Whether East or West, the outlook is strong in 2020 for smart, sustainable growth in the Greater Toronto Area, as long as the short-term politics of transit and transportation stay away.
And while prospects are good in places where politics is taking a back seat, unfortunately, some cities are discovering it’s not the case everywhere in the GTA.
“There’s opportunity and potential in all directions, if communities are well planned, and the key ingredient is whether they’re getting transit investment,” says Cherise Burda, Executive Director of the City Building Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Cities, towns and regions that are particularly well-positioned include Mississauga, where the new 18-kilometre, 19-stop Hurontario light rail transit (LRT) Line is scheduled to be built by 2024, and Toronto’s 19-kilometre Eglinton Ave. corridor, where the 19-kilometre Line 5 is to open in 2021.
“The key it to grow transportation opportunities within regions, so people can get from place to place more easily. It’s not to expand routes along what we call ‘impossible’ commutes, where people have to travel three hours each way in the GTA to get between home and work. That’s not sustainable,” Burda said.
One city whose prospects are not so fortunate today is Hamilton, where on Dec. 16 Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government abruptly cancelled a planned LRT line, citing costs. Ontario Transportation Minister Carolyn Mulroney ducked out meeting with reporters to discuss the cancellation, leaving a disappointed Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger to announce that the 14-kilometre route has been shelved.
“This is a betrayal by the province to the City of Hamilton. This will not only hurt Hamilton’s economy, but Ontario’s economy,” Mayor Eisenberger said. He noted that that the projects in Toronto and Mississauga are going ahead.
“The message to the world is that Ontario is an unreliable partner. Ontario is not a place where you can do business because of the Ford government,” he said.
Burda agreed that the loss is significant.
“It’s so tragic for Hamilton, not only in terms of lost jobs and loss of better transit, but the investment in planning, intensification and development that has occurred along the line,” she said. They were really doing planning right, aligning transit investment and growth allocation.”
Ontario, the GTA and Golden Horseshoe need more, not less coordination between transit planners, urban planners and the provincial government, Burda says.
“It’s a matter of getting the right type of mixed-use development in place around transit. The other key is certainty,” she explained. When politicians suddenly or arbitrarily pull funding or change plans it hampers growth and ultimately hinders good economic expansion, Burda added.
“If you look at a place such as Scarborough, they haven’t had that certainty. There has been a lot of political upset for people and for investors. It’s hard when you’re not sure where a line is going or whether the plans are going ahead,” Burda said.
She conceded that the Ford government is right now committed to $29 billion in transit expansion, including Scarborough. “But it could be a decade or more before this gets built,” Burda added.
Burda credited the City of Toronto for “picking up the slack” and adding some planning rigour and detail to transit planning within the 416 area.
“They recognize that you have to have some substance behind all the ribbon cutting and mega-projects.
In Hamilton, by comparison, the province already spent $184 million on the 10-year-old plans it had made for the LRT line it has now cancelled, according to the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.