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Transit-Supportive Land Use Planning

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This InfoSheet provides an overview of key Planning Act tools that municipalities can use to support and facilitate transit-supportive land use planning and development.


Provincial Planning Policy Framework

The Province of Ontario supports the development of compact, complete, transit-friendly communities in order to promote health, prosperity and sustainability. These communities are better positioned to attract and retain jobs, talent and investment, while providing a broader range of housing, protecting the environment and promoting more active lifestyles.

Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 (PPS, 2005) advocates transit-supportive planning by articulating policies that decisions made by approval authorities must be consistent with. These policies include identifying growth areas and promoting intensification, compact urban form, mixed-uses in and around transit nodes and corridors, and protecting corridors and rights-of-way for transit and transit-related facilities in order to support public transit, energy efficiency and improved air quality. Transit-supportive planning is also recognized as a provincial interest in the Planning Act through “the promotion of development that is designed to be sustainable, to support public transit and to be oriented to pedestrians”.

Building upon the PPS, 2005 policies, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006 and the Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area provide approval authorities with more policy direction on transit-supportive land use planning.

Transit-Supportive Land Use Planning

Transit-supportive land use planning is a policy and design strategy that concentrates a mix of employment, housing, retail and public uses within a comfortable walking distance of transit stops and stations. This strategy is particularly important within a 400 to 600 metre distance, or a five to ten minute walk, from a transit stop or station in order to encourage and capture maximum transit ridership.

Land use planning, infrastructure and streetscape features that support high quality public transit include:

  • medium to high densities
  • short continuous street blocks with wide sidewalks
  • mixed-use buildings with minimal setbacks and active ground level land uses
  • building heights and regularly placed street trees that frame the street to give it a comfortable sense of enclosure
  • traffic calming measures and limited surface parking
  • curb cuts and safe crosswalks for universal accessibility
  • bicycle routes and secure bicycle parking facilities


A photograph of a downtown area with some people waiting to board a public bus. The street has buildings that vary in height between 3 and 9 storeys and have a mix of modern and historic appearances. The caption states that the photo source is from Ontario Growth Secretariat at the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure 
Photo source: Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure

Did you know?

Transit-supportive communities are associated with:

  • increased transit ridership
  • more pedestrian trips
  • reduced reliance on automobiles
  • decreased smog-forming and greenhouse gas emissions
  • improved mobility for people of all ages and physical abilities
  • more active lifestyles through increased walking or cycling
  • increased housing options
  • reduced household expenses through decreased automobile ownership and use
  • greater opportunities for social interaction

 

 

 

 

 


 

Key Planning Act Tools for Transit-Supportive Land Use Planning

Zoning - Section 34

A photograph of an older 3-storey brick building. In front are a tree-lined sidewalk and a TTC streetcar.

Zoning is a critical means of regulating land uses, lot sizes, height, density, massing and siting of buildings, in order to provide densities, design and a mix of land uses needed to support transit ridership. Municipalities can use zoning to limit vehicle parking, prohibit automobile-oriented land uses and require bicycle parking to improve non-motorized access to transit. Zoning can also be used to establish minimum and maximum height requirements, densities and lot sizes to enable built form and density thresholds that support walkability and transit viability.

Site Plan Control - Section 41

Site plan control permits municipalities to consider external building design features related to character, scale, appearance and sustainable design. For example, site plan control can be used to address the appearance of doors, windows and canopies to improve the attractiveness of areas around transit stops or stations. Site plan control is also the primary instrument used to set out the design and layout of parking, including requirements to place it at the rear, side or below buildings or to screen parking areas with landscaping in order to promote continuous streetscapes that favour pedestrians and transit users. Site plan control can also be used to require street furniture and landscaping elements on any adjoining boulevard, including trees, lighting, benches, bicycle parking and traffic calming measures to make transit stops or station areas safer, more attractive and more accessible.

An illustration that shows three, 3 storey buildings. The illustration shows that site plan control, zoning for minimum and maximum height and density, and height and density bonusing can all be used in a single area.


Policy Connections

A photograph showing some older 3-storey brick buildings fronting an interlock sidewalk with a few pedestrians walking. The caption states that the photo source is from Ontario Growth Secretariat at the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure 
Photo source: Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure

Official plan policies allow municipalities to articulate their vision for sustainable transit- supportive planning that may include:

  • compact and mixed land uses
  • target densities to support public transit
  • highly connected street layout and trails network
  • streetscape standards and pedestrian-friendly design
  • universal accessibility
  • transit nodes and corridors
  • location of employment lands

These policies play a role in achieving outcomes such as:

  • reduced reliance on private vehicles
  • reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • more efficient use of existing land, infrastructure and buildings
  • increased housing and
  • employment opportunities within walking distance of transit
    stops or stations
  • stronger demand for retail and commercial activity near
    transit nodes
  • improved business productivity through improved access to
    work
  • economic health and prosperity

Increase in Height and Density - Section 37

Municipal councils may pass zoning by-laws authorizing increases in height and density above those set out in existing by-laws in return for specified facilities, services or matters. This exchange may include requirements that improve access and quality of public transportation, such as pedestrian easements to transit stations or improvements to transit facilities.

