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Creating Walkable and Transit-Supportive Communities in Halton

Studies have repeatedly shown that community design and development has a significant impact on: emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases; levels of physical activity and social cohesion; and rates of injuries and fatalities related to motor vehicles, which may include pedestrians and cyclists. This discussion paper is intended to: review the best available evidence related to health and land use planning in terms of walkability; define what is meant by “walkable and transit-supportive communities”; identify the opportunities for realizing these attributes within a Halton context; and, suggest the parameters that can inform the Sustainable Halton and Regional Official Plan review processes with respect to walkability. It is recognized that future public and agency consultation on this paper will take place through these processes and that some elements of this paper, such as community design and transit, fall under local municipal purview.

Executive Summary

Studies have repeatedly shown that community design and development has a significant impact on: emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases; levels of physical activity and social cohesion; and rates of injuries and fatalities related to motor vehicles, which may include pedestrians and cyclists. This discussion paper is intended to: review the best available evidence related to health and land use planning in terms of walkability; define what is meant by “walkable and transit-supportive communities”; identify the opportunities for realizing these attributes within a Halton context; and, suggest the parameters that can inform the Sustainable Halton and Regional Official Plan review processes with respect to walkability. It is recognized that future public and agency consultation on this paper will take place through these processes and that some elements of this paper, such as community design and transit, fall under local municipal purview.

Poor air quality is a significant public health concern for people living in southern Ontario. The Ontario Medical Association estimates that air pollution in Ontario contributes to 9,500 premature deaths each year (OMA, 2008). Climate change, associated with long-term shifts in air and water temperatures, precipitation, water and food supplies, and will present significant direct and indirect risks to human health and security in the coming decades. Physical activity, even at moderate levels, reduces the risk of developing numerous chronic diseases. There are many shifts in policy and behaviour that are needed within Canadian society to reduce emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases and to increase physical activity. One of the important policy shifts required relates to the patterns of development within our communities.

There are several models and frameworks that help define the dimensions of the built environment that are most closely associated with walkability and public transit use. The Health Department has chosen to use the “3 D” model to organize this paper: density, diversity (mixed use), and design. Density refers to the number of households and jobs per hectare. Diversity, also called mixed use, refers to land use mix, housing diversity and the presence of neighbourhood retail/service opportunities. Design refers to street design, street connectivity for both pedestrian and cyclists, and the quality of the pedestrian environment.

On the basis of our review of the health and planning literature and best practices, the Health Department recommends consideration of the following parameters in order to support the development of walkable and transit-friendly communities during the Sustainable Halton and Regional Official Plan Review processes:

  1. To create transit-supportive densities:
    • Locate neighbourhoods and employment areas within a 400 m to 800 m radius around activity nodes, transit nodes, or activity corridors
    • Activity nodes, transit nodes and the 400 m radius around them have a minimum of 200 residents and jobs per gross hectare
    • Activity corridors have a minimum of 80 residents and jobs per gross hectare
    • Transitional zones within 800 m of activity nodes and transit nodes in greenfield communities have a minimum 75 residents and jobs per gross hectare
    • Stable communities and employment areas achieve a minimum 50 residents and jobs per gross hectare whenever possible
  2. To provide appropriate housing for people at all stages of life and income, align the housing mix with the density targets for activity nodes, transit nodes and activity corridors. It is important to monitor the average density of new housing for each housing type yearly to ensure that the overall density targets have been achieved.
  3. Residents live within 400 m of six diverse uses and within 800 m of 17 diverse uses. Because of the important role that access to retail food markets plays in creating complete communities and ensuring access to healthy foods, the best practice literature suggests that residents live within 800 m of a planned or existing retail food market such as a supermarket, grocery store, or produce store.
  4. Locate the land set aside for elementary schools within 1500 m of residents to maximize the numbers of students walking; and, locate the land set aside for secondary schools within 3000 m of residents and on local transit routes. Lands declared surplus by the school boards in Halton have public value and consideration should be given to purchasing these lands for public use.
  5. Design communities so that residents are within 400 m of an existing or planned transit stop. In addition, when developing new communities, adopt a “transit-first” principle.
  6. Residents have access to a full range of parks described in the parkland hierarchy. Ideally residents will live within 400 m of a village square/parkette and within 800 m of a neighbourhood park. In addition, locate community parks, town/city wide parks and recreational facilities on local transit routes.
  7. Consider “sense of place” when identifying and selecting preferred road alternatives.
  8. Incorporate a walking and cycling review for pedestrian connectivity and safety at each stage in the planning process, which would include:
    • Residents have access to continuous sidewalks or equivalent provisions for walking along both sides of all streets. New sidewalks in residential areas should be at least 1.5 metres wide. Equivalent provisions for walking include footpaths
    • Commercial areas have continuous sidewalks or equivalent provisions for walking along both sides of all streets. New sidewalks in commercial areas should be at least 4.0 metres wide
    • Design streets on the basis of medium to short block lengths with a recommended maximum block perimeter that does not exceed 250 metres. Where block perimeter exceeds 250 metres, a block pedestrian linkage is provided
    • Neighbourhoods have a linked open space system that interconnects allowing pedestrian, bicycle and other recreational activities continuously throughout the community
    • Neighbourhoods built on a cul-de-sac street pattern system are connected to arterial and collector roads by looking for direct pathways that link residents to these areas
  9. Incorporate a walking and cycling review for cycling connectivity and safety, at each stage in the planning process, which would include:
    • Neighbourhoods and communities accommodate a cycling network that includes bike lanes and off-road cycling or multi-use trails
    • Roads with speeds over 60 km/h have separated lanes that are part of the road, not sidewalk, infrastructure
    • Roads with speeds between 50-60 km/h have marked bicycle lanes
    • Roads with speeds under 40 km/h are shared
    • Priority for cyclists in intersections
    • Reduce overly frequent stops or places where reduced cycling speeds are necessary
    • Residents have access to trip end facilities such as secure long-term bicycle parking such as lockers, secure short-term bicycle parking such as bicycle racks and showers in commercial buildings
    • All streets, roadways, and designated bike routes are maintained to be free of deterrents to bicycling (such as potholes, debris, and overgrown landscaping)
  10. Incorporate a walking and cycling review to consider the appeal of the pedestrian and cycling environment at each stage in the planning process, which would include:
    • Building frontages that positively address the street, with active uses at ground and first floors
    • All ground level non-residential interior spaces that face a public space have transparent glass on the ground level façade
    • Consideration of the length of blank walls (without doors or windows) along sidewalks
    • Commercial buildings designed and built so that each building has a front façade and at least one entrance that faces a publicly accessible area such as a street, square or plaza
    • On street parking provided on selected streets
    • All off-street parking facilities located at the side or rear of buildings, leaving building frontages and streetscapes free of parking facilities
    • Each transit stop with at least one bench and, where appropriate, sufficiently sheltered
    • Sidewalks connect directly to transit shelters x Place transit shelters in such a way as to not impede pedestrian traffic
    • Street trees occur between the vehicle travel way and sidewalk x Universal design options are addressed