What do we do with Urban Waterfront Motorways?

Urban waterfront motorways aren’t worth our time or investment anymore.

Studies have shown that they’re an unnecessary, inefficient piece of infrastructure and the successful removal of San Fransisco’s Embarcadero, New York’s West Side Elevated Highway, and Seoul’s Cheonggye Elevated Highway show that, with adequate planning, it’s no big deal.1

From 1950, for about 35 years, cities were building motorways that disconnected downtowns from their waterfronts. Today, there are few arguments to keep waterfront motorways in their current form because of the high cost of car ownership and even fewer arguments when walking, biking, and transit is factored in.

One of the first things I take note of in places I visit is the waterfront. In Brisbane the feature that lines its waterfront is a motorway. I’m careful not to call them freeways or expressways because, in most cases, neither term accurately describes the glacial pace that motorists move at during rush hour. So, what do we do with waterfront motorways given that we know there are significantly more efficient and healthier ways of moving people and that the space they occupy could be used in better ways?

The city that first got me to pay attention to the issue of waterfront motorways was Brisbane, Australia. In 2014, Brisbane City Council published an updated Master Plan where they outline “embracing the river” as one of their priorities.2 It’s very difficult to expand their popular Riverwalk pathway with a motorway in the way— a decision will need to be made around what Brisbane wants to prioritize in the future.

The “Riverside Expressway” in Brisbane, Australia lining the Brisbane River’s north bank. Here, it’s stacked on top of the Riverwalk. Photo source: Alex Gaio.

Toronto can learn from Brisbane. We’re a city that is desperately trying to reconnect with its waterfront and a big thing that’s standing in our way is the Gardiner Expressway. We have a choice to make that will help determine the future livability of Toronto and I think it’s why the Gardiner can join the long list of #freewayswithoutfutures.

As more people gravitate to urban environments, it will increasingly demand more efficient uses of space, like finding alternatives to waterfront motorways, which includes urgent improvements to walking, biking, and transit infrastructure.

  1. SDOT: Urban Mobility Plan – Briefing Book. (2008). Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/briefingbook.htm
  2. Brisbane City Centre Master Plan: A Vision for our Open City. (2014). Brisbane, QLD: Brisbane City Council.

Published by

Alex Gaio

I'm an Urban and Regional Planning Student at Ryerson University interested in the nexus of transportation, public health, and environmental sustainability. I'm fascinated by sustainable, active transportation and its ability to tackle all three challenges. I'm a two-time American Public Transportation Association Scholar and Recipient of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute Undergraduate Scholarship.