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Jennifer Keesmaat

December 19, 2017 by Speakers' Spotlight

The Importance of Local Transit Remaining Local

Jennifer Keesmaat is passionate about creating places where people flourish. Named one of the “most powerful people in Canada” by Maclean’s, and one of the “most influential” by Toronto Life, she spent five years as Toronto’s Chief City Planner, where she was celebrated for her innovative and collaborative approach to city-building. Now a Distinguished Visitor in Residence at the University of Toronto, Keesmaat shares her vision for cities of the future, and her belief in inspired leadership.

In a recent article in The Toronto Star, she outlines why regional and local transit are totally different beasts, and that heaping them into the same operation, let alone the same conversation about challenges, is a wrong-headed move. Here are some highlights:

Like Toronto’s municipal amalgamation 20 years ago, total transit amalgamation threatens to be a cure worse than the disease. It’s a solution that misses the mark on most of the problems it identifies, while overlooking other critical realities of city building. The board identifies fare integration and municipal border issues, but these are being addressed through the capabilities of the Presto card. And lumping together regional transit operations ignores our region’s most basic land use reality — this region isn’t designed to accommodate transit.

The intersection between land use and transit is an area where regional authorities fail — and it is the biggest challenge we currently need to fix. While the city is far from perfect in leveraging the city building potential of its TTC stations, they stand in stark contrast to the regional GO stations designed as desolate wastelands with almost no connection to the urban fabric. Current strategies for future GO stations show little improvement.

Indeed, local sensitivities to social need, public realm, economic vitality, and the broader mobility matrix of walking, cycling and evolving “last mile” technologies are core reasons for keeping local transit governance local. These detailed and nuanced considerations were at the heart of the city’s multi-year Feeling Congested consultation process that, combined with other land use planning strategies, has produced the most integrated transit and land use policies of any city in North America.

The economic importance of inter-regional transit is well understood, but the facts show that transit is overwhelmingly a local service. Regional and local transit are entirely different creatures — a point missed by the board’s recommendation. Regional transit interests put a premium on longer distance commuting. In doing so, they often compete with local interests that put a premium on access and connectivity.

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