News for September

Front Street Extension: a bad idea that gets worse every year

September 30, 2006

For the record, I am strongly opposed to the Front Street Extension - I think it is a bad idea that gets worse every year. Furthermore, I have taken steps to try and stop it from getting off the ground: I worked closely with former Councillor Olivia Chow to help build opposition to the Extension, in Council and in our neighbourhoods.

This has been an uphill battle – in 2003, only five other Councillors voted with Olivia to stop the Extension. By 2005, 19 were opposed or in favour of deferral – still not a majority, but enough to ensure that this bad idea will remain subject to review and scrutiny until a new council is in place in November.

When the Extension was first proposed in 1983 as a way to reduce congestion on the Gardiner Expressway, the car was king, condo intensification was merely a concept, and not many people cared about being cut off from Toronto's waterfront, which was a neglected industrial wasteland.

So the Extension was devised as the knee-jerk solution to a chronic problem: What to do about gridlock? The answer from traffic planners has been, too often, build more roads.

Which of course, means more cars. And more gridlock...

A quarter of a century later, what have we learned?

The Gardiner Expressway is now seen as a model of bad planning. Today, cars are choking downtown Toronto – literally. Citizens spend an average of 79 minutes a day commuting by car – much of it idling in a traffic jam downtown. On many radio stations, more time is spent on traffic reports than newscasts at beginnings and ends of days.

Pollution and smog days are taking their toll on public health – we have seen an alarming rise in respiratory illnesses such as childhood asthma. And increasing traffic downtown is clearly exacerbating the problem – contributing to climate change conditions, which in turn contributes to more smog days.

As well, we are finally seeing our long awaited dream of waterfront revitalization. Those of us who have campaigned strongly to stop the bridge to the Island Airport, close down the Toronto Port Authority and freeze the airport in its tracks are hopeful that we will indeed achieve a green and vibrant waterfront for people, not planes and pollution.

After years of effort, our plans for parks, pedestrian walkways, waterfront trails, bike lanes and green spaces are beginning to come to fruition. But just as the City – at long last – is reaching out to embrace its waterfront, we face the prospect of a new expressway that would slash our neighbourhoods in two and cut residents off from that waterfront, all the way from Bathurst to Dufferin.

Ironically, the future of the Front Street Extension could now turn on the death of the Gardiner Expressway. Tear down the Gardiner, and build, in its place, the Front Street Extension. It's tearing down one road cutting off the waterfront to cut off the waterfront by building a second – and, in the process, expropriating and eliminating many existing buildings, businesses and streetscapes that are the heart of growing communities. In recent years, we have seen dramatic intensification in neighbourhoods such as Liberty Village, but the Extension in no way addresses the changing transit and transportation needs of downtown residents.

The answer is not expediting more car traffic downtown – it is to reduce reliance on cars by investing in more and better public transit. Environmentally-friendly public transit. Extended subway lines, light rail solutions, streetcars, even monorails perhaps – along with bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways. That is the way we should invest in our downtown. That is how we can help connect the waterfront and the city. That is the key to building downtown neighbourhoods where people live and shop and work and entertain themselves – and where children can breathe and play outside.

We need to replace the culture of cars with a culture of conservation.

While the Front Street Extension is a bad idea well past its best before date – a bad and horrendously expensive idea whose price tag has ballooned at a stupefying $244.3 million – transit is the key to Toronto's future as a viable, healthy and sustainable city. And $244 million would give a fantastic boost to the kind of public transit projects we need to get back to the future in downtown Toronto.

I believe that by stressing the positives of transit – rather than simply the negatives of the Front Street Extension – we can help make this a city-wide issue, and not just a downtown issue. That would help ultimately gain sufficient support on Council to stop the Extension.

You know where I stand on this important issue – and if you stand with me, I urge you to let the Mayor, other candidates, and Councillors in other wards know that we have a better idea. There is indeed a better way.