A Placemaking Journal

Transit Oriented Development: A few notes from Winnipeg BRT

This Monday, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ convened a Transit Oriented Development Summit, to talk about how to make neighbourhoods around Winnipeg’s new Bus Rapid Transit system sing. Right from the start, it was great to see downtown businesses understand that the strength of the spokes adds up to a stronger wheel. Stefano Grande, the head of the BIZ made it simple, “The TOD Summit is sponsored by @DowntownWpgBIZ because it’s good business.”

Mayor Brian Bowman kicked off the summit with strong urbanist insights and a commitment to develop six rapid-transit corridors in Winnipeg by 2030. His address outlined the essentials of placemaking necessary to grow a thriving Winnipeg, better able to meet current market demands.

The BIZ brought in several inspiring international speakers, including John Norquist, former Mayor of Milwaukee and former CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, Antonio Gomez-Palacio, from DIALOG in Toronto, and Eric Backstrom, Edmonton’s senior TOD planner.

A morning plenary by these and local speakers shared several key points, that were fodder for a full day of round table discussions, and finally an evening public forum. Ideas worth remembering, thanks in part to an active Twitter crowd:

Walkable, vibrant neighbourhoods with accessible transit is the key.
-Brian Bowman

Best time to build TOD was 30 years ago. Second best time to build TOD is today. -Councillor Brian Mayes

TOD is about taking risks and building a better city. -Brian Bowman

It’s important to legalize transit oriented development to draw people though an urban experience on the way to transit. -John Norquist

Who should care about transit oriented development? Anyone who wants civilization to endure. -Erik Backstrom

You can’t build a walkable, livable city if you plan around the car.
-John Norquist

TOD is actually illegal around most transit stops across Canada.
-Hazel Borys

Running the gauntlet of your daily errands on your way to your transit stop increases wellbeing. -John Norquist

Cities are the solution. -Antonio Gomez-Palacio

Building transit is about creating a TOD village. -John Norquist

A 6-lane street can move 5,400 people per hour. Dedicate 2 lanes to transit, and that goes up 4x. -Antonio Gomez-Palacio

Congestion is like cholesterol. There’s good and there’s bad and without any, you die. Bad congestion is through trips that do not add value to the neighbourhood. South Korea removed 15 grade-separated highways, because they steal value. Streets add value. -John Norquist

TOD is about adding choices, not about taking them away.
-Antonio Gomez-Palacio

Streets raison d’être: movement of traffic, selling of goods and services, and social interaction of the community. -John Norquist

What is the critical mass of users that I need to sustain the vision that I have? Think this, instead of density. -Antonio Gomez-Palacio

Winnipeg has the potential to become one of the greatest cities on North America, depending on what you do with the TOD choices ahead of you. -John Norquist

Urban mixed use mid rise buildings return to the city about 25 times more revenue per acre than their suburban counterparts. -Hazel Borys

Downtown Winnipeg is already a great TOD. How to repair a few mistakes and enable it elsewhere is the discussion.
-John Norquist

This graphic sums up the day’s conversation about ways to implement these ideas locally:

Check in with Downtown BIZ for a full report soon.

Check in with Downtown BIZ for a full report soon. Thanks to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for sponsoring the event with a great transit-ready venue.

The Wall Street Journal points out that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more than someone who walks to the office, to enjoy the same level of satisfaction. This TOD Summit conversation was largely about putting more offices — and entire villages — around transit stops, instead of parking lots or single uses.

While that satisfaction of walking to work is significant, monetary savings come when we can walk, cycle, or take transit to all of our daily needs. Because our commute makes up less than a fifth of the distance we travel every day, per the Center for Neighborhood Technology, it’s essential that rapid transit doesn’t just connect to our places of work, but also other nodes within the city. It isn’t the cost of driving to work that we’re trying to reduce, but the cost of owning that second (or third!) household car.

A large part of the Winnipeg TOD Summit was having the development, architecture, and planning communities sitting around the same tables and discussing how we might decrease barriers to TOD, and increase incentives. One of the biggest ideas that kept resurfacing was the need to reduce parking minimums to reflect that TOD really will decrease car dependence. Otherwise compact development is priced out of the market.

Other incentives that were strongly supported were changing development by-laws to make the process less of a negotiation and more of a known quantity. Infill development here often takes twice as long as suburban development, mainly because our by-law creates suburban development patterns instead of walkable urbanism. Changing to a TOD overlay zone would make walkability faster, and therefore cheaper.

Monday’s conversations acknowledged that our far-flung suburbs are transit-repellent because of both their placement and suburban formats. The goal is never about getting everyone on the bus, but rather creating transportation choice for those who choose to live in a transit-ready place, reducing congestion for everyone else.

In a recent blog litany of transit impacts, Kaid Benfield notes, “Recently laid-off workers who live far from job centers take longer to find replacement employment than do residents of neighborhoods more convenient to jobs by public transit or car.” While unemployment is exceptionally low in Winnipeg, it’s still a good reminder about how to keep it that way.

Winnipeg has a big reputation for being thrifty, and the biggest difference in consumption patterns between spenders and savers in Canada is transportation – usually whether we are 1-car or 2-car families.

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Hazel Borys

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