In recent days, Toronto residents have been buzzing with excitement and apprehension as news of a new financial deal between the city and the province emerges. This deal involves the province taking over the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway (DVP). While the financial implications for the city are significant, there’s a deeper question that needs to be asked: What is the city giving up in exchange for this financial relief? In this blog post, we’ll explore the three potential consequences of relinquishing control over these crucial urban arteries.
- Loss of Control Over Road Safety
One of the most significant implications of the province taking control of the Gardiner and DVP is the loss of municipal authority over road safety improvements. The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) will gain jurisdiction over everything within 400 meters of an on-off ramp or the center line of the highway. This includes sidewalks, curbs, bike lanes, and safety islands. For the Gardiner, this 400-meter radius extends from the lake in the south to Queen Street in the north. That’s a big chunk of real estate.
The experience of other municipalities in Ontario trying to secure MTO approval for road safety improvements within this 400-meter zone has been discouraging. Delays of years and outright rejections have hampered much-needed safety upgrades. By giving up control of these highways, is Toronto sacrificing its ability to build streets in line with Vision Zero and TransformTO policies, especially in densely populated neighborhoods like Parkdale, Liberty Village, and Mimico? What about the Lakeshore East LRT, a much needed transit project Mayor Chow campaigned on? This, too, would be entirely within the 400-metre zone, and every detail of the project would be within the MTO’s control. As the experience of the Eglinton Crosstown construction has shown, provincial oversight of transit projects does not always go very well.
This critical road safety infrastructure on Danforth Avenue would be impossible if the MTO had jurisdiction over the DVP’s on-ramps.
- Non-Standard On-Off Ramps and Conflict with Vision Zero
Many on-off ramps along the Gardiner and DVP do not conform to current MTO guidelines. MTO guidelines for on-off ramps prioritize moving many cars at very high speeds, which conflicts with the city’s Vision Zero plan aimed at reducing fatalities and serious injuries (KSIs). MTO’s guidelines do not allow for signalized stops, which are essential for enhancing road safety.
Consider Toronto’s recent safety improvements to the DVP ramp on Danforth Avenue. These enhancements, including a signalized intersection to separate cars and bikes, may never have been possible under MTO leadership. The question arises: What if MTO wants to remove such safety features or rejects similar installations in other locations? Who decides on ramp designs in dense urban areas when the city and MTO disagree?
The Six Points Interchange project will bring millions in economic development to the city, improve road safety, add much-needed green space, and create thousands of new residential units. Could it happen if the MTO was in charge?
- Lost Opportunities for Economic Development and Public Health
Over the years, Toronto has benefited from repurposing and revitalizing sections of the Gardiner and DVP. Numerous community events, such as Bike for Brain Health and the Toronto Triathlon Festival, have utilized these urban highways to promote public health and recreation. The City has transformed parts of these highways into iconic spaces like The Bentway and Love Park. The Six Points interchange project in Etobicoke will see a vibrant, mixed-use, transit-oriented community built where once there was a tangled network of highway interchanges and car-centric infrastructure. All these initiatives provide significant public health benefits, support TransformTO’s climate goals, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits. However, these initiatives may come to an end if the MTO gains control of the urban expressways. What are the opportunity costs the city will incur by relinquishing control over these valuable assets?
While the financial aspects of Toronto’s new deal with the province are important, it’s vital to consider the broader implications of this transaction. The City may be giving up more than just highways; it could be surrendering control over the future of its road safety and climate action plans and, with that, the opportunity to continue building more public spaces and a healthier, more sustainable urban environment.
As discussions continue in this due diligence phase, it’s essential that both the province and the city carefully evaluate the long-term consequences and strike an agreement that allows Toronto to maintain control over its destiny while benefiting from the financial relief this deal offers. Only by considering the hidden costs and potential sacrifices can we ensure a brighter and more sustainable future for our city.
By David Simor, TCAT Director