You might think that someone like Councillor Adam Vaughan, working to corner the 21st-century urbanist niche, would welcome the $300 mil plan to dismantle the Gardiner from the Don to Jarvis.
But when the executive committee approved an $11 million Environmental Assessment on July 7 - later approved by two-thirds of council on July 15 - he left the room grumbling.
I caught his eye. "We're building a road," he quipped. "We'll get to the city later."
A competing pithy offering from Mayor David Miller lauded council for "not managing the past, but trying to build the future."
"We know the results of taking down the ramps to the Gardiner," he said, referring to the uncovered portion of Lakeshore Boulevard south of Leslieville. "You build spectacular public spaces. You transform an area. And the impact on traffic is very minimal."
And there's the pitch: tell the downtown lefties you're "removing a barrier to the waterfront," reassure the suburbs that you're protecting (car) traffic. But here's the problem: only one statement can be true.
"If [Miller] thinks people are going to get out of their cars," said Councillor Case Ootes, "he's sadly mistaken." True: some people will smoke around their children, some able-?bodied people will always use the wheelchair button to open doors and some will never get out of their cars. That doesn't mean we have to reward them.
Still, the argument, aimed at people like Ootes's supporters, is constantly made: commute times will go up by "two to five minutes," while motorists roll down a "waterfront boulevard," akin, it's said, to University Avenue.
University carries around 25,000 cars a day. The stretch of the Gardiner in question, 100,000. You can't accommodate that traffic, keep commutes down and have a walkable street.
"Any time you want to move 100,000 cars through a neighbourhood," says Vaughan, "you're going to have something very ugly, very noisy and very dirty, whether it's up in the air or down on the ground. A hundred thousand cars a day is the problem, not the configuration of the road."
Vaughan has particular concerns about the Keating Channel, where the Gardiner currently connects with the DVP, and where, if the expressway is dismantled, an off-ramp may be needed to empty the DVP on to Cherry or another local road.
And if not, a certain comatose behemoth may stir to the west. "If you frustrate car movement on this side of the Gardiner," says Vaughan, "it invigorates arguments for the Front Street Extension."
Councillor Gord Perks isn't worried. "Connect [the DVP] to the Don Road," he shrugs, and leave it at that- referring to the small circuitous road that runs under the south end of the DVP.
But won't that "frustrate car movement," as Vaughan says? "Congestion is a good thing," he responds with a smile.
The argument that taking down the Gardiner won't impede car flow hinges on the idea of "traffic evaporation," the inverse of the planning truism that adding road capacity increases, not decreases, traffic.
The long-?noted phenomenon refers to the fact that when a road is closed, traffic on surrounding streets never equals the original stream. There are examples to support the idea: a study by the European Commission Directorate-?General for the Environment notes that when the city centre of Nuremberg, Germany, was closed to cars, citywide traffic grew by only 20 per cent of the originally displaced traffic.
Similar results were found in Strasbourg and London.
Take away road capacity, says Perks, and people change their habits.
In other words, suburban councillors, in pushing to protect current expressways, are guaranteeing that traffic will forever get worse. If that's true, the counter-?argument - congestion is good - needs to replace the traffic-?can-?be-?accommodated defence of dismantling the Gardiner.
Luckily, there's at least a year before the terms of the Environmental Assessment will come up for approval -? ample time for council's lefties to abandon their normally cautious approach of brokering compromises and squeaking through with a nominally progressive change.
"The way you build a city is you figure out what the environment is, how the neighbourhood should be built around that and how to serve it with transportation," says Vaughan.
"If you lay down the transportation patterns first, then see what land is left and then figure out how you're going to build the public realm, the public realm is going to suffer greatly."
The argument needs to be recast, not as a highfalutin drive to "open up the waterfront," but as a concrete opportunity to remove cars from downtown, to lessen the threat of a tentacular devouring beast. To reclaim streets for people.
Too strident? Not for the government of the EU. Reclaiming City Streets For People was the title of its study.