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New plan looks to build on success of The Bentway to rejuvenate more urban space under the Gardiner

An artist's rendering of redeveloped space under the Gardiner Expressway is shown. (Handout / The Bentway) An artist's rendering of redeveloped space under the Gardiner Expressway is shown. (Handout / The Bentway)

A new plan to guide and expand the rejuvenation of spaces under the Gardiner Expressway in the coming decades is being touted as “6.5 kilometres of opportunity.”

The Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan is a collaboration between the independent, non-profit Bentway Conservancy and City of Toronto staff and builds on the success of previous public realm initiatives such as the Bentway skating rink and art space.

The draft plan, which is being unveiled to the public this week, lays out a number of principles that would guide the development or more spaces under the Gardiner in the coming decades.

Those principles, established in part through open houses and consultation with stakeholders around the space, include creating inviting physical and visual connections that link neighbourhoods, community assets and transportation to address concerns around safety and accessibility; diversity of use; and celebrating the Gardiner’s “distinctly urban character.”

“The City of Toronto is undertaking a major Strategic Rehabilitation Plan to keep the entire Gardiner expressway in safe and operable condition,” a presentation to the public reads. “This reinvestment presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set the direction toward a new future above and below the elevated roadway.”

A revised Strategic Rehabilitation Plan for the Gardiner was approved by city council in 2016, with an estimated completion date of 2030.

An artist's rendering of redeveloped space under the Gardiner Expressway is shown. (Handout / The Bentway)

Beyond the current Bentway near Fort York, the plan identifies a number of spaces under the Gardiner between Dufferin and the DVP which could be developed in accordance with the guiding principles. They include the Dan Leckie–Lake Shore Triangle, Spadina Island, Lower Yonge, Gardiner-Lake Shore intersections, and areas around Exhibition Place such as Strachan gateway and Manitoba Drive.

The plan would take into account public realm opportunities, as well as cyclist and pedestrian safety and would help advance pilot projects that “highlight shared interest between municipal efforts and local stakeholders.”

One of the ideas in the plan is a new Bentway Bridge – an elevated cyclist and pedestrian path that would run under the Gardiner near Fort York and provide a safe way for cyclists and pedestrians to cross Fort York Boulevard.

An artist's rendering of redeveloped space under the Gardiner Expressway is shown. (Handout / The Bentway)

Retail and public art spaces are also considered.

The “baseline plan,” which would guide the development of the entire 6.5-kilometres stretch under the Gardiner, calls for pedestrian lighting and pedestrian safety at intersections to be considered throughout. It also calls for public furniture and seating; washrooms; resilient perennial and native plants which could be fed by collected rainwater from the highway; Wi-Fi and charging stations; bike share and repair stations; numbering on the bents to help people find their way; and reflective surfaces at intersections.

“As the remaining available properties along the under Gardiner corridor are built out, an integrated and interconnected public realm is essential for public life and the ongoing prosperity of Toronto’s downtown core,” the presentation states.

The process to craft the plan has been underway since 2021.

An artist's rendering of redeveloped space under the Gardiner Expressway is shown. (Handout / The Bentway)

The conservancy notes that the GTA is the fastest growing region in Ontario, with a projected population of 10 million people by 2050.

“This growth involves significant development and densification of residential mixed-use communities adjacent to the Under Gardiner and will result in an increased demand for transportation, public amenities, and social infrastructure,” the group says.

“As Toronto continues to grow and the waterfront supports new residential, commercial, and cultural activities, Under Gardiner spaces must be recognized as a vital part of the city’s evolving public realm and woven into an emerging network of improvements that facilitate access, connectivity, and supports enhanced safety and civic life.”

The crumbling Gardiner has long been considered an eyesore by many, even drawing derision from a visiting Hollywood actor recently.

The Bentway Conservancy was established in 2016 with the goal of reimagining the space under the Gardiner to try and reclaim it as public space which connects adjacent areas in thoughtful ways instead of dividing them.

The final Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan is due to be released later this quarter. Top Stories

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