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A Connected Region

There are several areas outside the realm of public transit services where the Regional Transportation Plan could offer stronger guidance. Most of these fall within the jurisdiction of municipal governments or the Ontario government, rather than Metrolinx. However, considering them through a regional lens will allow Metrolinx and its partners to identify ways of developing more consistent and integrated transportation connections, infrastructure and services.

Supporting Active Transportation

Capturing more short trips. Cycling and walking are clean, healthy, affordable, flexible and available to almost everyone from children to seniors. The Big Move promoted active transportation for these reasons, and public support for cycling and walking has grown since 2008.  

There is potential to increase walking and cycling for short trips in the GTHA. Residents make many short trips, but very few of these trips actually happen by active transportation. As shown in Figure 11, one-third of all car trips have the potential to be cycled (i.e. are less than 5 km long and not taken to pick-up/drop-off a passenger). A map showing the geographic distribution of cycling as a percentage of the number of trips in the GTHA in 2011 is shown in Figure 12. 

While on average, the share of cycling and walking trips relative to other modes of transportation across the GTHA has not changed very much since 1991, there have been large increases for certain market segments, especially within downtown Toronto. Cycling trips in particular have increased substantially between 2006 and 2011, with the number of trips almost doubling. Overall, active transportation is expected to increase slightly in most parts of the GTHA to 2031.

Figure 11: Mode Share of Household Trips, by Cycling Potential, 2011

A pie chart showing demonstrating household mobility in 2011 shows that one per cent of households cycled and five per cent walked, while 31 household trips were potentially cyclable, and 63 per cent were not potentially cyclable

Figure 12: Geographic Distribution of Cycling Mode Shares, GTHA (2011)

A map showing the geographic distribution of cycling mode shares in the GTHA, with the highest density being in urban centres

Improving active transportation plans. While most GTHA municipalities have cycling plans, about half do not have a plan to improve pedestrian infrastructure and services. Through assisting these municipalities by helping to gather active transit data and setting objectives with targets, Metrolinx can help monitor and measure changes over time and help identify and prioritize gaps and improvements to infrastructure with a focus on linking municipalities across boundaries.

Overcoming barriers through infrastructure. The best walking and cycling routes are straight lines. Unfortunately gaps in cycling and walking infrastructure discourage active transportation. These missing links include the lack of dedicated infrastructure (protected bike lanes), environmental factors (snow and ice on sidewalks), or simply not having a bike to ride. Through regional coordination and improvements to infrastructure, services levels, and the expansion of programs such as bike sharing, walking and cycling can become more attractive to people taking short trips. 

Land use planning and design. The provincial requirement to intensify existing communities and reduce greenfield development supports active transportation, because increasing the density and mix of development can encourage shorter trips that are easy to make on foot or by bike. The proposed Growth Plan also encourages the development of a vibrant public realm and prioritizing quality urban design to ensure the design of communities encourages walking and cycling.

In recent years, many organizations have identified the health benefits of physical activity, which has becoming more challenging to undertake for many reasons: the nature of work has changed and generally become more sedentary; greater numbers of people are living in low-density, carbased neighborhoods; and often, the relatively low number of stores, parks, schools, community facilities and job opportunities that can be reached by walking or cycling leads to fewer opportunities for physical activity.

In 2014, GTHA Medical Officers of Health called for full funding and implementation of The Big Move, as well as stronger provincial policies to support transit and active transportation, and more effective integration of those modes into urban planning processes.

In addition, promoting good design through municipal plans and by-laws can lead to greater comfort, security, accessibility and aesthetics that encourage active modes. There are opportunities for municipalities to mandate supportive land uses - from overall growth patterns to building setbacks - in their official plans, to adopting zoning by-laws that require bicycle parking at all trip destinations, and promoting development designs that connect new developments to nearby sidewalks and cycling facilities. Metrolinx is looking closely at improving “first-mile/lastmile” connections at GO stations to complement GO RER service expansion, as well as designing stations to protect for future transit-oriented development. Making it easier for GO customers to connect into and out of the regional transit network - using a variety of transportation modes - is a priority. 

