When the discussion of how the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area will grow and adapt to the changes to urban form and the built environment, one topic of conversation always arises; designing healthy and complete communities. But the active transportation conversation is not just relevant for urbanists or environmentalists, but rather, to the general public as a whole. In fact, as Toronto Public Health notes in their report, Improving Health by Design, in order to adapt to environmental demands and the continued growth of the GTHA region, communities must be created to support “greater walking, cycling and public transit” which would improve the overall health of the public by “building physical activity back into people’s lives and reducing air pollution.” This report, co-authored by medical officers of health within the GTHA, states that when we design communities, 3 recommendations must be remembered. Here’s the 3 recommendations as brought forth by the Improve Health by Design committee.
1. Invest in public transit
The investment in public transit encourages greater use of transit. This makes public transit “more convenient, reliable and accessible across the GTHA. Not only does a greater investment in public transit reduce vehicular congestion, air pollution, and provides a “lower cost transportation option,” public transit also incorporates of physical activity into an individual’s daily activities. In fact, a study examining public transit users in the U.S. notes that 29 per cent of public transit users also achieved the daily recommended 30 minutes a day of physical activity simply by utilizing public transit.
But, in order to achieve a more accessible and functional public transit system, leadership and collaboration is required from all levels of governments (federal, provincial, and municipal) “to foster a network of transit and active transportation alternatives.” Campaigns are already underway to promote the increase use of public transit in the GTHA region. In fact, Metrolinx’s The Big Move is a plan that “would see new transportation projects amounting to two billion dollars in investments annually over the next 25 years.” So while The Big Move creates economic benefits to the region, it also creates a significant impact on “the health and wellbeing of GTHA residents.”
2. Strengthen provincial policies that support transit and active transportation
The importance of provincial policies to support transit and active transportation means that healthy and complete communities that support designs for “walking, cycling and transit use” provides access to a range of importance indicators of an increased quality of life such as housing, retail services and employment.” There are already several “provincial laws, policies and plans” in place to help direct and/or influence how communities are built, but there is a need for further support for the “development of healthy, complete communities.”
Places to Grow is a great example of a current provincial long-range plan for the GTHA region to help not only revitalize downtowns in the GTHA, but to also “create complete communities, curb urban sprawl, and reduce congestion.” This plan has been around for almost 10 years now, and as it is subject to review (in the near future), an opportunity is available in which we can strengthen this plan to further support healthy, clean communities.
3. Make transit and active transportation planning integral to city planning
Community development often include fundamental plans such as “water, sewage, roads and utilities” before it can be developed. Improving Health by Design states that beyond the scope of these fundamental plans, in order to build complete communities, “planning for walking, cycling and transit use also needs to become routine throughout city planning steps.” In order to fully realize the potential health benefits et al., then the planning for active transportation and transit cannot be added as an “exception to be accommodated as an afterthought or only for recreational purposes.” The importance of active transportation is not just that it allows for the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity daily, but it also provides avenues of community engagement through the utilization of active modes of transportation.
The prioritization of making active transportation and transit integral to city planning can be attributed to the fact that “obesity and physical inactivity” costs $4 billion a year in the GTHA. Further, current traffic congestion due to vehicular transportation within the GTHA has created the longest commutes in Canada, resulting in economic costs of $6 billion a year due to lost productivity. Much like Places to Grow and The Big Move, there are campaigns and projects to highlight the importance of active transportation and transit within the GTHA. It’s Your Move, spearheaded by TCAT and Your 32 by CivicAction all stress the prioritization of active transportation to not only get commuters in the GTHA moving again, but also to allow us as residents to connect with one another through connected modes of transportation.
As the City of Toronto is the largest city in Canada, and the fourth largest in North America, we have the ability and the opportunity to be at the forefront in creating a new form of urban development. One that is fundamentally founded on active transportation to create healthy and complete communities. For the full 100 pages Improving Health by Design PDF, please click here. To see more of the work being done by the organizations mentioned above, please click the links below.