Transit is about so much more than just moving passengers. It’s about building communities.
When most of us think about public transit, we think about moving people. Trains. Buses. Subways. Light-rail transit. But according to Lorraine Huinink, director of rapid transit and transit-oriented development at Durham Region, it’s so much more. “When land-use planning and transit planning meet, you can really provide exciting opportunities to a community,” she says. Enter transit-oriented development, or TOD. This type of urban planning involves creating neighbourhoods around effective, reliable transit both within an area and connecting to other areas. It means making public transportation easy, affordable and efficient, in order to make a location appealing for people to both live and work.
With a long history in urban planning and transit-oriented development in her previous roles — her CV includes senior positions at both Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx — Huinink has seen first-hand how important and revolutionary transit can be. “Transit strategy can make an immense difference to community-building. For people who are in industry and looking at Durham Region as a centre of energy or academic research or innovation or clean tech…all of those things require smart, young people who want to live here,” Huinink says. “Transit-oriented development in areas that are a little more urban, where you don’t need a car to get around, that are dynamic places to live with a range of affordable housing types…that’s what attracts talent.” The bottom line: Supporting TOD, and capitalizing on transit investment, in turn supports economic development.
“Many people believe that only those with lower incomes take transit,
and that is unbelievably outdated thinking,” Huinink says. “Seamless transit will change that. We aren’t going to fix it overnight, but we’ll get there. I believe that each generation comes with different values and thinking. The current generation will find a place with a range of mobility options, like transit or car sharing, and keep the money they’d spend to buy a vehicle in their pockets. We need to capitalize on that.”
It’s an especially exciting time to be in transit development right now. There is currently an unprecedented investment in public transit occurring in the province. Huinink says that high-density, mixed-use, transit-supported neighbourhoods — often referred to in urban planning as Major Transit Station Areas (MTSAs) — will translate into vibrant places for people of all ages to enjoy. “Lifestyle choice and ease of mobility is so important,” she says. With that in mind, there are many transit projects in the works in Durham Region, including the Lakeshore East GO heavy-rail extension, as well as the Durham-Scarborough bus rapid transit (BRT). “The BRT will be a dedicated bus service that will not get caught up in regular traffic, that will run across the entire region to Toronto — that’s a gamechanger in terms of people being able to keep money in their pockets while still getting around easily, rather than investing in a depreciating asset like a vehicle,” says Huinink. The BRT in combination with heavy rail and other unique and innovative, customer-responsive initiatives spearheaded by Durham Region, like the WAVE, a driverless, all-electric shuttle bus, will change how residents and potential residents think about mobility and planning for their futures. Plus, individual advantages aside, effective public transit is also vital for the environment. “This is really the direction we need to be going,” she says. In addition to cutting down on the emissions from automobiles, TOD also makes walkability a priority.
Huinink hopes that the thinking around public transit can also change. “Many people believe that only those with lower incomes take transit, and that is unbelievably outdated thinking,” she says. “Seamless transit will change that. We aren’t going to fix it overnight, but we’ll get there. I believe that each generation comes with different values and thinking. The current generation will find a place with a range of mobility options, like transit or car sharing, and keep the money they’d spend to buy a vehicle in their pockets. We need to capitalize on that reprioritization.”
Huinink is full of pride for the foresight of the Region in terms of TOD and is excited about what’s to come. “It was so smart of the Region to see the direction things were going and say, ‘Okay, let’s make the Bowmanville GO extension happen. Let’s seize the opportunities that other communities are taking advantage of.’ Rightly so, our Region has figured out that by investing in this kind of thinking and upfront planning, you do truly realize the possibilities for your economic development.” Now more than ever, on the heels of the current COVID-19 health crisis, people are making decisions about where they really want to live and work. Affordable communities where people can get around easily and still have access to larger cities are about to have a moment, and Durham Region is ready.