Mayoral hopeful Penalosa promises to tear down the east Gardiner Expressway
Oct. 20, 2022
If Gil Penalosa is elected mayor of Toronto, the east Gardiner Expressway will be torn down and replaced with a ground-level boulevard and thousands of new homes, he said Wednesday.
Penalosa called the current “hybrid” plan -- to rebuild the section aloft, but shifted closer to the downtown rail corridor, championed by Mayor John Tory and endorsed by city council in 2015 -- a costly “fiasco.”
Penalosa, Tory’s most high-profile election challenger, would revert to a plan recommended by city staff -- turning the Gardiner east of Jarvis Street into a boulevard, freeing up land for a new community.
There would be space for 8,000 new homes for 15,000 people, generating at least $1 billion in construction savings and real estate proceeds while extending east Gardiner commuters’ average time in traffic by a few minutes, said the prominent urbanist.
“It’s time to say it was a huge mistake. We need to tear down the Gardiner,” Penalosa told reporters in a Distillery District parking lot with a sparsely travelled stretch of Gardiner behind him. “No civilized cities are doing elevated expressways,” because they don’t solve congestion, have a huge environmental cost and lock up valuable land, Penalosa added.
“If we do a boulevard with sidewalks, protected bikeways, trees, benches … we’re going to have less cost, some money (saved), some revenue and a better project … The Gardiner fiasco is the symbol of irresponsible spending that we must stop in order to create a Toronto for everyone.”
After bruising debate, city council narrowly voted to simply rebuild the crumbling elevated section east of Jarvis Street. Tory, who cited a University of Toronto study warning of longer traffic delays than forecast by city experts, came back with the costlier plan to move the section to free up some land.
The Star reported in 2020 that the Gardiner rebuild will gobble $2.2 billion of the transportation department’s 10-year capital spend, or 44 per cent of the total although the highway carries only about seven per cent of commuters in and out of downtown.
Penalosa noted that the city has not yet awarded contracts for construction of the hybrid section, saying it’s not too late to revert to the boulevard plan.
In a mayoral debate Monday, Tory said the city risks losing progress on a host of projects if the new-term city council starts revisiting decisions of the past.
“That was a decision made seven years ago,” Tory said of the hybrid Gardiner plan. “I’m not for turning back.”
On Wednesday, in response to Penalosa’s announcement, Tory campaign spokesperson Jenessa Crognali defended keeping the expressway aloft.
“More than 32 million vehicle trips per year are taken on the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway” she said, adding that, amid growth with “mega-transit projects” and home construction, Tory’s priority is “to keep people moving in Toronto, whether it be driving, taking public transit or cycling.”
“While others attempt to reopen almost decade-old debates in an effort to change or delay important transit, transportation and infrastructure projects, the mayor is focused on moving Toronto forward and getting big things done,” she said.
A total of 31 mayoral candidates are running in Monday’s civic election.