Both Gardiner options pose problems for pedestrians: Engineers

Professional engineers in Toronto are weighing in on the Gardiner east debate, and one is warning councillors that both of their current choices pose real problems for pedestrians.

The Toronto chapters of two engineering bodies – Professional Engineers Ontario and Ontario Society of Professional Engineers – invited their members to hear two experts discuss the Eastern Gardiner and then vote on what position to advocate for.

They considered the hybrid or boulevard options councillors are debating, but also a “third option” of tunneling underground, which the city’s political leaders have discarded because of its high cost. Their decision will be shared with the city in a position paper.

Geoff Fernie, a bioengineer and the director of research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network, spoke during the meeting at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

He doesn't advocate any particular option, but said that pedestrians—especially those with limited mobility—must be taken into account with whatever decision is made.

Fernie studied University Avenue in 2009 to see how pedestrians behave on boulevards with centre medians. He found multi-stage crossings to be dangerous for pedestrians because the lights are typically timed much too quickly for many people to get across in time.

Rather than wait through another light cycle to cross the second half, many attempt to cross the entire thing at once, leaving them crossing against the light and in danger of being hit.

“In cold weather, only three per cent obey the traffic rules,” Fernie said. “That’s pretty worrying.”

This is also a problem for the hybrid option because Lakeshore Boulevard runs underneath it. The solution for either option is to lengthen the light cycle and make the median attractive to pedestrians and sheltered from the weather, he said.

One other option – which he acknowledges the city is not considering – would be to take the Gardiner down and put a highway in a cut in the ground, with pedestrian overpasses.

Michael Meschino, a civil engineer and principal with Entuitive, also spoke.

What the city choses to do to the expressway east of Jarvis will determine the choices it has for the rest of the highway in the future, he said. In his opinion, neither the boulevard or hybrid option works well downtown.

“One thing about the tunnel option, although it will be the most expensive, is it leaves open the possibility of extending that tunnel through the city core,” he said.

A tunnel would make redeveloping the Eastern Port Lands more appealing, whereas both the boulevard and the raised expressway serve as a barrier, he said.

He thinks cost of the tunneling option would be high, but perhaps not as high as some estimates that have been made in the past.