city to there workplace).
    Create Value (for who, the condo developers?).

    It is interesting that the objectives are fashioned in a way as to their success being open to interpretation.

  2. what in this world is not open to interpretation? what other 5 priorities for an EA would you choose, since none of these meet your high standards?

  3. 1. Determine if the loss of capacity limits future growth of the city.

    2. Determine if, in fact, that the Gardiner has been an impediment to non residential development. As it it has clearly not been west of the area in question.

    3. Provide a 3D model of the area, in its proposed built form, to a ascertain if the Gardiner is really a visual impediment or will it remain the highest structure between itself and the lake.

    4. Offer an honest cost/benefit analysis as to determine if this is self supporting.

    5. Investigate the effects on pedestrians crossing a large “grand avenue” WRT to timing.

    6. Offer proof that Toronto is creating enough jobs to support the hypothesis of modal transportation shifts. With out job growth, transportation will be increasingly geared towards morning outflows/evening inflows to areas unserved by public transit.

  4. jeeff: I believe Glen would say, jobs jobs jobs. I could be wrong.

  5. shoot! Glen answered. Please disregard my earlier, stupid posting.

  6. Why are they always trying to tear down the Gardiner? The city is already crippled by a lack of highway access as it is.

  7. andrew,

    The growth in the cores population is has far outstripped the anemic job growth. Furthermore looking at wards 20,27 and 28 combined the stats show an alarming trend. Between 1989 and 2004 these wards combined had lost 26,404 employment positions (Toronto employment survey). Between 1991 and 2001 the percentage of residents in these wards whom commuted outside of the city to work increased by 14.3% (Stats Can). Seeing that they are going outside of the city, not just the core, it is safe to assume that it is by car, not public transit, bike or on foot. Also consider that these stats miss a large portion of the influx of people that moved into the core after 2001.

  8. I have a funny feeling that once Miller is not re-elected, the grand boulevard option would no longer be one of the top options.

  9. Having just returned today from Oklahoma City, allow me to reflect on what happens when downtown is serviced by so many wonderful and plentiful limited access freeways that drivers can be miles away in minutes at any time of day…

    Answer: There is no downtown left. Just some empty, wide streets and a couple lonely office towers. You guys should see it – a very different way of living than a place like Toronto.


    It is very tricky to try and find the right balance when it comes to freeways and CBDs. Build too many roads and it is too easy for business, retail and other transactions to simply move out to cheaper land. Build too few and growth is choked. If this was 1985, I would tear down the Gardiner in a second because at that point in time there was no alternate location for offices and they would have stayed, driving a need for better transit, etc. The problem now is that 25 years of incompetence and inaction has led to tremendous growth of offices in the 905 and the movement of many executives out of the city. If the boss lives in Mississauga, and the office space is cheaper on Hurontario, why bother keeping that accounting office downtown? This is what Glen is touching on — the tipping point may have been reached. Toronto now has to be exceptionally careful in how it deals with retaining and attracting new growth downtown and not simply turning into Vancouver with condos and nothing else left on Bay St.

    My suggestion would be to announce and build a transit line that replicates the functions of the Gardiner (not GO but a real transit line) before taking it down. Businesses are just itching for an excuse to flee.

  10. Rodney: please tell me who is going to beat Miller.

    Stintz? Minnan-Wong? Thompson? Ford?

    When you only have 30% of the poeple voting it is insanely hard to unseat an incumbent. None of the above have any accomplishments that are city-wide. When Miller won it was a horse race between no incumbent and he had a galvanizing issue (island airport).

    Unless someone comes in from the Liberals Miller will be re-elected. He has an army of volunteers, a massive list of voters. He also happens to be the best debater on council.

    No matter how much you dislike him it will be difficult to beat. So, if you’re gonna make silly comment about re-elections, make sure you can back it up with info.

  11. Moya,

    Keep in mind that the biggest opponent that Miller might face is himself. In politics, habituation leads to a lack of interest. Similar to the way in which Paul Martin faced the tedium of another Liberal majority which might have tipped the scales away from him.

    Novelty, regardless of merit, is an advantage that any challenger will have on his/her side*. I don’t suggest that it is enough by itself, but perhaps enough to help unseat him.

    * while Hazel and Mel (in NY) may have sidestepped this, they did so under high growth periods.

  12. uSkyscraper,

    My point was that public transit into the core is only viable if that is where the public is going. Increasingly the public is going out of the city. Toronto transportation surveys hint (they need updating but reconciling them with current population and employment growth) that reverse commuting via cars is already more than the traditional morning inward rush. Increasing residents in the core without increasing employment is a recipe for an increase in this trend. One that cannot be addressed by alternate transportation.

  13. Taking office space as a very crude index, the numbers are a little scary. Downtown and Midtown now only contain a little more than half of the office space in the entire GTA. ( This is almost as bad as Vancouver, whose downtown is only 50% of its total office market (

    As the destination for half of all office commutes, it’s not a reverse commute yet and it is not unreasonable to focus on those two areas (downtown and midtown) for public transit improvements, but it does show that there are plenty of suburban options. This makes alterations to transportation patterns very delicate, which was my original point. As someone who often visits various US cities, I hate the fricking Gardiner for the embarrassment it bestows on shabby Toronto and I want it dead… but the cat is out of the bag and we must tread carefully.

