A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[URBAN NOTE] “Short-sighted city planning continues to cost Toronto”

If Toronto was to make and keep a New Year’s resolution, I wish it would be to overcome the negative patterns identified this Friday by Marcus Gee in The Globe and Mail of terribly short-sighted urban planning in Toronto.

When city leaders built an enormous bridge over the Don Valley linking Bloor Street East to Danforth Avenue in the 1910s, they decided, after some debate, to include a deck underneath the roadway to carry subway trains, should Toronto ever get them. That saved great trouble and expense when the city finally got around to building the Bloor-Danforth subway line in the 1960s. The commuters who ride the subway today, enjoying the view as they sail underneath the Bloor Viaduct, can be thankful for their foresight.

This famous decision was exceptional in the truest sense. What makes it stand out is that, in Toronto, it is so unusual. Foresight, in this town, is the exception to the rule. Far more often, city leaders fail to think ahead. Sometimes, it seems we have learned nothing from the tale of the viaduct. Just look around. Left and right, you can find examples of staggering short-sightedness.

This year, Mayor John Tory caught the city’s interest when he proposed to create a splendid new urban park by decking over the railway lands west of Union Station, in effect building the park on a huge roof over the tracks. Great idea, but it could cost something like a billion dollars. Imagine how much cheaper it would have been if, 20 or 30 years ago, before the waterfront construction boom, the city had set aside a swath of land for parkland built on actual terra firma. The rail-deck idea came along because no one had the sense to foresee how dense and crowded the area around Union would become, even though it was a natural target for development. Now that the area is chock full of office and condo towers, there just isn’t any empty land left. The tens of thousands of people who are moving there to live and work have no place to walk the dog or read on a park bench.

Riding the new airport express train offers another glimpse of blinkered planning. Years ago, when authorities were expanding Toronto Pearson International Airport, they failed to put in a rail link, or even leave space for one. So when it came time to build the Union Pearson Express connecting the airport to downtown, they couldn’t just lay track to the airport from a nearby rail line. They had to build a long, twisting overpass carried on tall pillars that dodges around roadways and hydro lines to reach the terminal. It’s functioning now, and it works fine, but what a job it was, and what an expense.

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Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2016 at 7:15 pm

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