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Toronto New poll shows Torontonians support Gardiner East teardown

The elevated eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway is seen in front of condos, office buildings and the CN Tower on May 26. Discussions concerning the fate of this section of the roadway continue with some advocating for tearing it down and some wanting to keep it as is.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

With the debate over the future of the eastern Gardiner moving into its final stage, a new poll shows broad Toronto support for taking it down.

As Mayor John Tory and his proxies try to rally support for keeping that stretch of the Gardiner as an elevated highway, the poll reveals that their view is in the minority and out of step with a large proportion of Torontonians.

Surveying by Mainstreet Technologies found that support was higher for removing the Gardiner east of Jarvis than for keeping it across all age groups, in every region of the city and among both men and women.

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City-wide, 45 per cent of poll respondents said that stretch of highway should be removed, while 33 per cent said it should be rebuilt largely in its current form. A further 12 per cent were unsure and 11 per cent didn't like either option.

The poll, which is set to be released Monday, comes barely a week before council is to debate what to do with that stretch of the aging Gardiner expressway.

Removing the Gardiner East and replacing it with a boulevard is estimated to cost $461-million over the long term. Rebuilding it in the same place but tweaking the location of some ramps – the so-called "hybrid option" – is projected to have a long-term cost of $919-million. The first option opens up more city land for development while the latter is projected to save a few minutes for a small group of drivers, according to city's environmental assessment.

"Mr. Tory will need to do more to convince Torontonians the hybrid plan he supports is best for the city," Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, said in a statement accompanying the poll. "Support for the teardown option is spread evenly among demographic lines."

The Gardiner question is shaping up to be the biggest issue handled by this council. With wildly diverging price-tags and development possibilities, the decision has the potential to shape the eastern downtown for decades to come.

Mr. Tory has come out strongly for keeping the elevated highway, saying that opponents have an "idyllic" view of a future in which people don't need to drive. Backing his position is a coalition of industry groups that argue the potential for traffic delays is not worth the risk.

Lined up on the other side are Toronto's chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and the city's medical officer of health, David McKeown, as well as former chief planner Paul Bedford, former mayor David Crombie and Ryerson president Sheldon Levy.

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Both sides are increasing their arguments as the June 10 debate approaches, with a taste of the debate evident on Twitter Sunday.

Mr. Tory's spokeswoman, Amanda Galbraith, used traffic issues related to Sunday's closing of the entire Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway to argue that removing this specific part of the Gardiner didn't make sense. She was promptly smacked down by Jeff Speck‎, author of Walkable City.

Ms. Keesmaat, meanwhile, argued that the Gardiner decision is about "the long-term economic viability of the city."‎ And urbanist Richard Florida chimed in with a series of tweets about the need for growing cities to move beyond a reliance on private cars.

"It is especially hard for advantaged leadership groups to see the necessity of this shift," Mr. Florida wrote. "They like to drive..."

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