Transit-Supportive Guidelines


Who is this guideline for and how can it be useful?

As a guideline for Ontario communities, this document is intended to provide guidance for a wide range of places, from small towns that may not currently provide transit service, to mid-size cities and large urban centres with extensive existing and planned transit infrastructure.

The guideline places significant emphasis on creating a pattern of development within existing communities and new development that is capable of supporting increased transit ridership in existing systems and helping to facilitate the establishment of new transit systems.

For smaller centres this document will be most useful in providing tools and strategies to create a more compact land use pattern supportive of walking and cycling, optimize the effectiveness of existing or future transit services, retain ridership and better target transit service. In mid-size or larger cities, the guideline will help to better utilize existing infrastructure, grow ridership and manage urban growth in a more transit-supportive manner.

This document contains a series of community-wide, district-level and site-specific guidelines, transit improvement strategies and implementation tools. It is meant to be read as a whole, however the many actors involved in the creation and operation of transit and the development of our towns and cities mean that this guideline will likely be used in different ways:

  • Municipal planners reviewing a development application or property developers, land-use and urban design professionals working on development applications may focus more on the District-Level and Site-Specific Guidelines;
  • A municipality drafting a new official plan or secondary plan may focus on the Community-Wide Guidelines;
  • A university trying to better integrate transit into their campus may focus on the Specialized Uses Section;
  • Transit agencies and transit service providers wishing to improve service or grow transit ridership might focus more on the Transit Improvement Guidelines; and
  • Regions and municipalities preparing for transit might focus on the System Service and Operations guidelines and Ridership Strategies guidelines within the Transit Improvement Guidelines chapter.


Interest in transit-supportive communities has continued to grow since the publication of the original Transit-Supportive Land Use Planning Guidelines in 1992. Today, new policy frameworks, emerging ideas and lessons from a generation of transit-supportive communities provide a strong impetus for an update.

Ontario is at the forefront of transit-supportive planning and has put a number of policies and programs in place to support the development of compact, complete, transit-friendly communities. The Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 (PPS) contains a number of transit-supportive planning policies that all Ontario communities must be consistent with. These include:

  • integrating transportation and land use considerations at all stages of the planning process;
  • identifying growth areas, nodes and corridors;
  • an emphasis on intensification and the creation of a more compact urban form;
  • promoting a land use pattern, density and mix of uses that minimize the length and number of vehicle trips and support transit as a viable mode choice;
  • promoting energy efficiency and improved air quality through land use and development patterns which promote the use of public transit and other alternative transportation modes; and
  • protecting corridors and rights-of-way for transit and transit-related facilities.

These guidelines are intended to assist municipalities in implementing the policies and objectives of the PPS as well as those of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, where applicable. To support the PPS, the Province has also established long-term transit funding programs through the dedicated gas tax program to assist Ontario municipalities in delivering and expanding their transit infrastructure and services to increase transit ridership across the province. Municipalities subject to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006 are expected to develop municipal strategies and policies for urban growth centres and other intensification areas consistent with transit-supportive guidelines established by the Province (as required by Growth Plan policy h).

The section on transit improvement strategies provides guidance regarding system operations, fare collection and quality of service. It describes best practice strategies for facilities, operations and systems that can help transit systems run more effectively, improve the experience and convenience of transit for users and ultimately, increase ridership.

Providing transit in towns and cities designed and shaped for the private automobile can be a challenging task. It requires greater effort to provide the kind of convenient, fast and comfortable transit service that can compete with the private automobile and result in people choosing transit as their preferred mode. To achieve this, a significant emphasis must be placed on enhancing the user experience by creating transit systems that are easily accessible, provide quick, direct routes to destinations and are comfortable and enjoyable for all users, including persons who use mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs. This requires planning at every level, from regional-scale considerations, such as transit network design, to detailed consideration of the quality of service afforded transit users, such as how a system is operated and fares are collected.

Land use and transit planning integration

In transit-supportive places, transit and land use decisions are integrated at both a system-wide and local scale so that transit becomes more easily accessible, serves major land uses and ridership generators and provides direct and efficient routes between destinations.

There is a strong relationship between transit ridership and land use patterns.

Unlike the automobile, transit, to be efficient, must limit its stops to logical locations within a system. Concentrating densities and a mix of uses in and around stop and station areas is an effective way of optimizing transit infrastructure, placing more people and uses within close proximity to transit facilities and supporting higher levels of pedestrian activity. The layout and design of buildings, streets and public spaces can help to integrate transit facilities into their surroundings and create a more comfortable environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.

Supporting transit requires reconsideration of the way cities and towns grow and evolve.

When towns and cities grow outward at lower densities and land uses are not coordinated alongside planned transit investments, distances between locations get longer. This makes provision of transit difficult. Routes become longer and because users are spread out around a larger area, the ridership per kilometre of service decreases. This can make transit systems less cost effective to operate, resulting in service cuts and loss of ridership. By using investments in transit to encourage more focused development and place-making, the effects of outward expansion can be minimized, valuable farm lands or natural areas can be preserved and road congestion moderated.

Creating transit-supportive communities demands that a better balance be achieved between all modes of transportation.

All transit users are pedestrians at some point in their journey, whether on their walk to the station, accessing or transferring between different modes of transit, or walking from the stop or station area to their local destination. Environments that are designed for the car without consideration for other modes of transportation can be unsafe or uncomfortable for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. The design and function of the mobility network should act to shorten or reduce trips and recognize pedestrian circulation and comfort as its highest priority followed by cycling, public transit and the private vehicle.

