Toronto Gets Another Chance To Remove the Gardiner

Torontonians have been calling for the removal of the Frederick G. Gardiner Expressway for more than a decade. The effort, led by WATERFRONToronto, proposes tearing down the eastern portion of the expressway and building an eight-lane urban boulevard in its place. The effort has faced resistance from controversial Mayor Rob Ford and a handful of city council members, and the debate is destined to heat up again with the release of the environmental assessment (expected later today, and to be presented to the public tomorrow).

Here’s a timeline for what’s happened so far:

  • 1999 - Toronto removes a 1.3km stub on the far eastern portion of the freeway and creates a beautiful linear park that includes bikeways and public art installations.
  • 2008 - Toronto’s Executive Committee approved an $11 million environmental assessment project, which is a major first step in removing this one-mile portion of the freeway between the Don Valley Expressway and Jarvis street. The study will take 3 years to complete.
  • 2009 - Environmental assessment begins
  • 2010 - Toronto council suspends environmental assessment
  • 2013 - City Council votes to restart environmental assessment

Photo courtesy of Perkins + Will


In early 2013, the city budget committee brought the environmental assessment back from the grave. Today, the Gardiner costs the City of Toronoto about $12 million a year to maintain. Chunks of concrete sometimes fall from it. The current city budget has allocated more than half a billion dollars of continued maintenance to the structure for the next decade. Interestingly, the city is starting the repairs from the west and moving east, possibly anticipating that the eastern portion would come down.

Here are the four (4) alternatives for the eastern portion of the freeway being considered, with cost estimates from the city: 

  1. Maintaining: $235 million
  2. Improving: $420-$630 million
  3. Replacing: $600-$900-million (smaller expressway)
  4. Removing: $240-million-$360-million (boulevard)

The Politics of It All

Anyone who understands planning knows that it is just as much about politics as it is about innovative ideas. The mix of political will and innovation is what caused cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, Portland and others to open up to their waterfronts, instead of turning their backs to them with elevated viaducts and underperforming adjacent land uses. Dozens of cities in North America and across the world are considering or are in the process of removing freeways from their cities. The fight is often long and arduous, as Toronto knows, but equally political. This time around in Toronto, many city officials have been waiting for the completion of the environmental assessment before giving an opinion on any preferred alternative.

The wait is over. Yesterday, after a meeting with Toronto City Council, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford suggested city staff will recommend removing the Gardiner Expressway, east of Jarvis Street, as their preferred alternative. Saying to do so would create “traffic chaos”, Mayor Ford renewed his position to maintain the freeway, which has limited neighborhod access to Lake Ontario for more than 50 years, separating the City of Toronto from its waterfront and degrading land values and blighting the waterfront (see photo). With this announcement, the City of Toronto is likely to see more friction bewteen city council, removal advocates, and the Toronto Mayor as the debate ramps up.

Luckily, it appears the majority of the Toronto City Council doesn't agree. They're doing the right thing by choosing the alternative that adds the most value to Toronto. If you believe that removing the Gardiner is the best move for Toronto, show your support on Thursday, February 6, @ 6:30 PM, when the fate of the Gardiner will likely be discussed. More information here: City of Toronto

Continuing to pump millions and billions of dollars into urban highways is a poor use of taxpayer money. If Toronto doesn’t want traffic chaos, it should remove the Gardiner and replace it with a multi-way boulevard. It should improve transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure so that Torontonians have more choices of how to get around their city. And the city should acccept certain truths; some things, like the Gardiner, are no good for Toronto.


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