  14. Hi, Glen and uSkyscraper,

    I certainly agree with you that we must take this very carefully as not to drive business out of the city core, but in general, I am a bit more optimistic. While you see the rapid residential development in city core as a potential leading to the city as bedroom communities, I’d like to see it more as precursor for a return of businesses. Remember how the flight of business out of town happened? Aside from cheaper land, lower business tax, etc., a big factor was that job followed the workers. When the workers moved out of the city to live in suburb, it made sense for business to move out make their commute easier. Now if the reverse is happening and workers are moving back into city core, wouldn’t it make sense that businesses follow them back into the city as well, especially if the city makes good on its effort to shift the tax burden from businesses to residents? Even take Glen’s “jobs follow CEOs” thoery, wouldn’t it be plausible that some CEOs would like the city life better so that they would buy upscale condos in town and only return to their country estate over the weekends? In this case would’t the jobs follow them back into the city? I think in general making the city more attractive to residents is a positive step towards attracting jobs back. Rapid residential development in city is also a big positive as it keeps real estate affordable so that more people can afford to live in town. Tie this all back to Gardiner, I think the main negative would be disruption to car traffic. How much a disruption would it be? I may well be wrong but my guess would be that it is not really such big deal, as most the traffic on Gardiner/DVP are likely not through traffic. On the plus side, I think the bigest benefit would be an improvement a cityscape (yes it means creating value to condo developers, which as I mentioned, is not a bad thing). What I am not sure about, was how big an improvement we will get. After all, Gardiner is not the only barrier between the city and the lake, there is always the rail corridor which we cannot do too much about. Well, I guess that is what this EA is about, finding answers to these questions, right?

  15. yu,

    it was uSkyscraper who mentioned the jobs follow CEO idea. Anyway, the problem with your contention that jobs will follow residents is that science and Toronto’s own reality shows the opposite.

    You must also separate employers from developers in your thinking. While an employer may wish to be downtown, it is only possible if there is suitable space. When there isn’t, they will look elsewhere in the region.

    On the developers side, why would you want to build commercial space in Toronto? It is unprofitable, save for some pathological examples. Even in a number of condos, where there is ground floor retail, it is only so because the developers were required to maintain the same sq. footage of commercial space on the site. They might get $200 per sq. ft of commercial space while on the floors above they get $500 per sq. ft for residential.

    One last point, the longer that this imbalance occurs the harder it is to address. The residential class in Toronto is subsidised by the other property classes. When the portion of the assessment base that requires subsidises (and consumes most of the budget) is growing while the surplus classes(generates more revenue than expenses) are shrinking, the structural deficit of the city becomes increasingly hard to address.

    Higher residential taxes are comming to Toronto, without a doubt. The only question is do you accelerate it but keep/grow jobs. Or do you maintain the status quo have and have the non residential assessment base continue to shrink. forcing the the correction without benefit.

  16. Hi, Glen,

    I appreciate your points here, and I agree with you that the tax burden imbalance needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing 10% property tax increases for the next couple of years to accelerate the shift. Realistically, I don’t believe Miller (or anybody else) would dare to commit such a political suicide. Sadly, this gradual shift approach we have right now might be the only one that has any chance. All that said, I’d still argue that more residents can only help the city. First, if there are employers who want to move the jobs back into town, the demand will motivate developers to build more commercial spaces; second, with boarder residential tax base, it will be easier to shift the tax burden off the businesses without a large property tax increase which is politically infeasible.

  17. Yu,

    I am glad you mentioned the political influence in this issue. It is the unfortunate reality that politics, especially the type that hides the true cost of government services, is rampant here in Toronto. On your last point, about spreading the sift over a larger residential tax base, I am afraid I have to disagree.

    An increase in residents, while bringing in more tax revenue, also brings in more expenses. Outweighing any benefit.

    In Toronto the city’s 8 billion budget is spent like this…..

    Police 24.4%
    Debt Service charges 12.2%
    Fire Services 10.4%
    Social Services 7.9%
    Shelter Support & Housing 8%
    TTC 7.4%
    Parks, Forest & Recreation 7%
    Transportation Services 5.7%
    Solid Waste Management 5.7%
    Toronto Public Library 4.6%

    Removing the debt service charge which would redistribute well, that accounts for 80% of the 8 billion budget. Now lets use city estimates that 80% of that is for residents or ‘citizen centered services’. That comes to 5 billion now dived that by the city’s 1 million households and the average expenditure per household is over $5,000. The average property tax is $2,300. Of course there are other revenues, fees and grants that the city collects but those are fairly inelastic. Of course there are also benefits from increased density, but not enough to cover the shortfall.