Plan of Subdivision - Section 51

The plan of subdivision process is the primary tool for establishing lot and street patterns that can ensure a well-connected street network to facilitate pedestrian access to transit and to make transit service more efficient and reliable. This process provides opportunities to lay out varied lot sizes that achieve desired densities to support transit service. Plan of Subdivision also provides the power to require land dedications for pedestrian pathways, bicycle pathways, public transit rights-of-way, commuter parking lots and transit stations.

Community Improvement Plans - Section 28

Municipalities may develop community improvement plans aimed at development and redevelopment of targeted areas, in order to support public transit. These plans may take the form of municipally-driven public space, streetscape and infrastructure improvements, or grant or loan incentive programs that stimulate private sector activities (e.g., facade restorations, building retrofits for energy efficiency or the
remediation of contaminated lands in and around existing or planned transit nodes and corridors).

 

An illustration showing 4 dense blocks with a number of buildings of varying heights between 2 and 4 storeys. Two of the blocks have a red boundary around them denoting an area with a plan of subdivision, and the other two have a purple boundary denoting an area with a development permit system. All four blocks have a blue boundary denoting an area with a community improvement plan that has grants and loans available. This shows how a number of tools can be layerd in a single area.

 

Development Permit System (DPS) - Section 70.2 and O.Reg. 608/06

The DPS combines zoning, site plan control and minor variance in a streamlined, single-application process, allowing municipalities to more efficiently facilitate transit-supportive planning and design. The DPS also permits discretionary uses such as restaurants or cafes within a specified distance of transit stops or stations to encourage mixed uses and lively streets.

For more information, see “Development Permit System: A Handbook for Municipal Implementation” at ontario.ca/mah.


Did you know?

Protection of Second Units
Municipalities may adopt official plan policies and zoning by-laws that permit second self-contained dwelling units in detached, semi-detached and row houses. Allowing second units within walking distance of transit supports increased population density and transit ridership.

Tips for Transit-Friendly Communities

A main street with 2 older 2-storey brick buildings. One building has a clocktower with a steepled roof at the corner. There is a public transit bus traveling down the main street. The caption reads that the photo source if from the Ontario Growth Secretariat at the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure.

Photo source: Ontario Growth Secretariat, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure

  • Ensure direct, well-lit, weather-protected pedestrian access and sightlines between transit stops and stations and key destinations to increase comfort and safety
  • Maintain and promote pedestrian-scale streets, clear signage, landscaping and public art around transit stops and stations for improved walkability, way-finding and sense of place
  • Locate parking, loading and access aisles at the rear of buildings to maintain continuous pedestrian-friendly streetscapes
  • Conserve built heritage resources and cultural heritage landscapes
    through pedestrian-scale streets within historical neighbourhoods

Complete Applications

Municipalities may adopt official plan policies that require additional information or material as part of a development proposal. For example, a transportation demand management strategy could be required as part of an application that is located in an identified employment area in order to reduce the demand for single occupant car travel, spread the peak demand for travel and shift transportation choices toward public transit, walking and cycling.

Leading the Way

Some municipalities in Ontario are leading the way by using tools in the Planning Act to guide development in a manner that complements existing or planned transit service. Two examples are:

Region of Waterloo - Community Improvement Plan

The Region of Waterloo has prepared a community improvement plan that directs new development along the region’s Central Transit Corridor (CTC). This is intended to facilitate the consolidation of land along the CTC to stimulate development and support transit through increased densities and land use mix around current and planned transit nodes and corridors.

City of Ottawa - Official Plan

Ottawa’s official plan contains provisions requiring lands within 600 metres of existing or future rapid transit stations to be intensified as compact, mixed-use and pedestrian-friendly places containing a range of medium- to high-density dwelling types. Certain uses are prohibited in these areas, such as sites comprised primarily of outdoor storage and sales, and maximum parking standards are established in order to limit surface parking.


For more information:

Other Resources

Note to User: This Info Sheet deals in summarized fashion with complex matters and reflects legislation, policies and practices that are subject to change. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for specialized legal or professional advice in connection with any particular matter and should not be construed as legal advice by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The user is solely responsible for any use or the application of this information. As such, this Ministry does not accept any legal responsibility for the contents of this Info Sheet or for any consequences, including direct or indirect liability, arising from its use.

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