Benefits of transit-supportive planning and increased ridership

Transit is an excellent tool to help achieve sustainable development and an improved urban environment. In many cases, the quality of the environment, quality of life, economic competitiveness and vitality of transit-oriented urban areas are all higher than those of automobile-oriented urban areas.

Transit is good for the environment and public health.

Under normal loading conditions, less energy is needed to move a person by transit than by automobile. Since less energy is used to move people, smaller amounts of air pollutants and greenhouse gases are produced by transit per person-kilometre of travel. Transit-supportive land use patterns are also pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, making it safer and easier for people to use active transportation along with transit. A transit-oriented city promotes greater public presence on the sidewalks, a renewal of downtown activities, and greater informal surveillance and safety.

Transit is good for the economy, making our cities and regions more efficient.

Congested highways and gridlocked streets result in significant delays to the trade and delivery of goods and services. The increasing costs to our health care system from smog days and the higher proportion of family budgets allocated to basic transportation are having a significant social and economic impact on our province. By helping to manage congestion and travel times, better transit can improve the efficiency of our economy, facilitating goods movement and improving commuting times. Increasing transportation choices can help to increase the affordability of our towns and cities, reduce household costs and provide a greater range of housing opportunities. Transit investments can also encourage revitalization of neighbourhoods and streets, attracting private investment and employers to an area by improving accessibility and neighbourhood vitality.

Transit infrastructure is cost-effective to provide and use.

Since transit requires less land and energy than the private car to move the same number of people, it is often cheaper to meet mobility needs with transit rather than through other measures such as road widening or new parking facilities. The higher densities and compact development transit requires also save costs by maximizing the efficiency of existing services and reducing the need for additional serviced land. In addition, land not used for transportation can be used in other ways, whether for public open space and other active uses or for the protection of environmentally sensitive areas.

Transit-supportive planning is important in both large and small communities

In communities of all sizes environmental, social and economic concerns provide an impetus for creating more transit–supportive communities.

Transit-friendly design is pedestrian-friendly design and good planning.

Some of the most enduring small communities in Ontario are known for their attractive, walkable environments. Since transit users are often pedestrians at both ends of the trip, transit-supportive planning and design improves conditions for pedestrians, creating safer, more attractive streets and encouraging a greater mix of uses, which can reduce travel distances and enhance transit access.

Transit-friendly communities help to preserve natural areas and rural landscapes.

The high quality of life associated with Ontario communities is strongly tied to their surrounding natural and rural environments. The more compact, mixed-use nature of transit-supportive community design can help to support sustainable growth while also helping to preserve agricultural lands and environmentally sensitive areas.

Planning for transit early can help reduce costs in the future.

By considering the recommendations contained in these guidelines, communities, including those that don’t yet offer transit services, can expand in ways that will support transit ridership and minimize the potential for increased congestion. With rising land and infrastructure costs, these strategies will help to promote a more efficient use of resources as communities grow.

Transit can assist small communities in adjusting to changing demographics.

Large areas of dispersed development can restrict mobility for those that are unable to drive. Implementation of transit services even in small communities, where possible, can assist non-drivers, including youth and the elderly, in accessing local services.

How to use this document

The document is structured into four key chapters

  • Chapter 1: Community-Wide Guidelines sets the stage for the creation of transit-supportive communities through a range of higher level planning strategies.
  • Chapter 2: District-Level and Site-Specific Guidelines contains a series of more detailed design guidelines relating to streets, buildings infrastructure, and unique uses.
  • Chapter 3: Transit Improvement Guidelines provides an overview of transit improvement programs, innovations and services that can help to increase transit ridership.
  • Chapter 4: Implementation provides an overview of the implementation tools that can be used to achieve the principles and guidelines within the document. The document concludes with a series of best practice case studies, a glossary of terms, an index and a summary of resources and references.

Throughout the document, each topic has been provided a separate layout.

The guidelines are organized into a series of topics, each of which has been consistently structured as per the illustration to the right. The document contains strategies applicable to all community scales. While exceptions may exist, where a strategy is more relevant to communities of a specific scale, this is identified through the use of a symbol.

Small Communities iconSmall Communities – smaller than 50,000 (e.g. Ingersoll, Kenora, Brockville, Timmins)

Mid-size Communities iconMid-size Communities – 50,000–150,000 (e.g. Belleville, Brantford, Thunder Bay, Barrie)

Large Communities iconLarge Communities – 150,000–500,000 (e.g. Sudbury, Oshawa, Windsor, London)

Big Cities iconBig Cities – greater than 500,000 (e.g. Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto)

Strategies with a strong environmental focus have been identified with a strong environmental focus icon

To assist with implementation, each strategy has been identified with a “planning scale” that indicates the level at which it might be implemented.

Site Planning iconSite Planning: Site and building scale. May include issues such as site circulation and building design.

District Planning iconDistrict Planning: District scale. May be implemented through plans of subdivision, district-level secondary plan processes or district-specific zoning by-laws.

Municipal Planning iconMunicipal Planning: Town or city-wide. May be implemented through municipal official plans and zoning by-laws.

Regional Planning iconRegional Planning: Regional Scale. Typically requires coordination between municipalities. May be embedded in regional official plans.

Sample guideline layout, identifying the section number and title, guideline topic, statement of topic objective, strategies, legend and recommended resources.

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