All the Noise About “Restoring” the Gardiner

Now I have something again to blog about. It is a Toronto local politics kind of issue. It has to do with the Gardiner expressway and the latest of many ways it troubles my neighbourhood.

I was at a community meeting the other day. This time it was about the construction noise being generated by the “restoration” of the Gardiner. It was the followup to a meeting held the week before which I could not get to.

It does not seem like they made much progress since this previous meeting. I was able to get myself up to speed on the issue pretty quick. Not that I was able to get listened to about it or am likely to be able to do much about it, except write this blog post and do what I can to get some relevant people to read it.

I have been aware of the bright lights and the rattling sound of some sort of construction going on along the Gardiner for a few hours every evening. It has not bothered me. I have a pretty good noise filter in my head. However, I am fairly well away from it. If it got closer to me it could become annoying.

As well, I have been aware that many in the neighbourhood are not happy with it. So I arrived at episode two of the “Noisy Nights in Longboat Lane” show. I got the impression not much went on at the previous session except to demand a meeting with anyone from the city they could get to show up.

They were not happy with the official turnout for this discussion. Nobody from the mayor’s office was there. There was no one from the construction company which was causing the commotion, with the peculiar name I cannot exactly recall. The local councillor was there with his seven foot tall assistant, who was left behind when the councillor had to rush off to another meeting. He had nothing to add.

Left to answer questions were a few people from the city public relations and engineering departments. As is usual with these type of events, it is hard for anyone with any brains to interrogate such people and get to the real point of the matter. The woman who did most of the talking was good at spinning out the clock, giving long and detailed answers that did not really get at the question.

However, I and a couple of other people there with half a clue were able to get out of her the really important points. The contract which this “C- something” construction outfit was able to get from the city seems to largely insulate them from any interference. Our PR lady, so full of fascinating facts about the technical side of the project, had no information about who was responsible for signing such a contract.

What I found interesting was that the whole rationale for doing this at night was to not shut down or restrict the Gardiner during the day. When I attempted to have examined why that was so particularly important, I got the usual sort of shutdown run on me. However, some other people there were able to determine that this project could be finished a lot quicker if it was run day and night, with the “hoe-ram” going only during the day and with the Gardiner closed or restricted.

I tried having another run at the point that keeping the Gardiner open may be a relatively minor issue against the inconvenience being caused to local residents. I pointed out that it has been well noted that the Gardiner does not really serve any useful purpose. It is found that about 3% of the people who arrive to work downtown come off the Gardiner. Most come by other routes and the great majority arrive by transit.

This got the boomer types in the crowd doing what boomer types tend to do. I started getting jeered at, but not very strongly because there were a lot of younger people in the room much more sympathetic to what I was saying. They get their information from sources other than The Sun and talk radio, and don’t have the idea that the whole city moves on the freeways.

From their mutterings, it was clear that the small ‘c’ conservative members of the boomer generation in attendance have the idea that the seemingly huge flow through the neighbourhood’s streets twice a day actually represents a large number of people. They seem never to have been exposed to, or have ignored, the demonstrations that car traffic takes up a huge amount of space but since there is usually only one person in each car, moves few people. Public transit moves far more people in far less space.

The point is, having the Gardiner down or restricted would not really bother many people. It would likely improve things, especially for residents of St. Lawrence neighbourhood. This is not even talking about the advantages of taking down that ridiculous white elephant and using the huge amount of money spent on its “restoration” for things which are currently needed and not being funded.

However, to try to squelch this point, our famously progressive city councillor jumped up and started gabbling about how we can’t keep reopening the Gardiner controversy over and over. We have to “move on”. Actually, I was not talking about demolishing it, just closing or restricting it to facilitate a quicker and less intrusive restoration process. But, we see here just who it is jumpin’ Joe really represents and to whom.

I assume the problem with this is that most people would then see that the Gardiner is not essential at all. Traffic problems in St. Lawrence and downtown would be lessened. The assholes from Oakville and Kleinburg would have to park their Beamers and Audis and take transit for a few months. This might cause some of them to rethink the policy of suppressing to the maximum degree public transit in favour of private cars. So clearly this is an idea which must be surpassed at all cost.

It was impossible for me to respond to this. I was left looking stupid. But that is the purpose of this grade school, “stick up your hand and wait for teacher to acknowledge you” way of controlling meetings. It enables the big mommie at the front of the room to steer discussion where she wants. This system is further reinforced by the Boomers in the room, ready to shout down anyone challenging it. This was no doubt the big reason for scheduling this in the after noon when these people can show up but people who have jobs and things to do are less likely to make it.

What is really depressing about this is that when, as the meeting concluded, I tried to communicate the need for neighbourhood people to get together away from all city functionaries and formulate a position and name some people to present it, I got nowhere. The two people I talked to, who think they are really tough community leaders, just did not seem to have the mental framework to understand what I was saying. They talked about how we were going to hold another meeting like this in a week or two and I should sign up on the list the city staffers handily laid out on a table. Pft!

This is a pretty serious issue. I have already touched on how it ties in with the traffic gridlock problem the neighbourhood has been having. I recall last year when I participated in surveys of the traffic flow through here. A friendly police officer was sceptical of the idea of traffic wardens and suggested we take a walk south a few blocks to where the backup actually starts; with the on ramp to the Gardiner.

I think I am the only one who took him up on it. The rest of this group remain hung up on this idea of traffic wardens. The Ford government has cut funding for that. Wardens would help things but ultimately there has to be fewer cars in the downtown streets.

We heard that the nightly rat-tat-tat is having its effects on the health of some people and their children. They can’t sleep. Their children can’t sleep. They have approached the construction company about it. They have been told to get earplugs and sound protectors. One asked snarkily if she should get a sound helmet for her weeks old infant.

I am depressed about how extreme the abuse has to get before people get their backs up in even this timid way. But I have a hard time thinking of what to do about it myself. My suggested solution is for a committee of people effected by it, without outside manipulation, to actually study the problem and develop a demand and a strategy.

The demand should be to reorganize the work so it is done during the day, regardless of whether the Greedhog expressway into the downtown bank towers is inconvenienced for some time. Also, for some sizable cheques to be distributed to those most effected by the construction. The strategy should be to threaten and then take legal action under the “public nuisance” laws.

How do I communicate this? I can write this blog post. I can get as many people as possible to read it and hope it gets back to the people in St. Lawrence. I can print up some slips announcing it and get it into people’s hands at local meetings, if it is impossible to talk.

It is always difficult for intelligence and character to break through the loudmouths and manipulators. That is what living in an oligarchy is about. But a lot of good can come of this Gardiner “restoration” situation if the affected people prove capable of mounting an effective response. It seems worth spending a little effort on. tr

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