More to do to make way for transit-related builds
If you live in certain parts of our region, chances are you spend a lot of time in your car. It would be nice to be able to walk or just jump on a train to get to work or run errands. But neither of those are practical, or even possible sometimes, because amenities are far away and transit is infrequent or nonexistent.
This is the reality in areas like Scarborough and Etobicoke, as well as municipalities like Vaughan, Mississauga and Markham. In fact, only 18 per cent of the population added to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area between 2001 and 2011 was located within walking distance of frequent transit, as pointed out in a 2016 report entitled “Suburbs on Track,” by Ryerson University’s City Building Institute and the Ontario Home Builders’ Association. The result is increasing traffic congestion and ever-lengthening commutes.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can enable more people to live and work in complete communities near transit stations and along transit lines, but we need action from all levels of government to encourage transit-oriented development.
Our industry is heartened that the new Ontario government has shown interest in creating solutions that will put more people closer to transit. Recently, they announced that they plan to partner with the private sector to build mixed-use communities near transit stations.
This new approach to partnership will start with the building of a new Mimico GO station. The developer will pay the construction costs for the main station building, new parking and a greenway, in exchange for the right to develop above the station.
Other GO train stations and transit hubs in our region would also benefit from this type of development. Too many are surrounded by large parking lots or multi-storey parkades and not much else. Building housing, offices and retail nearby would allow us to make better use of the surrounding land and take full advantage of the multibillion dollar investments we have made in transit.
At the municipal level, we have a lot of work left to do to remove barriers to transit-oriented development. One major obstacle is municipal zoning. Though the province’s growth management policy for our region calls for high concentrations of people and jobs around major transit stations, many of these areas are in municipalities with outdated zoning bylaws that permit only low-density housing, such as houses and townhouses. We need to encourage and support municipalities in doing the work of updating their bylaws and planning for density around transit lines.
North York City Centre is highlighted in the “Suburbs on Track” report as an example of what can be achieved when a local government deliberately plans for transit-oriented development — a vibrant, walkable mix of residential and commercial towers, public spaces and ground-level retail, centred around a station on a major subway line.
Imagine living in such a complete community, a place where you can live, work and play without having to spend hours in your car every week. If we plan for it, we can make it a reality.
North York City Centre is highlighted in a new report for its walkable mix of residential, commercial and retail buildings around a subway station.