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Integrating transit and land use planning - Aligning growth

May 27, 2015
By Edward LaRusic

The Neptis Foundation’s latest report shows that over the past decade transit and land use planning have not been integrated in the GTHA. Population growth has not been aligned with transit service.

An outcome of the growth plan and regional transportation plan reviews, currently underway, needs to be specific policies that direct growth to existing and planned transit service, Neptis executive director Marcy Burchfield told NRU.

“We can’t just hope for alignment between [transit and population] and rely on the good will of municipalities to create this alignment. I do think there needs to be provincial policy in place to ensure that the money that is being spent is going to be of best value.”

Getting that alignment right is one of the recommendations of a Neptis report released this week: Growing Pains: understanding the new reality of population and dwelling patterns in the Toronto and Vancouver Regions.

Burchfield said that the study found that between 2001 and 2011, only 18 per cent of net new residents in the GTHA located within 500 m. of a frequent transit network-transit routes that run every 15 minutes or less during the day. Instead, 86 per cent of new residents were accommodated on greenfield lands, most of which were not located near frequent transit service.

Unlike Metro Vancouver, whose regional growth strategy directs over 25 per cent of all new dwellings and employment growth specifically to frequent transit areas, in Ontario there are no clear policies in the growth plan that direct growth to where transit is or will be occurring.

“There really needs to be more policies that direct that [greenfield] growth to other areas. Certainly with the investment in GO [Transit] and regional express rail, there needs to be serious consideration [to ensure] land use policies that align with that investment,” said Burchfield.

Canadian Urban Transit Association president and CEO Michael Roschlau-who, like other experts NRU spoke to, has not yet read the Neptis report-agrees. He said that he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the report’s findings. Transit and land use integration has been missing in the GTHA, and projects such as the Hurontario-Main LRT in Peel Region, for example, should have been in place a decade ago.

“Transit infrastructure investment decisions need to be based on an objective, evidence-based process that is as far removed from political influence as possible, and that maximizes impact and return on investment.”

Urban Strategies partner Melanie Hare told NRU that part of the challenge with matching people to transit, is that transit simply wasn’t a priority for governments 20 or 30 years ago, leaving municipalities in the GTHA “decades behind.” She said that as the province reviews its plans, giving people and goods a number of options to move through the GTHA needs to be a priority.

“We need to make sure that there is some sort of mechanism or, metrics or indicators in the provincial-level documents like Places to Grow where you’re seeking to achieve some tangible relationships between where people are living and working, and where they can access transportation choice.”

There is an opportunity now as the province reviews the growth plan to ensure provincial and municipal commitments to capital infrastructure and transit is aligning with growth.

Weston Consulting president Mark Emery agreed with Hare that part of the problem is that the province is behind on providing transit infrastructure, in part because it’s very expensive to build, and in part because politics often gets in the way. But he said the current plans are working and is optimistic that a different picture than what Neptis saw will emerge post 2011.

“I think we are now, in mid 2010s, staring to see transit supportive densities emerging in the 905 communities like Brampton, Vaughan, Aurora, Newmarket and Markham, where the transit is starting to be planned in a more integrated way, rather than following the growth,” Emery said.

When asked whether the province needs to develop specific policies to ensure land use and transit service are aligned, Emery wasn’t so sure.

“I’m hesitant in saying we should give the province more power to push municipalities around. I think municipalities have the responsibility now to do the right thing. Other than financial incentives, they don’t need further rules and protocols to follow.”

Burchfield said that mapping the current and planned regional transportation system would be a good first step. Setting land use policy around it would follow.

“Identifying where the frequent transit is would be useful. [Neptis] mapped the network to 2009, but there could be more frequent transit lines and corridors that have been added. That’s the first thing that needs to be done: where is the frequent transit? And then there needs to be policy, regulation and zoning that ensure these areas [are] amenable to development.”

This requires more coordination between the province and municipalities. Burchfield noted that while the growth plan is a regional vision, it was left to municipalities to implement that vision. The result is that there is no one looking at the big picture.

Meanwhile, municipalities need to get their residents on side with intensification.

“There needs to be an understanding, not of what the short-term vision of the local community is going to look like, but of the long-term patterns. We’re losing population in areas that are well serviced [by transit]. Part of that is that we can’t get further development in those areas because of the NIMBYism that’s going on there ... There needs to be a reminder to people that you can’t have this frequent transit service without the development and land use patterns that go with it.”