Last month the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) released a report on dealing with the Gardiner Expressway an ageing elevated highway that cuts through the centre of downtown Toronto and pretty universally regarded as an eyesore.

In general it’s a well reasoned report, but it’s striking for its continuing embrace of car culture.
The report (see TWRC’s presentation) considers four options: doing nothing except maintenance on the existing structure; replacing it, preferably by moving it below grade; “transforming” the structure; and converting it into a “great street”. Of all the options, the conversion to a street is favoured.

A key aspect of the recommendations is the role that the report’s authors give to rapid transit. Unfortunately, the media hasn’t really picked up on this. This isn’t helped much by the visual absence of rapid transit facilities from many of the final artists renderings. Some of these blue sky (literally) drawings are also overly optimistic, in that they show open skylines that no longer exist — thanks to intense high-rise condominium development in the area.

It would have been nice to see, instead of a ten lane boulevard, something along the lines of a six lane route with more extensive rapid transit facilities. It would have been nice to see a plan for proactive use of rapid transit, through the provision of low cost parking facilities well outside the downtown core and the implementation of road tolls for those who chose to drive anyway.

The report’s authors indicate that their choices are predicated on the extension of Front Street so that it is accessible from the Gardiner, on the expansion of GO Transit (commuter rail service), and the expansion of existing LRT (Light Rail Transport) service along Queen’s Quay. Unfortunately with the exception of the GO service, these are largely methods of traffic diversion rather than traffic reduction. As well, GO Transit only addresses rush-hour commuter traffic that originates from more distant suburbs and communites. Those who live closer to the city and those who travel in off-peak hours will be forced to continue to rely on cars.

What this plan needs is a rapid transit route that services the needs of people who are travelling from intermediate distances during the day, and those who are coming in from more distant points in off-peak hours.

The plan should call for a mass transit route along Lakeshore Boulevard, running from highway 427 at the West (where the Sherway Gardens mall can accommodate the infrastructure required for parking), to the base of the Don Valley Parkway in the East (again, were there is space for parking structures), with a plan to continue the Eastern route along Kingston Road at least to Scarborough.

This route can be below grade in the core, eliminating interference with automotive and pedestrian traffic, and above grade elsewhere, reducing costs. Rather than a subway, which is prohibitively expensive to build and too expensive to operate around the clock; or an LRT which doesn’t scale to high volumes all that well; the TTC should take a look at the San Francisco Bay Area, or at the Greater Vancouver Area, or at any of several European cities, and implement automated trains that run on rubber tires in tracks.

Why rubber? For the simple fact that despite increased maintenance costs, the transit experience is far more pleasant on tires than it is on rails. It never ceases to amaze me how nobody in the TTC seems to be able to make the conceptual link between ridership levels and how pleasant the ride is. My guess is that some 90% of the people I know resist taking the TTC simply because it’s not a very pleasant experience. Non-rail tracks are also less expensive, easier to build, and more flexible. Hopefully over the years this main line will develop several North-South branches that can service the high density urban areas across the city.

Toronto desperately needs more East-West rapid transit capabilities. Aside from the rush hour jams on the Gardiner and Lakeshore (in Toronto, “rush hour” is roughly 7am to 8pm), major arterial roads such as King and Queen streets are virtually impassable during the day. Now is the time to supplement the TWRC’s recommendations and start making it possible for people to get in and out of the city pleasantly, quickly, and efficiently without getting into a car.

Well that’s not quite true… 1975 was the time to do it, but sooner or later it has to happen!