    To keep similar service levels the residential class needs to be subsidised by other sources plain and simple. Now that the reserves have been bled dry and the Province is tapped out there is little elsewhere to turn.

  18. Hi, Glen,

    thanks to bring the numbers to the table. I am not familiar with the actual numbers. If the numbers are correct, I have to admit the situation is alarming (I must say I have doubt with the numbers, as if the discrepancy is so large, I’d have a very hard time to imagine how the city can manage to make ends meet). That said, I am still hopeful, in that most of the new developments in the city is intensification, which means they can largely be sustained by existing services, thus increasing population does not translate to proportionally higher service cost. Adding thousands of residents alone existing transit corridor does not require new TTC services, extra fire stations or libraries, etc. Due to simple economy of scale, a denser city core will improve the efficiency of services, that is why I insist that more residents in the city is a good thing.

  19. Hi, Yu,

    I am glad you have found this issue to be important. WRT Scaling, I did some number crunching on this before, looking at what scales well and what dose not. Police, Fire, Ambulance, Shelter Support & Housing , Solid Waste etc. do not scale well. I confirmed this be comparing Toronto’s per person cost with other municipalities and they are very similar, despite Toronto’s density advantage. The three items that scale the best are TTC (as you mentioned), Transportation Services and even the Public Library. Note though that the TTC expense and proportion listed above is the operating amount, not the capital amount. The capital amount would scale much better with density, ie. higher utilization of the existing buses, LRTs and Subways along with their related infrastructure.

  20. Hi, Glen,

    this dialog is a pleasure for me. I found it quite instructive. Yesterday at the lecture at Design Exchange, I posed the question of the impact of mode shift on Copenhagen’s business environment to Mr. Gehl, unfortunately he could not answer, and did not seem very interested in the issue either. A lot of changes in Copenhagen cited in his talk did give me the impression of a tourist/bedroom city. Unfortunately, I do not see that as a viable future for Toronto.

    I’d argue that policing cost should actually scale pretty good. The fact that Toronto’s per-capital policing cost is similar to surrounding area should probably be attributed to the decades-long urban decay and lower average income of city dwellers. In fact Toronto not having higher per-capital policing cost can be considered a proof that the economy of scale at work for policing as well. As far as I can see, the city has been turning the corner in recent year. Higher density with better designed urban environment should make the city safer, which do not require extra policing. A more affluent population, redevelopment of neighbourhood such as Regent Park, should also help hold policing cost in check. Thus as Toronto grows its population, I’d expect to see per-capital policing cost drops down the road.

  21. Yu,

    The pleasure has been also mine. I hope that it is open minded people like yourself that shape our city.

    Seeing that Vancouver has a similar bias in its taxation of residential to non-residential. As such it is facing some of the same issues that Toronto is. in 1995 KPMG did a study on the consumption of municipal services. in 2007 it was updated by MMK consulting. In both cases it found ………

    On average, residential properties pay approximately
    $0.56 in property taxes for each dollar of tax supported services consumed.

    Non-residential properties have been assigned 24% ($111 million) in net tax supported services. They also account for $292 million (54.7%) in property-based taxes. On average, non-residential properties pay approximately $2.42 in property taxes for each dollar of tax-supported services consumed — 4.3 times the residential rate of $0.56. (This calculation is defined as the “consumption payment ratio.”)

    Despite Vancouver’s higher density, it too faces the issue of residential class expansion pressuring city finances.

  22. Dumb Moya!

    If you CAREFULLY read what I typed, you would not have replied with such a silly comment. People like you keep running their mouths before taking the time to read and process what you have read! I did not say anything about hating Miller and being pro-right wing. All I said was if Miller loses the next election, I would not be surprised if the next Mayor of Toronto chooses another option over the grand boulevard (i.e. being forced by a newly elected Premier to choose something else).

    Whether Miller is re-elected or not, the decision of the Gardiner will rest heavily in the hands of whoever is Premier and PM come OCT 2011.

  23. Envisioned as one of the centrepieces of an upcoming Camp Washington urban renewal plan, the City has requested $4.3 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding and has requested an earmark from Congress in its fiscal year 2010 budget.

  24. All of these are good points – but it seems to me this issue is more about making a political statement about cars than it is about greening, aesthetics and even public safety. I live in the CityPlace development, and crossing the Gardiner/Spadina/Lakeshore mess is a harrowing experience. This will only become more dangerous once the Gardiner is truncated, as virtually all of the easterly traffic flow dumps off at Spadina, with no York/Bay/Yonge ramps. Then there’s the safety factor of this “grand boulevard,” but that’s another story.

    The problem with this infrastructure isn’t the Gardiner itself or Lakeshore itself. It’s the fact that there are two high-capacity roads stacked together in a part of town that ideally should be more open. I’ve read all the viaduct stuff – has anyone even dreamed of burying the Gardiner underneath the rail corridor? Ya, big money, big dream, no will. But if you imagine for a second, the connections would then mostly flow north into the core rather than onto the harbourfront. Lakeshore could then really become a “grand boulevard” with less traffic.