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But heck, the Gardiner has its thrills, when it’s moving. You climb the ramp, burst thru to the top, breeze past the mighty towers: isn’t that an urban experience? I’d bet that a lot of Gardiner fans are hooked on that, swooshing across the face of the city like that, even when the fly-by becomes a crawl-by.
So rejoice, fans. The Hybrid Option keeps the east end of the Gardiner up approximately as is, except naturally it will have to be rehabilitated on account of it’s falling apart from all the road salt rotting the rebar for the last fifty years. The easternmost ramps, which currently reach to Logan Avenue, will be pulled back to Cherry Street, a small sacrifice to make. The wide hook the Gardiner makes alongside Keating Channel in order to swoop north and join the Don Valley Parkway (DVP), will survive in all its land-gobbling glory. The continuous Gardiner-DVP-401-427 expressway "ring road" will remain inviolable.
The Boulevard Option, a.k.a. the Remove Option, would have demolished the Gardiner from Jarvis Street to the DVP, allowing a stretch of Lake Shore Blvd to be remade as a leafy, café-lined grand boulevard — comparable, some claimed, to University Avenue. Lord knows, Lake Shore Blvd could use a remake. On its weary journey from Brown’s Line into town this otherwise major thoroughfare enjoys only a few hints of grandiosity — alongside Sunnyside Park, and again around the CNE — before it gets swallowed beneath the Gardiner.
At first glance the Boulevardiers had big advantages. Vehicle counts suggested this part of the Gardiner was expendable. The biggest spike was 5,200 vehicles in the westbound lanes in morning peak hour, which represented just 3% of all commuters into downtown at that time of day. The Boulevard would free up many acres of trapped land in what is known in planning circles as the Keating Precinct, near the foot of the Don River, in line to be the next frontier in the march of condo and office development across the central waterfront from Liberty Village in the west to, eventually, the Port Lands and South Riverdale in the east.
The Boulevard plan was a half billion dollars cheaper, calling for $326 million in capital outlays followed by $135 million in operating costs over a life of 100 years, as measured in 2013 dollars. The Hybrid will require a $414 million outlay plus $505 million in operating costs, mainly due to the costliness of maintaining an elevated structure. That was a break for the Boulevard, because usually in this world it's the esthetic option that is the unaffordable one.
Altho the EA, or in full the Gardiner East Environmental Assessment & Integrated Urban Design Study, the focal document for the debate, refrained from choosing between Hybrid and Boulevard, if you compared all the bullet points it plainly leaned toward the Boulevard based on economic, environmental and urban design criteria.
But while the existing combo of elevated Gardiner plus repressed Lake Shore Blvd provides a total of twelve lanes for through-traffic, the grand boulevard offered only eight lanes, with at least four stoplights. A connection to the DVP would be maintained, but with ramps that would be lower, tighter, slower. These aspects would spell trouble for the Boulevard Option.