Strategies to improve walking and cycling safety. International experience shows that higher volumes of pedestrians and cyclists are typically accompanied by lower collision rates involving those road users - an effect dubbed “safety in numbers”. For this reason, steps to increase the number of pedestrians and cyclists across the region are also likely to improve their safety over time.

Another effective approach is to improve the behaviour of all road users, such as through driver awareness campaigns, cycling skills training, and the enforcement of laws like those recently enacted in Ontario regarding passing distances, “dooring” of cyclists and clearing of pedestrian crossings. In order to better monitor progress toward safer walking and cycling, there remains a need for more consistent and comprehensive data collection by municipalities and policing organizations across the region.

Promoting active travel by children and youth. Today, fewer young people walk or cycle to school and other daily destinations than 25 years ago (see Figure 41). More are driven by their parents due to safety and security concerns, demands of the workplace, a lack of sidewalks and protected road crossings, and the trend away from smaller neighbourhood schools and facilities toward larger centralized ones. Not only are children being driven to school, but also to activities outside of school hours. Researchers believe that this reduction in active, independent movement is detrimental to the health and development of young people. It may also be shaping their future travel habits in unsustainable ways.

Creating Safer, More Complete Streets

A changing view on the role of roads. The vast majority of daily trips in the region - by foot, bike, car, bus and truck - are made on roads and highways. Making them safer and more efficient can strengthen the region’s quality-of-life, economy and environmental health.  

At the same time, it is important to balance the transportation function of roads with their role as public spaces. There is growing recognition that roads need to be sensitive to their context, and support adjacent residential or commercial activities.

A complete streets approach. Complete streets are roads that are designed for all users regardless of mode, age or ability. This means that every element from lighting, benches, signage and way-finding, trees, patios, utilities and stormwater management considers not just the car, but the entire ecosystem of people, vehicles, communities, and business that they impact.

Vision Zero. A movement attracting recent attention in the region is Vision Zero, an international initiative based on the idea that no one should be killed or seriously injured while using the road transport system. From its origin in Sweden, Vision Zero has been adopted by national and local governments across Europe and North America. It promotes safety while preserving the key functions of roads, and integrates strategies related to road design, vehicle technology, education and enforcement.

Managing Congestion

The Regional Transportation Plan review presents an opportunity to revisit how congestion is managed across the region’s municipalities to improve the speed and reliability of travel by car, bus and truck. Excessive congestion makes industry less competitive, can cause businesses to relocate, and makes it difficult for companies to attract the skilled workers they need.  

Congestion costs the GTHA’s residents and economy about $3.3 billion each year (about $1,600 per household) through delays to people and goods, vehicle operating costs and collisions, and $2.7 billion each year in lost economic activity that creates jobs. Without new strategies to better manage congestion, these annual costs are expected to rise to $8 billion for GTHA residents and $7 billion in economic activity by 2031.

Operational efficiency. Making the most efficient use of roads is essential to reducing congestion. Giving priority to transit vehicles, carpools, cyclists and pedestrians can minimize the demand for travel by car. This can be accomplished by adjusting traffic signals, modifying road configurations, updating rules and enforcing on-street loading, stopping and parking regulations.

Smarter roads. The revolution that has transformed how we communicate is coming to our roads. Roadside sensors, road-to-vehicle communications, and connected smart signals have the potential to transform how traffic flows in real time.  The availability of real-time traffic, weather and routing information are already showing significant advances for drivers, and the coming of autonomous vehicles will only enhance this trend.

Managed lanes. The emergence of smart roads only increases the value of managed lanes. By increasing the number of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) transit lanes, and using software and smart signals to manage their use on-the-fly, further congestion reductions can be realized.  

Within the region, the Province of Ontario operates HOV lanes on Highways 403, 404 and the Queen Elizabeth Way, and will expand those by 2031 to create a 300-kilometre network of HOV lanes on 400-series highways. The Ministry of Transportation continues to assess the feasibility of building new and converting select HOV lanes into high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. 

Buses and carpools move many more people than single-occupant vehicles and, where volumes warrant, consideration should be given to granting them access to HOV lanes on freeways and arterial roads. Currently, the City of Toronto operates five arterial road HOV corridors, typically in weekday peak periods. 

