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The CN Tower in downtown Toronto. (Michelle Siu/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The CN Tower in downtown Toronto. (Michelle Siu/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Congested Toronto needs a growth plan now: report Add to ...

The Greater Toronto Area is lacking a proper strategy to keep commuting times in check and locate offices in desirable areas, problems that are quickly becoming more pressing, a new report says.

Snarled highways and overcrowded trains are becoming more common, and yet not enough thought is being put into how to coordinate the development of office space with the needs of employers and employees, including transportation networks, it suggests.

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The report was released Wednesday by Strategic Regional Research, which describes itself as a group created to produce independent research on the competitiveness of the GTA.

In a remarkably short period of time the GTA has gone from being a post-World-War-II industrial hub to the third largest industrial complex and fifth largest office market in North America, it says.

In 1965 the area had about 22 million square feet of office space, today it has more than 200 million. Jobs and residents go hand-in-hand. As of September there were more than 150 condo towers under construction in the city, more than in the five largest U.S. cities combined.

The GTA’s population is growing by one million people each decade, and in the next 30 years is expected to house one million more jobs, mostly in buildings that have not yet been built. But there is no coherent strategy for where and how new office space will be located, and already there is about 100 million square feet of office space that’s not connected to the region’s network of higher order transit, the report says.

Some areas, however – including Toronto – have plans to address these issues.

Peter Moore, project manager for the City of Toronto, said he agrees with many of the report’s recommendations.

He said a major focus for the next two or three decades will be office development in the city, which is where a large amount of employment growth is expected to occur.

“Offices should be built in transit-supported locations or in association with transit,” he said. “And when we’re building transit, we should be looking at office development areas... It’s a two-way thing.”

Mr. Moore said the city also has planned to add “mixed-use centres” to specific sites in Toronto – buildings that would accommodate both office and residential development.

The city’s plan has identified four mixed-use centres: Yonge and Eglinton, North York Centre, Scarborough Centre, and the Etobicoke Centre.

Like the City of Toronto, suburban areas have developed similar strategies.

John Calvert, from the Policy Planning Division of Mississauga, said that the city of Mississauga has developed both short– and long-term plans that will help residents in the area travel through the city and downtown Toronto.

Short-term plans include finishing construction for Bus Rapid Transit, a bus-exclusive lane expected to open early next year.

The lane would run along Eglinton Avenue on the south side of the Airport Corporate Centre, one of the city’s major corporate centres.

“Hopefully that will be inspiration for office development along that line,” said Mr. Calvert, adding that many stops will exist on the Bust Rapid Transit route for commuters.

The long-term vision – though only in the planning and design phase – includes adding Light Rail Transit stations from Port Credit to Brampton, which would have higher capacity and speed than current bus systems, according to Toronto Transit Commission website.

Running through downtown Mississauga, the Light Rail Transit system would also attach to some of Toronto’s subway and GO Transit stations for the commuters who work in Toronto’s downtown core.

It would also run on its own track like Toronto’s street cars to help decrease congestion on the city’s highways and streets, said Mr. Calvert.

Nonetheless, the report said Toronto has become a tale of two cities: downtown office employees have access to amenities, good public transit, and an attractive quality of life, while other employees are working in areas without public transit or amenities and are consigned to long commutes by car, the report suggests.

“The evidence suggests that office jobs in the 905 are being created almost exclusively in uni-functional office parks,” it says. Part of the problem is the requirements that are imposed on designated employment lands in the suburbs.

“Despite the fact that an office building in Meadowvale or Airport Corporate Centre might share many of the same attributes (such as employee density) as an office building in a mixed use zone in downtown Toronto, as a result of protective land use policy, employees in locations such as Airport Corporate Centre are denied easy access to amenities such as restaurants and shopping,” the report says. “This is because distances between buildings (as a result of the need to accommodate large areas of surface parking) create a hostile environment for walking.”

“Well-meaning but dated policies have channelled large amounts of GTA office growth and tens of thousands of jobs into former industrial parks in the 905 with few amenities, limited transit connectivity and increasing levels of congestion,” it adds.

In the meantime, the number of condos in Toronto is growing faster than the creation of space for new offices, and rush hour traffic is now almost as bad leaving Toronto as it is coming into it.

“The funding for transit has to keep up with the development for office space,” said City of Mississauga’s Mr. Calvert. “We’re going to need billions to build all of this.”

He added that while the long-term goals are possible, private and public partnerships could be the best ways to fund the program.

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