7 News Archive
People vs expressways battle is on again

By Ulli Diemer
Seven News, June 26, 1976

The battle against expressways is on again.

This was Alderman John Sewell’s message to the Don District: Interagency Group on June 10 [1976]. The plan for a grid of expressways that would rip into the city, supposedly buried by the Davis government in 1971, has been resurrected, according to Sewell. After being beaten back five years ago, the expressway proponents are crawling out of the woodwork with their old plans, with only the tactics and the terminology changed.

What is now being proposed is a system of restricted-access, four-lane, “arterial roads” which differ from expressways in name only. “The 401 was a four-lane arterial road 15 years ago,” Sewell points out.

The most immediate threat to this area is the Scarborough expressway, which was dropped in 1971 and which the province’s 1975 Soberman report also argued against at great length. Blithely ignoring all this, Metro is now proposing an “arterial road” along the Scarborough expressway corridor, which is now being called the “Scarborough transportation corridor.” Allegedly, the road is to stop at Victoria Park in the east. But, as Sewell points out, “once you start a roadway, it’s really hard to stop.”

A road of this kind develop a life of its own. As soon as it is opened, it is found to be jammed with cars. The demand then grows to widen it. And a road stopping at Victoria Park would not be satisfactory to those wanting to use it to go downtown. They would immediately demand to have it extended to the Gardiner.

A similar dynamic is happening with the other expressways being pushed: the Spadina and the 400. The Crosstown is still lurking in the background. They too are now labelled as “arterial roads” for the time being and they are being built step by step. “These are expressways being deskunked to try to make them more acceptable,” comments the NDP’s Marion Bryden, whose Beaches-Woodbine constituents are fighting the expressway.

An interesting illustration of what is happening came with the release of Metroplan, the draft of Metro Toronto’s plan for the next 25 years. The original draft contained the statement that “there should be no further expressway construction in Metropolitan Toronto south of Highway 401.” The copy of the report distributed three weeks later no longer contained that statement. According to Metro planning commissioner John Bower the statement was removed because no one believed it anyway, “which says something,” as Toronto News points out, “about the way planning is done at the Metro level.” According to Bower, the planning department isn’t proposing new roads, but rather talking about “completing the network.” It’s a funny distinction.

Opponents of the expressway system also point out that the push for expressways is coming at a time when gas prices are rising rapidly, when there is talk of gas shortages, when the tremendous negative environmental impact of the automobile is being questioned more than ever, and when the city core has become so jammed with cars that travel is becoming more and more difficult. It is insane, they say, to send even more cars onto city streets that are already a perpetual traffic jam.

There is also the curious fact that Metro and the province are able to find some $150 million to spend on new expressways at the same time that they are cutting back on essential services, including public transit, because of a lack of money.

Meanwhile, comments Sewell, the TTC is going broke even though fares now up to 40 cents a shot. The main reason, says Sewell is that the suburbs are too sparsely populated to support public transit – the result of urban development policies that are now threatening to bring U.S.-style decay to Toronto. According to Sewell,” every downtown resident who travels TTC subsidizes each suburban rider $75 per year.” He advocates a two-fare system by which riding would be more expensive in the suburbs.

However, some people at the Interagency meeting were critical of Sewell’s proposal. They contended that such an approach would only discourage suburban residents from using TTC, with the result that they would be pushing all the harder for expressways.

Others also objected to his sweeping suggestion that everyone in Scarborough is rich while everyone in Ward 7 and the inner city is poor, and that therefore the two communities must necessarily be at odds.

But everyone seemed to accept Sewell’s call to organize to fight the Scarborough expressway and the others right away, before they reach the inner city.

Published in Seven News, 26 June 1976

Related topics:
Highway Development
Urban Transportation