The results of provincial pilot HOV lanes during the Pan-Am Games in summer 2015 were positive, and demonstrate the untapped potential of transportation demand management initiatives to improve the transportation system. HOV3+ lanes on the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway had the largest impact on GO bus passengers in terms of reducing delay (see Figure 13). Regional highways are carrying an increasing number of transit users on GO buses and local transit buses. Better travel times and reliability on highways used by buses could lead to a step change in bus ridership, while also decreasing bus operating costs. The benefits of HOV lanes for transit vehicles and carpoolers across the region could be accelerated by increasing both the scope and pace of their implementation.

Figure 13: GO Bus Passenger Time Savings with HOV3+

A bar chart comparing average bus delay to time savings with HOV3+, it shows that HVO3+ lanes save GO Bus travel times

Moving Urban Freight

A complex sector with high stakes. The region’s economy relies on the ability to move goods quickly, reliably, safely, and with acceptable costs and environmental impacts.  

The region’s network of air, marine, rail, road and pipeline facilities involves both the public sector (Metrolinx, the Ministry of Transportation, municipalities, ports, airports) and the private sector (retailers, manufacturers, builders, railways, trucking companies, couriers and logistics providers, among others). Growing congestion and a greater industry reliance on logistics and efficient freight transport have raised the stakes around protecting freight’s positive contribution to the region’s economy.

Strategic goods movement network. The existing truck route networks designated by GTHA municipalities are intended to protect sensitive neighbourhoods and road infrastructure from the impact of high heavy truck volumes, but they do not provide a constructive framework for supporting economic development. Some other regions in North America have identified a network of strategically important routes for truck freight. In this region, such routes might be under municipal or provincial jurisdiction, but would represent the most efficient links between major goods-generating activity centres, intermodal terminals and regional gateways. A strategic goods movement network identified by Metrolinx and municipalities could act as a lens for prioritizing the location and timing of truck-friendly improvements to road geometry or operations, and for understanding the potential impact of new truck restrictions. 

Improving compatibility with land use. Conflicts between goods movement and land use planning have become more acute as new residential and industrial developments extend the GTHA’s urban boundary, and as redevelopment occurs in older neighbourhoods near freightintensive areas. In addition, the growing popularity of last-mile deliveries stemming from the rise of on-line shopping could mean more traffic on local roads. However, several approaches to lessen these impacts are emerging. For example, land use plans and policies can cluster freight-intensive developments near efficient freight routes to facilitate shorter truck trips or to keep trucks from driving through sensitive areas. MTO has developed freight-supportive guidelines to help municipalities develop official plans, zoning and development approvals practices that protect the interests of businesses and residents. The proposed Growth Plan is strengthening corridor protection policy to ensure that corridors for goods movement can be developed when they are available needed in the future. 

Collaboration and knowledge-building. As a follow-up to The Big Move, Metrolinx’s GTHA Urban Freight Study (2011) identified the need for better regional consultation and planning around goods movement. It also highlighted the need for new data collection and analytical tools to improve the understanding of freight patterns as e-commerce boosts the demand for express delivery to homes and businesses. 

Reducing environmental impacts. Action is needed to reduce freight’s environmental effects such as air emissions, noise and vibration. Boosting the efficiency of the “last mile” of freight movements could help, and might include the creation of urban distribution centres that allow carriers to consolidate goods, share vehicles and increase the efficiency of deliveries; or the creation of low-emission zones where high-emitting vehicle are prohibited or pay a fee to enter.

Reducing Demand for Travel

Expanding Transportation demand management (TDM) strategies use information, education and incentives to influence the demand for travel and support public investments in roads, transit, sidewalks and trails.  

TDM makes some travel choices (typically walking, cycling, transit, carpooling or teleworking) more attractive, and encourages people to try new ways of getting around. TDM measures can increase ridership on new rapid transit corridors - something of interest given the extensive plans for new transit facilities across the region. They can also minimize disruption during road and transit construction projects by encouraging the use of different modes or routes. 

