Waterfront Toronto Unveils New ‘Underpass Park’

Toronto has long been scarred by the Gardner Expressway, much in the way Calgary is scarred by the rail line running through 10thish ave, only Toronto’s is much worse. Their waterfront is largely inaccessible by foot or car because of the Gardner expressway. City Council has long been trying to find a way to “fix the problem”. Here is there attempt. The intention is that “the park will remove a psychological barrier by converting the derelict space beneath the ramps into a bright, new neighborhood destination. “. While I am inclined to agree with them, I can hardly imagine wanting to go hang out beneath an overpass.

While I hope to avoid editorializing, I think the problem is the Gardner, not the shadow it casts. You can’t polish a turd nor can you make a freeway a “bright, fully accessible urban neighbourhood amenity that will contribute to the success of the developments being built in the community.”

You can read the release here.

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7 comments

  1. 23skidoo · April 15, 2010

    The railway line, especially around Union Station, is just as bad as the Gardiner for creating a barrier to the lake. In fact, I would say the railway line is worse, because at least the Gardiner is elevated on piers instead of on a berm.

    As for Calgary’s CP railway line downtown, it’s not so bad! If the land north of 10th Ave (and south of 9th Ave) were better developed, you wouldn’t even know the railway was there. Accessing the area north of Sunalta is an issue, but the West LRT and West Village plan will address that. Plus I love the long underpasses at 4th and 8th streets, and the brutalist concrete 70s one at 5th street with the round windows and orange railings.

  2. Tom Howard · April 15, 2010

    I disagree. Between 14th and Macleod there are only 5 streets that connect the north and south ends of downtown – that’s almost a ratio of one connecting streets for every 3 streets downtown. I think that this lack of connectivity between the two halves of downtown makes walking downtown much more difficult, and creates a disorienting and inconsistent street layout that is not very legible to newcomers. Plus, brutalist concrete? in my opinion, we have more than our fair share of brutalist architecture in Calgary already, thanks, and the pedestrian underpasses in the downtown are worthy of an aesthetic a little more engaging than bare concrete and orange handrails (or the lame train mural on 1st street SW). Additionally, these pedestrian underpasses minimize sightlines that might otherwise provide more passive pedestrian surveillance on these spaces, threatening their credibility as safe passages between the two halves of downtown.

    One thing I would agree on, however, it that the land on the north side of 10th avenue could be developed far more sensibly than the giant surface parking lots that currently occupy that space. Who knows, if these areas were developed with some uses that generate/attract a little more pedestrian traffic, maybe we would have reason for better connectivity between north and south downtown?

  3. Adam Zendel · April 15, 2010

    @23skidoo I agree that if the area were better developed, that the problem would not seem as pronounced. But better development will not solve the problem of getting from downtown to the beltline. To solve the problem, the train line must be removed and the grid reimposed onto the landscape.

    I feel the same logic applies to the Gardener, there is no design good enough to make a hanging out or walking under a freeway an enjoyable experience. To connect the water front with the rest of the city Toronto will have to tear out the Gardner. As it stands the expressway is used by suburbanites, and GTA’ers to get through or across downtown. Over the years the use of the road has diminished and the maintenance cost have risen. As Toronto progresses as being an eminently walkable city, the use of the Gardner will go down. At one point in the next few decades the cost will greatly exceed the benefits (In my opinion it already has).

    The logical course of action to start dismantling it from the center out, and eventually terminate at the Don Valley.

    Again, when it comes to urban design, you can’t polish a turd, nor should you try, scoop the poop and throw it in the trash.

  4. 23skidoo · April 16, 2010

    Tom,
    Don’t be so hard on brutalist architecture! Its time (60s-80s) is over now, so you won’t need to worry about any more bare/textured concrete structures popping up. I agree that many of the underpasses have poor sight lines (especially the really old ones at 1st st SW, 1st st SE, 2nd st SE), but the one at 5th is very open, with wide sidewalks: http://bit.ly/9qKYf8

    Additionally, I count 8 north-south connections, if you include the level crossing at 11th Street. 14th to Macleod, minus 3rd St which doesn’t exist south of the tracks, is 16 blocks. 8/16 = 50% of the streets have north-south connections. And of course, a new underpass is being built at 4th st E!

    Adam,
    My point was, even if you remove the Gardiner, the train line is still in the way. And unlike the one in Calgary, it’s very wide, and elevated on a berm.

  5. 23skidoo · April 16, 2010

    Although I wish there was an underpass or ped/cycling overpass at 2nd St SW. That’s a great cycling and walking route.

  6. phbl · April 17, 2010

    what’s with all the hype over the lake ontario water front?

    it’s not like you can do useful things with it, like, say, GO INTO IT.

  7. phbl · April 17, 2010

    @Adam, the Garnier is also used by downtown Torontonians to get to Ikea, Costco, and YYZ

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