Transit-Oriented Development Is Key for Canada’s Fastest-Growing Region

Written by Posted On Monday, 17 February 2020 05:30

Between 2006 and 2016, the population of The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) grew by 14 per cent, while the number of jobs increased by 10 per cent. By 2041, the area is expected to have more than 10 million people and 4.8 million jobs.

Little wonder that with all this growth, house prices have been constantly rising. The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) predicts that home sales will rise to 90,000 in 2020, up almost 10.5 per cent compared to last year. Prices will reach an average selling price of $900,000, an increase of almost 10 year cent.

The board says a lack of real estate listings will also push prices higher. The building industry has complained for years that zoning issues and NIMBYism have prevented them from building enough affordable mid-density housing such as townhouses and low-rise apartments. And until recently, virtually no purpose-built rental units were being constructed.

One way to help ease the housing crunch, as well as address problems with road congestion, is by building more public transit – and then developing new housing options along those transit lines.

In Toronto, Hamilton and Mississauga, more than 50 per cent of population works in the same municipality that they live in. But in the six other municipalities in the region, employees commute to another town or city, says a report by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA).

While people who live in Toronto and other large urban centres generally have public transit options to get to work, employees in the rest of the region need a car to get to work.

It says for people with the lowest incomes, housing and transportation together make up half of their total expenses. As they seek affordable housing, many of them have been pushed farther away from their jobs. This helps lower their housing costs but increases transportation costs.

CANCEA says this explains why, though lower-income households generally rely on public transit more than high-income households, cars are still used as the main mode of transportation for households at every income level.

Whether by private vehicle or public transit, commuting times are long in the GTHA.

“On average, people are willing to commute for 30 minutes in a single direction,” says CANCEA. “However, a car is often needed to achieve this.
On public transit, commutes of 60 minutes or more are twice as common as commutes lasting under 30 minutes.

“Beyond the direct costs borne by all commuters on the overloaded system, excessive congestion can also negatively impact the labour market and economic growth.”

It says, “At the rate that employment and population are growing, daily commuting trips to the GTHA are expected to increase by 480,000 by 2030.
To accommodate this growth, the capacity of both major roadways and public transit will have to increase significantly in order to avoid system overload.”

The organization says the geographical disparity between where most people live and most people work “points to the need to harmonize transportation planning with land-use planning and economic policy.

Transportation-oriented development (TOD) is a concept that fits this purpose. TOD maximizes the number of homes, businesses and other activities in proximity to transit development, creating economies of scale and rendering transportation infrastructure investments more productive.”

Research from the Pembina Institute presented at a recent TRREB economic summit says that living near transit-friendly communities can lower household transportation and housing costs. “Targeting development in areas with established municipal services and infrastructure in higher-density urban areas rather than low-density rural areas results in annual cost savings for households: savings of 11 per cent for road-building costs, six per cent for water and sewer costs and three per cent for annual operations and service delivery.”

It says that nearly half of Toronto’s total transit ridership in 2017 was by bus. “Improving the quality of bus service can be a mechanism to spur housing development that is missing in today’s market, like row houses, duplexes and low-rise apartments.”

The Pembina Institute says policymakers need to work to convince existing communities that growth can be “gently integrated in ‘stable residential’ neighbourhoods, especially in close proximity to major bus routes.”
It also says municipalities should update land use plans and zoning bylaws to allow mid-density housing development along corridors with high-ridership bus feeder routes.

Several municipalities are working to achieve these goals. Toronto chief planner Gregg Lintern told the summit that “transit is about access to opportunity” and that the city’s $28.5 billion transit plans will “lift up” many areas in the city where there currently isn’t much growth taking place. He said 37 per cent of Toronto residents take public transit to work or school, the highest modal transport split in North America.
Steve Clark, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said his government has pledged to expand GO Train service, invest in buses and improve highways.

In Mississauga, a light rail line is being built along Hurontario Street, and new Dundas and Lakeshore BRT routes are planned. The city says it is concentrating on transit-oriented development.

CANCEA says these initiatives are sorely needed but warns that they “will only yield benefits if investments are governed by planning best practices and if their productivity is maximized.”

Without “sufficient, properly leveraged and well-planned transportation infrastructure, commutes will take longer and the quality of life could suffer,” it says.

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Jim Adair

Jim Adair has been writing about Canadian real estate, home building and renovation issues for more than 40 years. He is the former editor of Canada’s leading trade magazine for real estate professionals, as well as several home building, décor and renovation titles. You can contact him at [email protected]

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