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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 10 page 17


The business folk who delivered their generally pro-Hybrid deputations before PWIC were remarkably insouciant about how the city was supposed to pay for the Hybrid. You had to wonder. Why on earth would the Toronto Financial District BIA, whose membership includes the big banks, want the city to choose the most expensive option? Didn’t they care that the vast majority of Bay Street workers arrive by transit? Didn’t they realize that the city might have to borrow money from someone?

It also puzzled me that the local industries that use trucks hadn’t done much homework, even with their business viability supposedly at stake. The most embarrassing was a ready-mix firm that sent a spokesman who wasn’t from Toronto, didn’t know the streets, and hadn't a clue what routes the drivers took. All he knew was: expressway good, boulevard bad.

Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with truckers lugging and schlepping in the city. One way or the other, their job will grow increasingly grim, and the Boulevardiers had no clear solution for them other than that they should adjust their working hours. “The ideal,” Shelley Carroll (Don Valley East) offered brightly, “is to get the cars off the road so the trucks can move.” However, nobody introduced a motion to kick the cars off the road.

So “economic competitiveness,” that vague but peremptory battle cry that got urban expressways built in the first place, echoed once more in this the Gardiner’s dire hour. “The Gardiner is the heart of the city, of the GTA,” pleaded that Grand Old Man of council, Norm Kelly (Scarboro-Agincourt). Toronto owes its prosperity to the Gardiner, Kelly said, and he worried that the city's titans, stuck in traffic, might start thinking maybe they should move their businesses elsewhere.

For a fraction of a second it sounded plausible: our financial district savaged because some car-dependent exec has had it with all the traffic! But hold on, Norman. Do you mean to say that no city can survive without an expressway downtown? What about Vancouver, which managed to keep expressways out? What about European capitals, London or Paris, say, where they would never allow such monstrosities in? Do businesses refuse to locate there? Do residents starve because delivery trucks can’t reach them?

Urban expressways are no longer being built in the Western world. Period. The Boulevardiers could moreover point to cities such as Seoul, Madrid, New York, and San Francisco where urban expressways have been demolished with beneficial results.

San Francisco’s Embarcadero Expressway was comparable to the Gardiner in that it obstructed the waterfront. Being a double decker, it was twice as ugly. The Embarcadero survived on the basis of scare stories about the hellish gridlock that would ensue without it. Then in 1989 an earthquake snapped the expressway, making it unusable. Lo and behold, no gridlock. People found other ways to get around. The city took the expressway down in 1990 and replaced it with a tree-lined boulevard.

Architect Michael Kirkland, a design consultant for the municipal agency Waterfront Toronto, says forget all the speculation, the Embarcadero is “empirical evidence of what really happens when you tear down an expressway: you get public parks and higher real estate values.” Traffic “evaporates.”