Short-term measures

Many of the tools of smart growth, particularly those requiring integrated actions by both the provincial and federal governments, are long-term, because it would take considerable time for governments to reach agreement on policies and legislative changes (such as tax reform).

Others can be implemented within a relatively short period, given adequate commitment on the part of municipalities within the Central Ontario Zone, as well as the government of Ontario.

In order to reach long-term objectives, short-term measures and decisions clearly represent important starting points in terms of both practical achievements and symbolic commitments. Taking account of the barriers, strengths, and weaknesses that have been identified, a number of short-term measures appear to have the greatest likelihood of moving in the direction of smart growth over the longer term. These are grouped into the following two categories:

  • transit and non-motorized travel related measures; and
  • land use and planning oversight measures.

Each of these groups of measures is discussed in the following sub-sections.

Measures related to transit and non-motorized travel

If alternatives to the automobile are required to meet smart growth and urban sustainability objectives, then transit and non-motorized modes must constitute a larger component of the travel market than they currently do. Appendix V lists and briefly discusses actions that could be taken in the short term (and expanded upon in the medium to longer term) with respect to improving transit service and ridership within portions of the Central Ontario Zone where transit might represent a sensible alternative to the private automobile. Perhaps the key features of these transit-related measures are:

  • establishing new, secure, adequate sources of funding for transit capital and operating costs;
  • adopting performance-based criteria for allocating transit investments to ensure that funds are spent effectively and address high-priority needs;
  • making a commitment to the testing and adoption of new, innovative means of delivering transit in an attractive, competitive fashion that is tailored to a given community's needs and opportunities (especially in smaller urban centres and lower density suburban communities);
  • recognizing that, as with all major public infrastructure, investment in transit benefits the entire community, users and non-users alike.

Similarly, walking and bicycling must be encouraged for short-distance trip-making, whenever possible. Measures that would promote non-motorized travel include the adoption of design principles for new developments that encourage walking or cycling through:

  • insisting upon mixed uses within new developments, to provide the opportunity to satisfy at least some of people's needs through short, neighbourhood trips;
  • requiring neighbourhood street patterns that facilitate and encourage walking and cycling through the creation of short, rectilinear blocks, wider sidewalks, pedestrian pathways, bicycle paths and lanes, and other features;
  • requiring parking lots to be placed at the rear, rather than in front of commercial establishments (and other similar design measures), so that they do not act as an intimidating barrier to pedestrian access;
  • more generally, requiring that streetscapes and roadways be explicitly designed with the pedestrian and the cyclist in mind, not just the car.

Similarly, municipalities should be aggressively looking for retrofit opportunities in existing developments and street systems to increase land use mix, widen sidewalks, introduce pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths or lanes, remove or relocate parking lots and other barriers to pedestrian travel, and improve streetscapes.

Virtually any measure designed to improve a neighbourhood's walkability will also improve its potential to support improved transit services and ridership. Further, it must be stressed that encouraging non-motorized travel is equally important and applicable in small town settings as it is in large urban centres.

Land use and planning oversight measures

There is clearly no quick fix for the urban form-travel demand problems that have been discussed above. The Central Ontario Zone's present form has been evolving over the past 50 years or more. It will undoubtedly take several more decades for a new, more sustainable urban form to be developed. As a result, land use policies are often dismissed as viable options, since they take so long to play out.

This attitude, however, is fundamentally flawed, since the only way we get to the long run is through the short run, that is, through taking decisions and implementing actions today that cumulatively have impacts over the long run. In other words, if we want Central Ontario to be an improved place to live and work 20 or 30 years from now, we need to start to build that future region now. If we don't start today, 20 years from now we will still be stuck with the same dysfunctional urban form and the same problems of congestion, pollution, and loss of natural space, made worse by 20 years of inaction. Left unchecked, these problems could limit the Central Ontario Zone's ability to attract people and jobs, thereby acting as a barrier to continued economic and social growth within the region.

Initiatives that will play out over an extended period of time, but that municipalities31 should start to undertake immediately include:

  • beginning the process of reviewing Official Plans and development processes within each municipality to identify opportunities for more sustainable development plans and principles;
  • reviewing development charges and their impacts on the type and density of development;
  • developing policies and mechanisms for promoting contiguous growth, infill and mixed land usage rather than leapfrogging and single-use developments;
  • developing policies and mechanisms for encouraging concentration of employment centres, especially offices and stores in transit-oriented nodes and corridors;
  • reviewing design criteria to achieve "effective" residential densities that are conducive to providing cost-effective transit service.

At the same time, several land use measures can be implemented more quickly which would have immediate beneficial impacts. These include:

  • changes to municipal zoning to permit higher density allowances near transit corridors and nodes;
  • municipal promotion of transit-oriented design principles in all subdivision designs;
  • municipal development incentives for employers to provide transit passes in lieu of free parking;
  • provincial changes to the Planning Act to empower municipalities to reduce parking requirements for new development near transit corridors and nodes.
31. Ideally, with provincial support and coordination, in order to ensure consistency and comprehensiveness across municipalities. This is an attractive role for the Smart Growth Panel to undertake.