Increasing effectiveness. While several years of TDM programming have laid a solid foundation for the GTHA, TDM’s true potential has not yet been realized. Perhaps the best example of how it could support the region’s transportation goals came during the 2015 Pan American Games, when TDM’s ability to balance travel demand with transportation capacity was demonstrated through the temporary expansion of the HOV lane network, supported by additional cost-effective strategies like travel planning tools, flexible working hours and communications. Employers also have a leadership role to play in implementing flexible working hours and other measures that would support more effective functioning of the region’s transportation network. Opportunity exists to better integrate TDM into the land development process, including stronger policy (e.g. requiring TDM plans with applications), active transportation-supportive design and infrastructure (e.g. bicycle parking), programming (e.g. individualized marketing) and funding mechanisms (e.g. dedicated development charges). 

Metrolinx has several tools (e.g. the PRESTO electronic fare card, the Triplinx travel planner, and various elements of the Smart Commute program) that could be used to give more support to TDM programming, and new tools could go further by enabling dynamic real-time ridematching. Municipalities could also consider regulations requiring TDM programs in large workplaces, or financial tools such as parking charges or various forms of road pricing. Smart Commute also collaborates with local partners to support active and sustainable school travel through program implementation (e.g. School Travel Planning pilot, Bike to School Day), regional coordination (e.g. Active and Sustainable School Transportation Regional Hub), strategy development and research.

A look ahead. The contribution of TDM to the vision of the next RTP could be enhanced by creating an overarching policy framework that clarifies roles and improves coordination among all partners and stakeholders. At a regional level, clearer guidance could help municipalities improve TDM programs and performance measurement, and new policies and tools could support the delivery of major infrastructure investments and optimize the uptake of new transit services. Region-wide grants and other funding tools could encourage collaboration and implementation of a scalable set of TDM measures. The proposed Growth Plan requires that municipalities develop TDM plans to ensure that these strategies are considered in the planning process.

Designing for All Modes

The region’s urban form - that is, the buildings, street-blocks, and road patterns that make up the structure of the region - has an impact on how well the transportation system can support the economy, and particularly the knowledge economy which relies heavily on attracting the “creative class”.  

Today’s developments will influence travel demand for decades. Throughout the region, and particularly in its fast-growing areas, there is an urgent need to make sure that new developments improve travel options for residents and employees, and that public investments enhance the regional transportation system and strengthen the economy. A number of municipalities have been working to push the envelope in requiring new developments to be more supportive of sustainable travel modes.

Development approvals. Municipalities are influential when adopting policies, by-laws and approval practices that build support for walking, cycling, transit and carpooling into new homes, condos, offices, stores and institutions. For instance, municipalities can encourage developments that provide carpool parking, bicycle storage, showers and change rooms, and direct connections to nearby sidewalks and bus stops. 

Parking strategies. Municipalities have a role to play in determining the amount of parking included in new developments, require parking structures rather than at-grade lots, promote shared parking among neighbouring land uses and charge drivers to park in public places. Ineffective parking management in private developments can easily undermine major public investments and prevent the achievement of regional transportation goals. Behavioural research has shown that the provision of free or heavily discounted parking at the workplace is one of the key drivers in commuters deciding to drive to work, even when transit alternatives are available. Residential parking availability plays a role in making car ownership more attractive, and updating zoning codes to reduce the amount of parking required in new housing developments can be another tool in reducing auto ownership and increasing transit and active mode share.

It is also important to consider the future of parking with the eventual arrival of autonomous vehicles (see Section 3.4), as well as the potential impact of peer-to-peer parking. If less parking will be needed, opportunities for complete streets and other city-building initiatives may become easier to implement.

Sustainable Funding

The Regional Transportation Plan review provides an opportunity to advance the public dialogue about transportation funding in the region. Of particular focus in this review should be the imbalance between the costs of building, managing and maintaining transportation infrastructure and way it is funded by various levels of government.  

Other considerations should include the complex governance structure of transit infrastructure in the region; including how overlapping jurisdictional issues impact funding efficiency, and the relationship between up-front improvements to transit infrastructure and future increases in ridership that could generate increased revenues. 

