It was a bit embarrassing attend ing Mayor David Miller's briefing September 27 on the released (emancipated, to hear Denzil Minnan-Wong put it) report on transforming the Gardiner Expressway.
There's no actual money for it, he said, looking bored. Reporters attempted pointed questions about something that seemed to mean nothing to him, while mayoral candidate Councillor Jane Pitfield hovered in the background wearing her inscrutable smirk, wondering, one would hope, why she had tried to make this an election issue. ("My opponent is doing nothing about the Gardiner; I promise to not do anything!')
Clearly, this is not an issue on which Miller is hiding an agenda. More likely, he simply opted not to bring the report forward because it's just that an issue. For any incumbent, issues are volatile things. You want to know exactly where you're throwing before you pull the pin. And Miller knows this better than most.
But while Pitfield bemoans the potential assault on commuters if the Gardiner comes down, the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation report could just as easily be read as a gift to motorists.
According to the report, taking down the Gardiner is the key to "reconnecting' Toronto with its waterfront. But a greater barrier than the Gardiner would seem to be six more lanes of ground level traffic, namely Lakeshore Boulevard.
A TWRC slide presentation on the to-be-created "Great Street' offered little besides a new name: Waterfront Boulevard. Certainly, there were pictures of expensive boutiques and well-dressed people enjoying them. And with the Gardiner missing, the sky suddenly reappears no small gift, that.
But the river of traffic up to 10 lanes in some places still dominates each rendering. TWRC prez John Campbell compared the plan favourably to University Avenue. After all, who doesn't adore University? What's not to love about having to cross a road twice just to get across it once?
The rhetoric was a bit confusing. "It's a question of what kind of city do you want,' said Campbell. "Do you want to have a watershed that's always trying to meet car demand? No.'
Presumably, he was speaking of commuter car traffic, which would, it is hoped, be discouraged by the numerous intersections. Not discouraged out of the city, though. The busiest section of the Gardiner, west of Spadina, would remain, feeding into the Front Street Extension, which the TWRC sees as integral to the scheme. The report says this new expressway from Bathurst to east of Dufferin would absorb 30 per cent of cars destined for downtown.
So the waterfront would be spared from meeting commuter demand because the rest of us would pick up the slack.
"The Extension will be an attractive route to the downtown,' said Bruce Bodden of Marshall Macklin Monaghan, the engineering and planning company that assisted the TWRC in drafting the plan.
That means many other city arteries would start taking some of the load. Even Harbord Street, he said, "becomes part of the solution.'
Define solution, please. Commute times aren't expected to increase by anything more than five minutes.
Are we looking to clear the streets for the benefit of residents and respiration? Doesn't look like it.
True, there were plans for two new GO Transit tracks long before the report on the Gardiner. We have to hope there will be many more public transit commuters. But as planners know, if you build 10 lanes, you will get 10 lanes of traffic.
Of course, this may all become irrelevant if the current piecemeal development of the waterfront continues. If the Gardiner is the first barrier, those hives of affluence would be the second. Little consideration is given to this in the TWRC's plan. In fact, an artist's projection of the East Bayfront at Jarvis shows ganglia of glittering towers going right down to the water, a Starbucks- and Second Cup-lined "boulevard" at the bottom.
The Gardiner has been characterized, rightly, as a psychological barrier. But at least it's an equal-opportunity barrier. The plans for its deconstruction call for a gated community without the gate.
It would be lovely to see that fetid monument to 1950s autocentric planning come down. But let's not replace it with a mediocre monument to 2014 autocentric planning. (One wonders how much the cost would drop if we didn't assume there had to be a road there at all.)
And if we're going to keep insisting on grand schemes we can't afford, let's go back to having them hatched by city planning staff. They're better at it.