Wasted density? The impact of Toronto’s residential-density-distribution policies on public-transit use and walking

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

land use - urban density, land use - urban design, mode - mass transit, mode - pedestrian, place - north america


Toronto, public transit, walking, residential density


Although the Toronto metropolitan region performs well relative to its North American counterparts in terms of density and public-transit use, it does not derive as much walking and public-transit patronage benefit from its high-residential-density areas as it could. The impact of residential density on journey patterns is limited by an imperfect juxtaposition of density and public-transit service peaks. Another impediment is the difficulty of associating density with other variables needed for it to translate into increased walking and public-transit modal shares. We attribute this situation to insufficient planning capacity owing in large part to generalized neighbourhood opposition to high-density residential developments and disagreement between levels of government. In this paper we both narrate events of relevance to the distribution of high residential density over the last five decades and analyze present relationships between high-density areas and journey patterns. We conclude by discussing the possibility of achieving residential-density layouts and distributions that are more conducive to walking and public-transit use than the tower-in-the-park model and the scattering of high-density pockets, both of which predominate in Toronto.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Environment and Planning, copyright remains with them.