An imbalance between costs and funding. As assets age and congestion mounts, the rehabilitation and expansion of the GTHA’s transportation infrastructure is becoming more urgent. Transit ridership is accelerating while operating costs grow even faster, and transit systems are facing strong competition with other public services for the funds they need to pay for maintenance, fuel, drivers and security. Even with the new federal funding for infrastructure committed in the 2016 budget as well as prior provincial commitments, it is becoming evident that new funding tools are required to continue planning, building and operating an effective regional transportation system. 

Complex governance. Who plans transportation infrastructure, who builds it, and who pays for it involves the Province of Ontario, Metrolinx, the regional and local municipalities, and nine transit agencies. While Metrolinx is a planning and coordinating body for transit infrastructure in the GTHA, it is not endowed with the funds or authority to implement infrastructure other than for GO Transit and UP Express, and must work with municipal entities who have the legal authority and expertise to approve and build major public works. 

While emerging on-demand services are presenting opportunities to enhance mobility, a complex web of long-standing provincial and municipal legislation and regulations are in place, developed over decades to reflect the public interest. However, today they are relatively slow to respond to the emergence of on-demand services and pose a challenge to their complementary and orderly deployment across the region. 

Operational considerations. A dramatic increase in the quantity of transit service across the region will be needed to achieve the proposed vision, goals and objectives for the next Regional Transportation Plan and to support the transportation needs of the region. This is especially true in areas where rapid population growth is expected, current ridership is low, and transit services typically recover only a small proportion of their operating costs from the fare box.

Improvements in the frequency of transit service can result in higher ridership (see Figure 14), particularly where supported by transit-supportive densities; however operating revenue does not always increase proportionally and many transit agencies may continue to suffer from low fare box recovery ratios. Operating costs are generally proportional to urban density (see Figure 15), and as a result, cost-recovery rates are typically lower in suburban municipalities. If transit agencies are going to increase service levels, particularly to match GO RER service levels, and leverage other investments in rapid transit infrastructure, solutions to funding enhanced operating costs will have to be found, including how partners work together to help manage operating costs that arise from strengthening regional-scale services.

Another issue that will have an impact on the ability to increase transit service is that operating costs are increasing faster than ridership, particularly on GO Transit (Figure 14). Given the goal of keeping transit affordable and to generally maintain high levels of transit ridership, GO Transit fares have not kept pace with operating costs, with the gap widening between 2012 and 2014 (see Figure 16).

Figure 14: Comparison of Trends in Transit Operating Costs, Revenues and Ridership, 2008-2014

Three charts comparing trends in transit operating costs between the TTC, Go Transit and the rest of the GTHA. These charts show that across transit systems, operating costs are rising at a higher rate than ridership and operating revenue.

Figure 15: Relationship of Transit Operating Costs to Urban Densities, GTHA (2014)

A graph showing the relationship between population density and transit operating costs. It shows that operating costs are lower in Toronto, Hamilton and Mississauga, and higher in regions such as Milton, York and Oakville.

Figure 16: Operating Cost per Revenue Passenger in 2008 and 2014

A bar chart comparing the costs operating cost an revenue by passenger on the TTC, GO Transit, and other agencies in the GTHA in 2008 and 2014. It show there have been small increases in operating costs per passenger for the TTC and other GTHA agencies, but a large increase in operating costs of Go Transit.

Possible funding tools. Metrolinx’s 2013 Investment Strategy recommended raising $2 billion annually in new revenues for GTHA transit infrastructure and services, walking and cycling facilities, mobility hubs, roads and urban freight. It recommended four guiding principles to be applied to the selection of new funding tools: 

  • dedication of revenues to specific outcomes,
  • fairness,
  • regional equity and
  • accountability and transparency.

The update of the Regional Transportation Plan provides an opportunity to revisit or clarify these principles. 

Some revenue tools would serve two purposes: they would provide a more stable revenue source for funding transit infrastructure and operating cost shortfalls, and they can also be used to reshape the region. For example, road tolls or road pricing would have a significant impact on transportation mode choice and would also encourage a more compact development pattern. In this way, the use of multiple funding tools can increase funds, but also change travel behaviour. 

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