I was expecting cars and lots of them. Deloitte’s recent 2019
Global City Mobility Index supported this. Super graphics from the index emblazoned
across construction hoardings at downtown Union Station report 70% of journeys
in the city are made by car (by comparison London is reported at 25%). And just
under 25% are made by public transport with bicycles representing just 1% - for
now. But the hoardings are in place for good reason at Union station, to
protect everyone while rail capacity is increased and the passenger experience enhanced,
so things are happening.
In a few days I explored as much of the city as I was able - by
car (of course), by subway, by streetcar, aka a tram, and by foot. The city is spread
wide and growing and it takes time to get around.
The existing subway system is efficient but limited in its
connectivity. We are helping to improve this by designing two new stations at
Clarke and Langstaff on the extension to the Yonge line, a backbone for city mobility
north and south.
These stations will provide an anchor for new mixed-use medium
and low-rise development on the expansive plots that surround them. This is
already happening apace around other stations; 20-40 storey condos are appearing
in the blink of an eye, Eglinton being a case in point and home to our new WW+P
These are the new poly-centres of the expanding polycentric city,
directing some attention away from downtown Union and the ambitious waterfront
plans. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) population is predicted to grow from 6.9m
residents today to 9.7m by 2041. In stark terms this amounts to about 115,000
new residents each year - the majority needing homes and better infrastructure
to get around. In London we are only trying to cater for, on average, an extra 75,000
people annually, across a similar period.
From the omnipresent street edge podium block, spring the condo
towers, the majority cookie cutter stamped and typically quite dull. They are
one colour - or more accurately three shades of one colour - grey, light grey with
blue grey windows all clad in pretty much the same way. There have been accusations
in some quarters in recent years, that London is developing a rather nondescript
new brick led vernacular; a visit to some Toronto suburbs might make the
accusers a little more appreciative.
That said there are many examples that suggest an improvement in
design quality and material variety is starting to take hold. There is history
with the use of brick in low-density Toronto town houses, so a brick renaissance
would be well timed and surely a more robust choice long term to withstand the
city’s incredibly harsh winters. This could really characterise these new high-density
poly-centres, especially if construction economics and speed are harnessed through
panelised offsite systems, as they are now in London.
Anyway, back to mobility. While subway and light rail extensions
move forward, the car will retain its place at the top. Shifting around
mid-town behind the wheel can easily take an hour from your day for each
journey. Navigating the 16-lane wide highway 407 required the upmost
concentration. But there is a nifty way to claw back some of that time - grab a
passenger and gain exclusive rights to use the shared passenger lane,
fast-tracking past the other idling lanes of traffic.
Cyclists don’t really get a look in yet, the roads are just too
busy, vehicles too big and junctions potential death traps to cross. I didn’t
see many bicycles and the few stands outside station entrances were mostly
empty. But as new local centres start to emerge around the developing infrastructure
and station hubs, cycling has the opportunity to gain ground, with changing mobility
habits outside the inclement winter months and a greater emphasis placed on
The city was noticeably green; an abundance of trees with the
fresh shades of spring perhaps particularly evident after the heaviest winter
freeze in years. And the podium blocks, for all their bulk, provide raised
landscapes and another green layer in the townscape, separate from the streets
My sense is the ambitious transport infrastructure development
programme is affording the city and its planners an expansive opportunity to
mould new urban centres, with new ways of thinking around working, living and
relaxing. Sharing the value of new ideas and learnings from other global cities
is important in this regard. Making the city and its residents less reliant on
the car and its dictates on how the city is shaped can only be positive for the
future of Toronto and its growing population.
I look forward to making some further judgements on my next