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The two previous articles in our series on TOD (Transit-Oriented Development, Railway Age, March 2019, p. 42; and April 2019, p. 25), looked at how New York got TOD right and how California is doing something different in TOD. Toronto has a history of trying to do the right thing in building transit-adjacent communities, but sustained growth has put the city at a crossroads when it comes to development and transit planning.
In March 2013, Toronto got a big ego boost. The city had surpassed Chicago to be the fourth-largest city in North America by population, after Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles. At least that’s when local media seized on estimated census data to set the city abuzz.
While estimates and rankings only tell one part of a city’s story, one fact is clear: Toronto has been growing quickly. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is now home to more than 6.5 million people, according to 2016 data. Growth in the area has led to skyrocketing real estate prices in both the downtown and the suburbs, and put a strain on the city’s transit system.
Toronto has four subway lines with 75 stations and 7 regional rail lines with 67 stations, and is well-positioned to surpass Chicago, its Great Lakes counterpart (with eight lines and 145 stations), as it enters the next stage of development.
The GTA is investing in an additional 22 new stations and further LRT and GO Transit Expansion developments. The new Ontarion provincial government recently announced a C$28.5 billion transit plan for the region. This is welcome news for the city’s 2.7 million daily transit riders and commuters within the GTA. But in a city on a path for serious growth, nothing will feel different until much-needed transit and housing are built.
Toronto does have a history of high-density development in areas of transit, an earlier iteration of what is now labelled TOD. Looking at the city, dense pockets can be observed at arterial junctions along the original Yonge subway line from Eglinton Avenue to downtown. This was done quite intentionally, with zoning for increased density near that transit line.
While many North American downtowns are served by several highways, Toronto has only two—the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. Personal automobiles are limited to two or three lanes of traffic each way to reach the downtown core, with transit serving most commuters. That means the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and regional rail (GO Transit) need to do much of the serious heavy lifting when it comes to moving people—and ridership is on the rise.
TOD as a tool to address growth
Ask anyone in Toronto about the biggest challenge facing the city, and you’re likely to hear one of two answers: housing and transportation. The city needs more housing of all kinds to support its growing workforce and temper ballooning real estate prices that have nearly doubled on average in the past 10 years. Capacity needs to be added to existing transit lines to meet increased ridership, and new lines are needed to make the connection across the GTA.
Making those connections continues to encourage TOD, and Metrolinx, the regional transit planning agency, has actively engaged stakeholders to overlay the regional rail network onto city transit and other regional transit agency services. Metrolinx has been working for several years to enhance GO services to create an all-day, 15-minute-headway, two-way commuter system with additional services at peak times on many parts of its network. The agency has worked closely with the city to deliver a plan called SmartTrack (an election platform of Mayor John Tory), which will improve and adapt commuter rail corridors for urban transit use. This will help create new opportunities for TOD and new connections that didn’t exist before, with more intersections, and more access to other rail lines and to the larger network.
This article first appeared on www.railwayage.com
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