The Walkable City – Toronto – New Research

Last week, Toronto Public Health released a new report, The Walkable City: Neighbourhood Design and Preferences, Travel Choices and Health. This report highlights the Toronto-specific findings from a residential preferences survey conducted by Larry Frank, Jim Chapman, and their team at Urban Design 4 Health.  The survey is a CLASP and Healthy Canada by Design project funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC) and supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Region of Peel Public Health, Toronto Public Health, Fraser Health, and Vancouver Coastal Health.

The study, which was directed at the Greater Vancouver Region District (GVRD) and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), is the first of its kind in Canada. It examined the preferences of residents for different neighbourhood features which make them more or less walkable; features such as lot size, mixed housing, proximity to shops,  transit stops, and parks, and the size of street blocks.  It also examined the travel choices of residents; how often they walk, ride bicycles, drive their cars, and use transit.  These travel choices were compared against the walkability of the neighbourhoods of survey participants, and against the preferences of survey participants for walkable or auto-oriented neighbourhoods.

The study found a strong preference for walkable neighbourhoods in the GTA, with those preferences strongest within the City of Toronto.  It found a strong preference for most walkable neighbourhood features within the City of Toronto and a split in preferences for neighbourhood features among survey participants from the outer GTA.  The study found a strong latent demand among those who live in auto-oriented neighbourhood for more walkable neighbourhood features, particularly to have shops and services within close proximity of one’s home.

The survey also found that the walkability of a neighbourhood is directly associated with an increase in walking for utilitarian purposes, an increase in walking for all purposes, and an increase in transit use, and inversely associated with the frequency of vehicle use and vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) each week.  It also suggested an inverse relationship between neighbourhood walkability and the Body Mass Index (BMI) (an indicator of weight) but this relationship was not statistically significant. 

In the City of Toronto, where the walkability of current neighbourhoods was evaluated using the Walkability Index and GIS, the study found that, relative to survey participants who live in the least walkable neighbourhoods, survey participants in the most walkable neighbourhoods:

  • walk for utilitarian reasons 2.7 times as often each week;
  • use transit 2.5 times as often;
  • use their car 4 times less often; and
  • drive 6 times fewer kilometres each week.

In addition, this study found that, across the GTA, neighbourhood design, as well as neighbourhood preference, was associated with travel choices of residents.  Those with a preference for walkable and auto-oriented neighbourhoods were found to walk more, use transit more, and drive less, when they live in walkable neighbourhooods.  And those who prefer walkable neighbourhoods were found to walk more, use transit more, and drive less, than those who prefer auto-oriented neighbourhoods, when they live in walkable neighbourhoods.

The study adds Canadian evidence to a growing body of literature which suggests that neighbourhood design affects the levels of physical activity, the transit use, and the VKT by residents in a community.  It, along with the other studies, suggests that there can be considerable long-term health benefits associated with the creation of walkable and transit supportive neighbourhoods.   It also suggests that these neighbourhoods could produce significant air quality, climate and traffic congestion benefits.

Toronto Public Health. (2012). The Walkable City: Neighbourhood Design and Preferences, Travel Choices and Health. Prepared by Perrotta, Campbell, Chirrey, Frank and Chapman.

Frank, Chapman, Kershaw and Kavage. Urban Design 4 Health.  (2012)  City and Regional Residential Preferences Survey Results for Toronto and Vancouver:  A CLASP Final Report.  March 2012.

Prepared by Kim Perrrotta


  1. This is a great point that I have been noticing for awhile since most of my business is in condos in the New Orleans Warehouse District and Uptown New Orleans. We are worlds away in prices and types of places; people are looking for smaller places, more carfree; they have business and travel on their minds. Our area just gets recycled every 40-50 years and trends change peoples lifestyles. Its too bad our leaders cannot see what we see.

  2. I believe that walk score is cool, but noywdaas more and more people prefer to drive cars. Homes are often located in an area where some establishments are easier to get to by car than on foot. I’ve recently found a type of service on which is called Drive Score. It shows a map of what establishments are in your neighborhood and calculates a Drive Score based on the number of places within a convenient driving distance. It doesn’t mean that drive score is better than walk score – they are equal and both necessary in the modern world!

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