Arterial - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Arterial

Lakeshore under the Gardiner Expressway – York Street to the Don River


Highways are spaces where nobody is meant to linger.

The intended users, those in private cars and trucks, are meant to pass through – along – the space as quickly as possible. Wide travel lanes and sweeping turns require a large footprint; ramps and interchanges absorb even more land. Highways demand a great deal from the city that must also build and maintain them.

The effects of the highway are felt far beyond its physical form: noise and chemical pollution, severed neighbourhoods, diminished surroundings, and an urban dead zone that means longer travel times for those who need to cross it.

The intended users, those in private cars and trucks, are mostly sheltered from these drawbacks.

The Distillery Historic District

In Toronto we say "lakeshore" as if it's one word, and when we say it, we almost never mean the shore of the lake. We call that the waterfront. Lakeshore is simply shorthand for Lake Shore Boulevard, the urban artery that's simultaneously a service road, a feeder route, and a bypass for the Gardiner Expressway that mostly runs above it.

The mighty infrastructure project that is the Gardiner Expressway was built as an elevated highway so that it wouldn't block access to the waterfront. This can only accomplish so much. It is less of an obstruction than the major landbound highways, which are literally walled off from the city that they pass through, but the physical and psychological barrier created by the confluence of two major roadways and a busy rail corridor isn't easy to overcome.

crossing the Don River

If Toronto had a contest to choose an Official Pastime I would vote for Transportation Planning. We enjoy it so much that we rarely spoil the fun by actually building anything.

The eastern Gardiner Expressway is our current subject of discussion. It's falling apart, which is the point where we usually start thinking about replacement plans that will take decades to implement. This part of the elevated highway is used by a statistically insignificant number of travellers, and the far eastern portion was brought to ground over a decade ago without causing carmageddon. But this remaining legacy section, as neglected and underused as it is, links to the Don Valley Parkway. Links must be preserved no matter how much folly is involved. 

But that's nothing new. Toronto's transportation planning has always been dominated by politicians who like drawing lines on maps.

Toronto Island Harbourfront Centre

The photos for this project are predominantly long exposures. They record the traces of cars that pass over the space of many seconds; the results capture both absence and presence on this mostly empty roadway. Cars moving at speed need a vast amount of room, but are present in only a small fraction of it.

The audio is composed of clips recorded at the same level from different positions and distances from Lakeshore, where it can hear different mixes of local traffic and highway roar. Sometimes it's a wall of sound; other times the long approach and departure of a distinctive vehicle gives another sense of the amount of space that this emptiness takes up.

The video presentation, incidentally, is also available on Vimeo.

Right Lane Exits

Highways are amazing monuments. They're part of our cities and our mythology. They mix the romantic lure of the open road with their very real connections across vast distances; the congestion, blight, and damage that they do is accepted as background noise that's simply part of the environment. As if it simply is.

We protect what we love. And this, as a city, is the monument that we have chosen to protect.


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