Building transit that is supported by good land use planning and smart economic policies is key to improving the daily lives of GTA commuters

A new ground breaking report from Strategic Regional Research says the Region's planning follows an old industrial model that can't respond to the changing needs of developers, employers or employees

TORONTO, Jan. 16, 2013 /CNW/ - At a time when there is so much focus on transit and congestion throughout the Greater Toronto Area,  Strategic Regional Research (SRR), an entity established to provide independent research on regional issues of competitiveness, today released its first in depth study. The 70 page report says that the key to solving GTA transportation problems is a comprehensive planning vision that links transportation and employment.

The study found that the GTA's serious levels of congestion can be largely explained by complex commuting patterns. Today more than half a million jobs in the GTA are located in isolated office parks beyond the reach of the Region's transit networks.  These office parks are built on former industrial sites, set aside in the post war era, that were never designed to accommodate such a large workforce. As these office clusters continue to thrive and their workforce expands, even greater stress is placed on these already congested employment areas and the transportation systems that serve them.

Over the next 30 years, the GTA is expected to create another half million office jobs, many of which will be housed in buildings that have not yet been built. The quality of life for those half a million workers will be dramatically impacted by where those buildings are built and the transit and road improvement decisions made today. If we continue to see jobs concentrated in locations that are not served by transit, the continued attractiveness of these job clusters as places to invest cannot be guaranteed.

The Report recommends bringing together planning, economic development and infrastructure investment. This will be critical to preserving the competitiveness of the Region and the quality of life for GTA commuters. The Report details policy solutions and describes what needs to occur to avoid making the same mistakes.

The report addresses three critical issues:

  • Provincial policy promotes a comprehensive vision for intensification and connectivity, but there is a disconnect between regional and municipal policies affecting the location and distribution of employment.
  • Approximately 100M sq ft of office space - accounting for about half a million jobs - is not connected to the Region's network of higher order transit, and current plans do not propose how to address this problem.
  • Another half million jobs in office employment are expected over the next 30 years, but there is no coherent strategy for where and how the 100M sq ft of office space needed to house these jobs will be located.

"At present, there are two starkly different choices for the Region's workforce with dramatically different expectations for the quality of working life," said Iain Dobson, a founding partner of Real Estate Search Corporation (RESC), and one of the report's authors. "One is for jobs located in mixed use, pedestrian friendly, well connected areas like downtown Toronto and in locations adjacent to the subway; the other is for jobs located in isolated, low amenity office clusters beyond the reach of higher order public transit. Ways must be found to bring the positive attributes of both areas to the other."

"The demands of the New Economy are challenging governments to be increasingly creative in their approaches to city building, especially in building new working environments" added Glenn Miller, a vice president with the Canadian Urban Institute and a co-author of the SRR report. "Employers and employees alike are now looking for places to work where they have transportation options, lunch options and can run errands during the day without getting in their cars. Creating high quality, multi-functional and well connected working environments is going to become even more important with the next generation of employees showing less willingness to undertake long daily commutes."

"Our paper offers concrete examples of other cities that are responding to these challenges by building regional transit systems that connect with key employment nodes, have the support of the private sector and are integrated with new developments. Our study also provides analysis of three areas in the GTA where land use policy, economic development and infrastructure improvements would benefit from better integration," Miller said.

The Report 'A Region in Transition' is available on the Canadian Urban Institute's website at: www.canurb.org

Strategic Regional Research or SRR has been established as an independent entity to conduct high quality, independent research on the competitiveness of the Greater Toronto Area. A diverse range of public and private sector organizations support the SRR concept, to ensure this collaboration can help shed some light on the important challenges the Region faces in planning for growth.

SOURCE: Canadian Urban Institute

For further information:

Katherine Morton - kmorton@canurb.org    416 365-0816 ext 280