Transit-oriented development (TOD) is one of the keys to building sustainable communities where people can lead car-lite lifestyles, but treating it as a stand-alone mantra might also be a bit outdated, says Victoria city councillor Dave Thompson.
“A principled approach holds that there is no need to limit the added development to areas well-served by transit,” Thompson, a longtime urban policy consultant, writes in an opinion piece for the Times Colonist. “We should also be allowing more in five-minute (and 10-minute) walkable, complete neighbourhoods, where people can access groceries, cafés, and other destinations without having to drive or take transit.”
Cities do need more new homes and amenities near transit stops, he adds. But to focus exclusively on TOD risks overlooking the opportunity to turn established neighbourhoods that aren’t near transit hubs into complete “urban villages”—like the several that exist around Victoria. TOD also overlooks the potential for homes and amenities along “bike-and-roll” routes that serve bicycles, mobility scooters, e-bikes, e-scooters, e-skateboards, and more.
Thompson had previously shared a City of Victoria graphic that illustrates four categories of users when it comes to cycling: the 60% who are “interested but concerned” and will only use routes with complete separation from traffic or very low traffic volume; the 32% who will never ride a bike, no matter what; the 7% who are “enthused and confident” and feel comfortable riding in traffic, even though they prefer bikeways; and the “fearless” 1%.
More than painted lines on the road, “we need high-quality, protected bike-and-roll routes if we want the quiet majority to consider using those routes, rather than getting in their cars and adding to traffic.”
So the term transit-oriented development “is actually a bit dated,” Thompson states. An alternative is to aim for more development “in the right places”—in 10-minute, walkable communities, near transit, and near protected bike-and-roll infrastructure.
The good news is that most Victoria councillors favour such planning. “You can see it in our votes, in our comments on development applications, and in our strategic plan.”
The city’s transportation plan includes the core objectives of working rapidly towards complete, compact communities, making safety improvements on the city’s bike-and-roll network, accelerating transit improvements and transit-oriented development, installing amenities to improve the “moving experience” of pedestrians and the public at large, and exploring the future of parking norms and policies.
The British Columbia government’s plans will also play a part, Thompson notes, citing 2022 legislation that allows the province’s transportation financing authority to acquire land “for the purpose of building housing and community amenities to serve people near transit stations and bus exchanges.” Prior to the legislative changes, the authority could only buy the land for transportation projects.
Zoning bylaw changes will also be required, and though municipalities have been disinclined to rezone in the past, attitudes are changing, especially after the federal government made eligibility for its C$4-billion Housing Accelerator Fund contingent on applicants’ commitments to increase density in their communities.
With big housing announcements expected in B.C. this fall, Thompson says he is optimistic. “I look forward to significant investments and policy changes that pave the way for far more homes and amenities in the right places.”