Every year more cities around the globe embrace the idea of capitalizing on residential, business, and public spaces within walking distance of major public transportation hubs. Although Toronto has long encouraged new construction and densification along major transit corridors such as the Yonge Street Subway Line, the modern Transit Oriented Development (TOD) concept is seeking a more proactive approach to development.
It wasn’t until 2019 that Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx published their TOD Implementation Strategy and have since shifted their traditional development model towards a market driven approach. Their guidelines present an opportunity for developers to bring their expertise to the table and lead the charge to create new complete neighbourhoods. This new approach is publicized as a win-win scenario for all involved but comes at an increased cost, as developers are now tasked with funding and building the transit facilities that are central to their new developments.
With the onus now on cities, municipalities, and land developers, we’ve seen a lot of excitement and plans for TODs spring up across Ontario. Last year, Metrolinx advanced two development opportunities for Mimico and Woodbine GO stations using their new approach. Both stations are spearheaded by private developers, who merge their real estate expertise and interests with Metrolinx’s transit infrastructure plans. More recently, the Town of Innisfil has initiated the Orbit development at the Innisfil GO Station; and back in September, Cadillac Fairview made headlines as they acquired 100% ownership of East Harbour, the largest commercial development in Canadian history.
The Challenge for Developers
The question remains – how can developers approach this new task, generate the increased funding needed, and successfully build crucial transit infrastructure alongside their typical development projects?
A win-win scenario between public transit agencies, developers, and communities is the ideal outcome of a TOD project. Mega-developments like TODs can reduce the risk for developers by appealing to a wide range of demographics and generating diverse real estate opportunities. A development that plans for commercial, hotel, institutional, entertainment, and cultural spaces, will hold high investment potential due to its appeal to a wider range of investors. Developers can take previous lessons learned, concepts and methodologies, and creative funding solutions, and combine them with trusted partners who can fill-in knowledge gaps that are unique to TODs.
Building Crucial Transit Infrastructure
Transit hubs are the focal point of a TOD project and they have been a key contributor to other successful development projects around the world. Recently, Cadillac Fairview’s CEO, John Sullivan, shared that having a transit hub in the middle of the East Harbour project is what attracted Cadillac Fairview to the development and referred to other successful global developments as being “anchored by transit.”
Although transit infrastructure is crucial to the success of a TOD, it is relatively unknown territory for developers and will present the biggest challenge. Unlike their typical projects, developers and public agencies need to quickly learn the successful recipe to ensure that transit is seamlessly integrated with their surrounding development, while eventually enjoying a return on their investment.
Through recent involvement on the Woodbine GO and Kirby GO projects, we have seen all stakeholders benefit from having a partner on board that understands and has experience in both public and private sectors. LEA has been an asset on these projects by sharing our insight and knowledge on other public infrastructure projects and marrying it with our deep roots in private development.
Here is what we’ve learned:
Developers must understand the considerations involved in transit design early on.
LEA’s 20 years of transit design experience will help developers plan for building near and over major railways. Considerations like utilities conflicts, structural design requirements, and universal design will ensure that developers can seamlessly blend their development with nearby transit and make decisions that will enhance the overall project.
Having a partner to help navigate design and technical requirements is crucial to project success.
By providing feedback on design and ensuring alignment with Metrolinx’s design requirements, LEA can help develop solutions that seamlessly integrate developments with well designed transit infrastructure.
Navigating through the approvals and staging process can be complicated.
Understanding long-term maintenance and infrastructure construction constraints, LEA can provide input to development approval timing and construction staging. For example, while the integration of shared parking for TOD is forward thinking and saves space for more important elements of the project, surges of traffic generated from train arrivals can cause undesirable traffic situations for other users. Early planning can ensure there is a safe and effective means to deal with various flows of traffic.
TODs introduce exciting new opportunities for land development to create complete and sustainable neighbourhoods, while maximizing residential, business, and public spaces. As developers begin to recognize the opportunities present in Metrolinx’s TOD Implementation Strategy, careful planning and early recognition of knowledge gaps will be key to successfully executing these new developments.
For more information on how LEA can enhance your TOD project, contact:
Vice President, Practice Area Lead