Decision time: Toronto to decide whether to remove an elevated expressway or spend big money to keep it up

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Public Domain City of Toronto

When John Tory was elected mayor of Toronto there was a collective sigh of relief, that our Rob Ford nightmare was over. Instead of a mayor who acted impulsively and ignored staff recommendations, who was obsessed with the war on the car and hated transit if it wasn’t out of sight and not in his roads, we would have a mayor that was smart, that read all the documents and took advice.

from cityCity of Toronto/via

If only. Toronto is now having to decide whether to tear down a section of a 50 year old expressway used by all of 5200 cars per morning and replace it with a boulevard that would add about three minutes to the commute, or spend half a billion dollars on repairing it. With 66 percent of commuters trying to get into town by subway (which failed again yesterday) and only 3 percent driving that stretch of road, it would seem a no-brainer.

With every living Director of Planning, former mayors, the chief medical officer of health and much of the real estate industry saying the highway should come down, you would think the Mayor might take their advice. With “80+ “concerned civic leaders” — including former mayors David Crombie and John Sewell, former UN ambassador Stephen Lewis, a whole slew of famous architects and planners,” (and me) signing open letters, you would think he might read them and reconsider.

Nope. He listens to a taxi driver in San Francisco instead, talking about the removal of the Embarcadero. In a fact check of his recent speech defending his plan for the highway, Torontoist claims that "Tory’s mendacity in this speech was greater than any we have checked since Rob Ford’s 2014 speech to the Economic Club—not a mark to which one should aspire."

Chief Planner Keesmat and former Chief planner BedfordChief Planner Keesmat and former Chief planner Bedford/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This is an odd little hill that everyone appears to have picked to die on. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat was recently asked by Past Chief Planner Paul Bedford when did she think she would push too far and step over the precipice; She mused that she would find out when she did. This may be it; she noted at the time:

From a city planning perspective you would never build another expressway now. Cities were seen as a place to get through, to leave. This section of the Gardiner is right on our waterfront is barely used. We need to think very carefully about it we are at a moment where a decision has to be made and what would be a grand gesture, an opportunity.

Now she is not saying anything, having had a good talking to.

Removal of this stretch of highway doesn’t change the city much; there is still the barrier of the rail right of way to the north and it is only a small portion of the whole elevated highway that isn’t going anywhere.

It’s the principle of the thing. It’s about the Mayor and about governance. About pandering to the car lobby while the subway riders are walking in the rain from dead trains and more people actually walk and bike to work than use this stretch of highway. About divisiveness. About Rob Ford never having left the building. About three and a half more years of Rob Ford governance without the crazytown stuff. That’s what’s so sad.

Whatever happens today, it's clear that the city has changed back to what it was during the Ford era: the car-driving tax-hating efficiency-seeking suburban real people vs bike and subway riding urban pinko boulevardiers. And John Tory's honeymoon is over. As I noted in my earlier post on this highway:

There were many who believed that the war on the car mentality of Rob Ford would give way to resonableness, logic and sensibility with new mayor John Tory. We were wrong.

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