Mr. City Planner, Tear Down That Expressway!

February 6, 2014

So after some delay due to unknown circumstances [**cough, cough** Denzil Minnan-Wong **cough, cough** Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair **cough, cough**], the city staff report on what the hell to do with the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway (not the official name) dropped yesterday. Maintain. Improve. Replace. Remove.

This picture won’t do it justice. If you want to get a really good look at what the various proposals might wind up looking like, check out the report, pages 32 & 33 specifically. Throw in 34 for good measure.

GardinerOptionsBy every other measure except for travel times by car, removing this section of the Gardiner appears to be the smartest move the city could make. Economically. Environmentally. Design and planning-wise. It presents an exciting city building opportunity rather than an obstacle.

One thing that should really jump out at you when reading the report are the a.m. peak hour numbers of how commuters got downtown. Between GO and the TTC, 68% arrived by public transit while only 28% made it there by car. I don’t know why, but if you asked me, subwaycrowdI would’ve predicted the exact opposite. 68-28 in favour of downtown car commutes.

How could I be so wrong?

Well, here’s a wild guess.

This city’s continued default car-centricity. Everybody drives everywhere they go, right? I mean, look at all that traffic.

Nothing gets talked about here that isn’t ultimately filtered through the lens of how it’ll affect drivers. Parking regulations. Bike lanes. Separated transit right of ways.

What will the drivers think? We can’t inconvenience the drivers. Won’t somebody please think about the drivers?!

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been having a conversation in the comments section of this blog, a fairly amicable discussion, about my anti-car/anti-suburb views and opinions. Kind of along the lines of imposing my lifestyle choice on others. You don’t want to drive? Don’t drive. roadrageBut you’ll have to pry the steering wheel out of my cold dead hands.

There’s a fundamental divide at work here, pitting one side who sees through their proverbial windshield any imposition on the right to drive as a deviation from the norm, against those of us who’ve come to the realization that prioritizing private auto use above all other modes of transport is harmful to healthy city building.

Do I want to ban cars? Not in most places but I do think a whole lot more Times Squares would be a very, very good idea. Do I want to restrict the use of cars? Again, in some places where it warrants. And I want those driving cars to start paying the actual cost of what we all pay to maintain the necessary infrastructure for drivers to get around this city.

Is that an imposition of my lifestyle choice on other people? I don’t know. Is demanding a fair share of the public space now disproportionately given over to automobile use an imposition?

For some 80 years now, the assumed priority by city planners and builders for cars has imposed its unhealthy values on every resident, driver or not. caradRoads designed for speeds that make any other forms of using them dangerous and unpleasant. Pollution. An atomized sense of individuality that fosters a sense of isolation at the expense of community. Gridlock and congestion.

Yes, folks. The main cause of gridlock and congestion is cars. The thing you’re sitting inside of. Too many cars and too little space to accommodate them.

The Gardinder Expressway was built during an age when we believed cars were a source of freedom. They would get us further faster. Bill Haley and the Comets playing on the radio, wind in our hair, my best girl cuddled up beside me. All hail, the emperor automobile!

How do you like me now?

Only a slim slice of daily commuters are going to be adversely affected if we tear down the eastern portion of the Gardiner. That’s unfortunate but, frankly, they’ve been catered to for too long to the detriment of everybody else who lives in this city. It’s past time to re-balance the scales.

There’s a chance right now (and by right now, I mean maybe before the decade is out) to chip away at a city building mistake that was made with the best of intentions. That happens. congestiontoWe don’t always make the right decisions, and lacking 20/20 foresight, there’s always going to be unintended consequences.

Recognizing those mistakes, however, is the key to successful adaptation and change. It’s glaringly apparent the encouragement of car dependence was a terrible mistake for the general well being of this city, most cities, all cities. Let’s not make the same mistake again. And again. And again.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr