Mr. City Planner, Tear Down That Expressway!

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

8 thoughts on “Mr. City Planner, Tear Down That Expressway!

  1. Well, I don’t think I made any reference to “my cold dead hands”. What some people see as “an atomized sense of individuality” though, others see as simple privacy and reasonable autonomy. You are asking me and people like me to abandon a lifestyle we find enjoyable and well-suited to our personalities. We, on the other hand, are asking nothing of you. Does that not place the onus on you to make the case for our changing, rather than on us to justify our current choices?

    You have pointed out that I was mistaken in assuming that you wanted/expected suburbs to become mini-downtowns. In the interests of further improving my understanding of your position, I’ll ask a variation of a question I had posed to you previously. How would a (in your mind) propertly designed Etobicoke or Scarborough differ from downtown Toronto, other than in scale? What would be the legitimate (as you see it) lifestyle differences between someone living downtown and someone living in an outlying non-downtown region (to take the s-word and its baggage out of the equation)? What factors would typically be involved in someone choosing to live in one versus the other?

    • Dear Mr GW,

      Your car-first bias shows all through this comment.

      “We, on the other hand, are asking nothing of you.”

      Of course you are.

      In our taxes that go into a transportation infrastructure designed almost to the exclusion of everybody but car drivers. In the rules of road that favour automobile use. The design of streets and communities to best accommodate cars.

      You are asking a whole bunch from us but don’t recognize that fact because this is the way it’s always been for the better part of 8 decades. That’s what we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke think is referred to as the status quo bias.

      As for how to best adapt places from car-dependent communities to a new reality? We’re not planners but we do have this in our library,
      Sprawl Repair Manual. We think you should too. That way, we can keep this conversation going.

      • Are you asking bicyclists to pay the full costs of installing and maintaining bike lanes? Do you demand that the TTC cover its entire costs from transit fares? Do you suggest that the costs of building and maintaining public schools be borne only by those with young children? Or is your idea that motorists should pay the full costs of roads and other infrastructure related to automobiles more like a “sin tax” (or punishment) than a means of cost recovery? Frankly, I think *your* biases are even more relevant to the discussion than mine.

        And to be fair, I shouldn’t have to read an entire book written by someone else in order to know what attributes a suburb would need to have such that *you* could live contentedly with its existence. I don’t see why that would be so difficult to summarize in a few sentences. But then again, you are under no obligation to respond to me at all.

        You claim not to be an expert in city planning, but you seem confident enough in your knowledge to have very strong opinions.

        I have no problems with suburbs becoming more walkable and having their own little city centres. But I consider downtown Toronto, a place I spend as little time in as necessary, to be the very model of an environment I would *not* want to live in. I’m concerned that this movement to make suburbs more “sustainable” is growing organically from within suburban communities, but rather something that downtown-dwelling urbanists (some of which being former suburbanites still nursing a grudge against the place they grew up in) seek to impose on suburbanites.

  2. I am glad you posted this because it really shows the lack of perspective of the people are anti Gardiner. If you have ever seen an area where a highway cuts off the area around it it really sucks for everyone. It sucks for the people living around there. It sucks for pedestrians and it sucks for cars as well. The best example of this is Eglinton around Allen Road. It is congested at all times and there is no life to this area for that reason. Sadly I don’t think any of the writers at All Watered Down On The Thin Ice have ever been to this area so they probably don’t know any better than to believe the pictures in the Gardiner EA showing a clear lakeshore after a Gardiner takedown.

    It is funny how many on these left-leaning blogs are ready to pick apart staff reports when they come back saying something they do not agree with (see the KPMG report, Chong Report, Report about privatizing garbage), yet they just take this clearly biased Gardiner EA as the bible saying that the Gardiner should be taken down. I may have to start a blog just to refute some of the obvious holes in this plan that do not even relate to it impact on drivers. Sadly many people are not going to read what I write just because my opinion differs from what they want to hear.

    The Gardiner teardown is really just a kamikaze mission by anti-car ideologues who would ruin any hope of life for the area just to screw over the drivers. Sadly for these people they make up a small portion of Toronto and not even close to being able to win an election. But I have feeling that they may try but in reality they are just risking the next four year becoming Ford more years and even I don’t want that.

    • Is there no way to edit your posts on this blog? Anyway i meant to say “I am glad you posted this because it really shows the lack of perspective of the people who are anti Gardiner.”

  3. Mr unknown_man, please Google the words Freeway Removal Seattle Seoul San Francisco to see that this can be done without the world falling apart, your comments notwithstanding. Further, the percent of people who come into the downtown via the stretch of the Gardiner under consideration, if you had cared to read the report Cityslikr had linked to, is under 5% each way. Sadly these people, who make up a small portion of Toronto, have an undue weight in this important discussion that is about all citizens of Toronto.

  4. The fact is that we have to stop driving so much. We need to get out of our cars and onto high speed trains, transit, bikes etc. Just because certain streets are congested now, doesn’t mean they will always be.
    The suburbs of Amsterdam are a great example of being relatively car free. The train service is excellent, the planning of commercial centres is smart and people ride their bikes to get around. If they have long trips, then they take a car. But for regular commuting, most people take transit.
    We need to think more like Europeans and less like Americans.

  5. Some people who throw around the term “city building” seem to forget that a city does not exist for its own sake. It is not an end in itself, but a means to an end (or rather to multiple ends, which makes the decision making more tricky). A city is not an experiment. Nor is it a work of art. Nor is it a Lego set for some master planner. It is a practical endeavour, a cluster of dwellings, workplaces and amenities which must above all serve the needs of those varied human beings who are its very purpose for existing. Cities are not the pinnacle of human achievement, but can be an incubator for such achievement.

    Let me throw another question out there, not for you to give me an answer but for you to consider privately. How many people do you know and both like and respect who do not share your affinity for dense urban living? Perhaps these folks live happily in a suburb, small town or rural area. Perhaps they live downtown but aren’t so crazy about it.

    If that number turns out to be low (or zero), then you may wish to reflect on whether that fact affects your ability to communicate to people who have chosen a different lifestyle from you (as you sometimes try to do in your blog or by dropping in on community meetings outside of the core).

    Another exercise of imagination that might be useful in this regard is trying to write something (a few paragraphs) from the perspective of someone who lives in a suburban home and drives a car and who loves both (not someone who lives there just because it’s cheaper). Then have someone else look at it (perhaps one of your non-urban friends) to see if you’ve succeeded in making that imaginary person sound like something other than a cartoon villain or ignorant victim of conditioning. You could do it as verbal role-playing as well, I suppose.

    If you find it difficult to make such a leap of sympathetic imagination, then perhaps consider how someone who is incapable of doing so would sound when trying to reach out or give advice to people on the other side of a cultural divide.

    And yes, I’ve done this test (or a variant of it) myself. I understand what those who love downtown Toronto (including some friends of mine) love about it. When I was younger, I would have understood to even a greater extent. I’m glad they’ve found an environment and lifestyle that suits them. I learned a long time ago to draw a big thick line between “right for me” and “right in the absolute”. I’ve encountered too many people over the years who don’t make that distinction, and who elevate their personal choices into moral imperatives. The Internet culture seems to have aggravated this phenomenon.

    You frequently mock the stereotype of the “downtown elitist”, essentially labeling it a false and unfair caricature invented by retrograde types in the media. But don’t you think there may be just the smallest kernel of truth in that stereotype, and that those enthusiastic and informed about urban theory can sometimes come across as condescending and arrogant? If someone presenting new ideas to you were talking down to you as they did so, would that not affect your receptiveness to what they’re saying? People who feel talked down to rarely say things like “Yeah, you’re totally right. I’ve been living wrong all these years, and didn’t realize it until you pointed it out to me. Thank you, stranger.”

    Stephen Covey said it best. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If citing Covey is a bit too “corporate” for you, then you could at least think of it in terms of knowing your enemy.

    Although perhaps you think I’m talking down to you in trying to give you advice. Maybe I sound like a “suburban elitist”. 😉 Even if that’s so, there’s something useful there as well in terms of understanding how easy it is to come across as condescending, and how important it is to try not to.

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