Dig Down Build Up – The Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore

An Architectural Perspective

Toronto’s success has far outstripped the visions of its mid-twentieth century planners. Current projections for growth in the GTA forecast a million new inhabitants every decade. Toronto will soon rank shoulder to shoulder with some of the world’s great metropolitan centers. From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, Toronto’s 1950’s transportation infrastructure appears more and more of a liability. Every day, the inadequacies of the highways are evident. It is time for Toronto to consider ponying up for the sophisticated urban infrastructure of a world city.

Today, the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard sit on top of some of Toronto’s most desirable and valuable real estate. The eleven-kilometre right-of-way running next to downtown and across our waterfront is worth more than $8 billion. This valuable land is centrally located and adjacent to key employment zones and amenities. Unlocking this land value makes sense.

The current proposal in Toronto of simply removing the Gardiner is a nonviable transportation option. Lack of highway access to businesses downtown will lead more of them to the suburbs. Instead, it is time to consider dismantling the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard together and replacing them with a below-grade highway.

What we propose:

Our proposal envisions building a 12-lane tunnel below grade, consisting of collector and express lanes. At street level, a new low-speed two-lane road (matching in character and scale to King Street or Queen Street) with a CO2 Free path will take Lakeshore Boulevard’s place. How do we pay for this?  The total project will be 11 km. Of this, 7.5 km will be tunnelled, and 3.5 km will be decked over. By conservative estimates, the land value of this 11 km stretch is $8 Billion in today’s dollar. The sale and development fees of this land should offset a sizable piece of this project’s cost. Public funds will cover only part of the cost since a good chunk of it can come from the sale of the lands. In fact, there are also other parcels of land adjacent to the Gardiner that are not part of the right of way but that are too small and too close to the Gardiner to be developable. By our measure, we can also give new life to these pieces.

The real estate benefits:

The attached sketches show how some of the more difficult parts of the Gardiner Expressway (where the buildings have turned their back to the Gardiner and built parking structures right up to it) can be easily woven into the fabric of the city. The Gardiner goes through many different sections of the city, so the density allocated to each section will be appropriate to the area in which it is. This density can vary from 5 or 6 times up to much higher numbers around the downtown core. New residential, commercial, institutional, cultural and sports buildings can take the residual space. This new street will be very effective in allowing the north/south streets such as Yonge Street or Bay Street to move its cars and pedestrians south towards the lake in a much friendlier manner. The collective Right of Way of the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard is 60 m in most of its length. The new road takes 20 m and the rest is for development.

Park Connections are collateral benefits:

We can connect High Park to the water by decking over the transit routes that currently cut it off from the lake. The attached sketch shows how this might work. This simple connection then allows High Park to be connected to the waterfront, up the Don River to Sunnybrook Park and beyond on one side and the Humber River and the ravine system on the other side. Toronto has many such Ravines and these connections allow us to better access and appreciate them.