Municipality Clusters for Regional Transit

It’s all very well to design transit networks that service a city. Time and time again, we’ve seen such systems promote equity, accessibility, increased walkability, decreased traffic and less air pollution, to name a few things.

But, in so many places across North America (and the world really) a lot of travel is done in the morning and the evening as people commute between municipalities in order to get to work. That’s millions of cars on the freeway.

And if you are among these millions, you would know that this more often than not means being stuck in traffic.

And, let’s be real. No one wants to sit in commuter traffic.

The solution? Just like the humble bus can save city streets, it too can save the congested freeway.

How? Leveraging something I propose calling municipality clusters.

This is Part 1 in a series about ideas for designing effective regional transit systems.

A municipality cluster is a group of towns, townships, cities or villages that people frequently commute between on a daily basis. There are two kinds of municipality clusters

  1. A bunch of municipalities that are roughly the same size.
  2. One “main” city surrounded by smaller settlements.

The whole idea of a municipality cluster is pretty similar to what we in Canada call census metropolitan areas (CMAs) or census agglomerations (CAs). Census metropolitan areas are based on a densely populated core and less densely populated surrounding areas that share the same infrastructure and local economy.

A CA on the other hand is basically a smaller version of a CMA. It has 10,000 to 100,000 people, whereas a CMA has over 100,000.

Now, because CMAs and CAs share a local economy, people will frequently drive back and forth between the individual municipalities within it for work.

For instance, if you live in Ajax, Ontario, you live in the Toronto CMA and so you might work in Toronto because it’s a close and significant economic hub.

Most of the time, CMAs are the same as municipality clusters. But, the reason they aren’t interchangeable is because CMAs are mutually exclusive in that no municipality belongs to two metropolitan areas. However, municipality clusters are not mutually exclusive — one township or village can belong to many different municipality clusters (usually only two or three).

The prime example of this is the Ottawa-Gatineau CMA. The metropolitan center (Ottawa) is surrounded by a bunch of smaller municipalities, one of which is a township called North Grenville. About 56% of the North Grenville labour force commutes to Ottawa for work on a daily basis. So, for this reason, North Grenville could also be the same municipality cluster as Ottawa.

However, 3% of the North Grenville workforce commutes to a township called Brockville. Although this percentage is small, it is the third most commuted spot for residents of North Grenville (a few hundred cars on the road), so it could also be in the same municipal cluster as Brockville. But, Brockville is not in the same CMA as Ottawa or North Grenville — it is it’s own CA.

So, in order to figure out what is in a municipality cluster, we can start by looking at CMAs and CAs — but that has to be paired with commute data.

In municipality clusters of the first form (like Toronto), cities are already pretty good at having intermunicipal transit lines. Their city centers are relatively intertwined and people go in as well as out to work in each city.

So, in cases like this, sometimes it’s just easier to combine the transit networks into one.

But, some municipality clusters will be of the second form (like Ottawa) where there is a noticeably larger city center surrounded by smaller municipalities. Because these surrounding municipalities seem pretty insignificant relative to the size of the main city, no one thinks to put in inter-municipal transit.

Public transit should extend to those other municipalities. Because although they might seem small and insignificant, they still house thousands of people who need to be moved.

But yes, it doesn’t merit a total merge of transit systems. All that really needs to be shared is the specific line that takes people between the two.

So, for instance, going back to the North Grenville example, in my redesigning of the Ottawa BRT system, we came up with the C2 line which takes people from the city center to the Barrhaven suburb. This line could be extended even further south along the Veterans Memorial Highway until it intercepts North Grenville providing a direct way for residents of North Grenville to get to and from work in the mornings.

Light Green — C2 line, Dark Green — Extension

Now, of course the obvious question is who is responsible for this? Well, first off, the extended line doesn’t have to run all day — it only really has to run in the mornings and in the afternoons to take people to and from work. It can be done by a partnership between whatever municipalities are on either end.

Intermunicipal transit is perhaps just as important as municipal transit and the way to implement is among what I propose calling “municipality clusters”.

In cases where these clusters revolve around a significantly larger city, extend certain city wide lines so that they reach the other municipalities in it’s municipality cluster. Alternatively, if all municipalities within the cluster are equally popular destinations, you might just be able to intermesh the whole transit network.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll be talking about line segmentation!

Activator at The Knowledge Society | A Sandwich or Two Founder