High Rise Apartments Reduce Traffic Congestion

By Mike Chopowick, September 24, 2015

This summer, Sault Ste. Marie Council approved a new 25-unit apartment building. At a public meeting, the scene played out identically to what we see in any community where a new high-density residential development is being proposed.

“Neighbourhood residents had voiced several concerns over the proposal, stating it would lead to increased noise and traffic in the area”, read the news story in Sootoday.com.[1]

Sault Ste. Marie may as well be Toronto, where a new 80-unit mid-rise development is facing the same opposition from its future neighbours. “The proposed project is too tall and will create traffic congestion”, say homeowners who gave themselves the peculiar name of the “Density Creep Neighborhood Alliance”.[2]

The flaw in these types of NIMBY arguments is that, beyond the usual hyperbole of “traffic concerns”, there is no evidence that a new high-rise apartment building worsens traffic congestion. In fact, the evidence we do have shows the opposite. Multi-family buildings get more people out of their cars, and into public transit, while also boosting commuting by bicycle and walking.

The gridlock of suburban drivers commuting to Toronto is a familiar sight

The gridlock of suburban drivers commuting to Toronto is a familiar sight

Higher density residential buildings are the solution to traffic congestion. Sprawling tracts of low-density suburban single-family houses may, in fact, be the problem.

FRPO first confirmed this in our 2012 report, “Apartment Living is Green”, where we showed that apartment residents have an average 10km shorter commute than those in houses, and renters are 32% less likely to use a car and 150% more likely to use public transit.

Mississauga, a suburban city west of Toronto, recently confirmed this trend, where public transit use by those who live in high rise apartments is almost double that of single-family home residents.

Source: City of Mississauga, Census and National Household Series no.1, June 2015
CLICK TO ENLARGE – Source: City of Mississauga, Census and National Household Series no.1, June 2015

The trend is catching on in cities like Vancouver, where single-family home neighbourhoods are being re-zoned to allow for higher density residential developments to help encourage public transit use[3]. Many urban communities are being rated for their “walk-scores” and “transit-scores”, which allow residents to avoid using a car as much as possible[4]. Tenants can even go to a website like walkscore.com and pick an apartment based on its walkability to employment and shopping activities. Some buildings in Toronto score 99/100!

As many transportation planners will tell you, the solution to reducing congestion is counterintuitive to most people: wider highways and low density sprawl results in more people having to commute longer distances by car. High density development, with smaller, more “human scale” streets encourages walking, biking and public transit use[5]. Soon, if not already, traffic congestion will be much worse in Toronto’s “905” suburbs than in the “416” core (where 49% of the population happens to live in rental apartments, compared just 8% in adjacent cities, like Vaughan, to the north of Toronto).

Denser development closer to urban centres locates more residents closer to their jobs, and cuts down commuting distances and encourages public transit use. Some people always protest change, and perhaps don’t like to see old homes replaced by newer apartments. But, if reducing traffic congestion is really the true concern, then they should be supporting new high-rise residential construction, not opposing it.


 

  1. Taylor, Darren. “Concerns remain over apartment project”, SooToday, July 14, 2015.
  2. Krishnan, Manisha. “Midtowners battle the rise of the midrise”, Toronto Star May 25, 2015.
  3. Lee-Young, Joanne. “Density drives Vancouver land assembly gold rush”, Vancouver Sun, April 23, 2015.
  4. Stribling, Dees. “Walkable apartments near their places of work are prized by Millennials and those Baby Boomers who want to be Downtown again”, BISnow National, September 17, 2015
  5. Bellamy, Brent. “Bigger roads mean more traffic: City hall must rethink pricey street expansions”, Winnipeg Free Press, May 4, 2015.