TORONTO WATERFRONT: Moving on
December 1, 2001
By Bronwen Ledger
Toronto's skyline is dominated by the powerful icons of the CN Tower and Skydome, but stretching south to Lake Ontario, east to the Don River, and west to Fort York and the CN National Exhibition grou...
Toronto’s skyline is dominated by the powerful icons of the CN Tower and Skydome, but stretching south to Lake Ontario, east to the Don River, and west to Fort York and the CN National Exhibition grounds, lie 800 hectares of largely vacant land. Once a thriving industrial hub with railway lines, shipyards and factories, the area became a dismal wasteland as the economy changed direction away from these sectors and out to the suburbs. The site has been called “the most valuable undeveloped land in Canada.”
How to realize its huge potential? Like other Canadian cities such as Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver, Toronto has spent the last decade going some way to transform the area into a more vital space. But now it is laying much bigger plans. The 2008 Olympic Bid failed, but the concepts it engendered are still alive. In October, Paul Bedford, the city’s head of planning, presented proposals for major road and transit improvements along the lakefront, linking a string of park lands, housing and commercial areas. Embodied in a report Making Waves, the plans follow those laid out by Robert Fung in an earlier study. Fung is now heading the corporation charged with steering through the waterfront’s renewal. After public consultations this fall, the plans will go before city council. Since the federal, provincial and municipal governments committed $1.5 billion to the waterfront late last year, and since Ontario also has recently committed $9 billion for transit over the next 10 years, most of the waterfront plans should turn into reality and consulting engineers will find themselves deeply involved.
Already Marshall Macklin Monaghan is in charge of a bid process for a key component of the plan, historical Union Station. Three consortiums are to submit proposals by December for a $200 million mission to restore, redevelop and operate the station so that it will be able to handle greatly increased commuter and rail traffic.
Consulting engineers also helped formulate the transportation proposals in the Making Waves report. Lea Consulting studied travel demand, and McCormick Rankin Corporation and Cole, Sherman and Associates helped to develop the road and transit networks.
These proposals are the most contentious, especially an ambitious plan to bury the elevated Gardiner Expressway. After much campaigning, the eastern portion was dismantled earlier this year (see page 20).
Now city planners want to bury the remainder of the expressway in a tunnel below Lakeshore Boulevard, reaching all the way from Strachan Avenue in the west almost to Jarvis Street in the east. The report notes that this is “an enormous undertaking,” and planners say it could take seven or eight years to complete. The mayor and politicians are balking at the possible multi-billion cost (the planners estimate $1.8 billion in total for the new transportation efforts), and those familiar with the horrendous cost overruns of the Boston Tunnel Artery are worried the costs could balloon to much more.
While the tunnel may turn out to be a pipe dream, the planners emphasize that other elements in the transportation plan must be completed before the Gardiner goes. Their focus, they say, will be on sustainable, non-automobile movement through pedestrian and cycle paths, and public transit. “Future travel demand,” they write, “will be mainly met by non-auto means.” They plan to extend the Light Rapid Transit Line all the way along the lakefront from the eastern Port Lands to Exhibition Place. Buses and streetcars will be given a network of exclusive rights-of-way, and there also will be water-based taxis and ferries to take people east-to-west along the lake.
Lakeshore Boulevard, the artery that runs parallel to the apparently doomed Gardiner Expressway, is to be transformed into a grand boulevard, with cycle and pedestrian paths, and lots of street intersections connecting north-south to the city. The north-south streets are projected to be both “people places” as well as traffic arteries. They will have landscaping and “high quality urban design.” Railway underpasses are to become “pedestrian friendly corridors,” and new view corridors will be opened up so that people can see down to the lake.
A massive environmental remediation effort will be involved to restore the lakefront shorelines, and to make the land suitable to hold up to 40,000 housing units and 90,000 square metres of commercial development. One of the most ambitious proposals is to divert and renaturalize the Don River south of the rail corridor, creating a continuous green belt from the Don Valley through to the waterfront and Leslie Street Spit. To protect communities to the river’s west, a berm will have to be built, as well as new road bridges to carry Queen’s Quay and Cherry Street over the waterway.
A dramatic plaza and pier proposed for the foot of Yonge Street will give Toronto’s waterfront a signature image such as Vancouver enjoys with its sail-like roofed Canada Place. And since Toronto’s plan is to keep the huge Redpath Sugar Plant and the Canada Malting Silos, its waterfront will preserve its industrial character, just as Montreal has managed to keep its 19th-century heritage throughout its renewal projects along the St. Lawrence. Toronto has two striking pedestrian bridges — both designed by Delcan — which have become a magnet for local photographers, but otherwise development efforts in the past decades along its waterfront have been patchy and something of an afterthought until now..