The cities of Southern Ontario are doubling down on innovation clusters and commuter rail to help drive the growth of downtown’s and meet the employment and density targets set out in the Places to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
A City of Guelph business case to invest in a two-way urban commuter rail line between the City of Toronto and the cities of Waterloo, Kitchener, and Guelph focuses on supporting and developing innovation clusters.
The business case draws parallels to the Silicon Valley regional economy, which led to the very interesting map above that shows the similar geographic size and scale of both clusters.
The most significant noted difference between the two regions is that Silicon Valley has a two-way commuter rail service, while the Toronto-Waterloo corridor does not.
The City of Guleph argues that to truly compete with Silicon Valley the Province of Ontario must invest in regional transit to improve regional connectivity:
Two-way GO Train service would be a catalyst in converting the current, disconnected startup ecosystems into one large and internationally competitive corridor of innovation. This connected supercluster would have the capacity to compete head-on with not only Silicon Valley, but other global markets. It would generate sufficient productivity and employment gains, and related corporate and personal income tax growth, to finance the capital and operating cost of the required rail infrastructure. It would also accelerate urban intensification and enhance sustainability — both key provincial objectives.
The plans below show that the cities of Guelph, Waterloo, and Kitchener expect that regional rail and the Region of Waterloo’s LRT (ION), which is now under construction, will anchor their city centres and lead to a significant redevelopment of vacant and underutilized land.
(Click the Images to Enlarge)
Why is transit and rail such an important part of the plan to support the innovation clusters?
Planning scholars Daniel Chatman and Robert Noland have shown that there is a strong relationship between wage increases and the availability of transit. Specifically:
“wage increases range from $1.5 million to $1.8 billion per metropolitan area yearly for a 10 per cent increase in transit seats or rail service miles per capita”
As a result the City of Guelph estimates that investing in full-day, two-way regional rail service between Waterloo and Toronto will have a regional impact of $838 million in personal income tax annually. In addition to those benefits it will help these cities develop their downtowns.
Whether that would lead to more vibrant downtown is still a matter of debate. But overall, the business case for improving connections in the region is very compelling and worth exploring.