Ontario’s New Provincial Policy Statement Prioritizes Active Transportation but Misses the Mark on Complete Streets

The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) is a policy first released in 1996 by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) that links the provincial Planning Act to Official Plans developed by municipalities. It is reviewed every five years.

A new version of the PPS was released on February 25, 2014. For the first time, within this overarching policy that governs all provincial land use decisions, the term “active transportation” is introduced (replacing “alternative transportation modes” in previous versions.)  Other notable changes are:

Of the above, perhaps the most significant change is the word “shall” regarding the inclusion of active transportation in land use planning ( The PPS is quite clear and transparent about the different types of language it uses and how they are to be applied. “There is some discretion when applying a policy with enabling or supportive language in contrast to a policy with a directive, limitation or prohibition.” (PPS, 2014: 2) Directive language uses words such as “shall” whereas enabling or supportive language includes words like “should,” “promote” and “encourage.”

While the new PPS is improved from previous versions, unfortunately the specific recommendations that TCAT and other groups made on more than two separate occasions (Oct 29, 2010 and Nov 23 2012) were largely ignored. TCAT’s primary criticism of previous versions of the PPS was the lack of directive language (e.g. use of the word “should” rather than “shall” or “will”) for planning for pedestrians and cyclists. In the transportation section of the PPS, while the use of the term “active transportation” is an improvement, it is still only referred to as a transportation mode that “should be promoted” rather than using directive language to ensure it is supported.

To insert the strong, direct language that is needed to ensure that municipalities plan streets for walking and cycling, TCAT recommended that MMAH adopt a policy statement requiring the adoption of both provincial and municipal Complete Streets policies. These are policies that ensure that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire street network for road users, including cyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. The best Complete Streets policies include a clear statement of intent that multiple users “shall” or “must” be included in all transportation projects.

In 2012, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario made similar recommendations. First in the Cycling Death Review and subsequently in the Pedestrian Death Review, the Coroner’s #1 recommendation was directed toward the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) and MMAH that a Complete Streets approach be adopted in the redevelopment of existing communities and the creation of new communities.

While the new PPS includes some positive changes to support and promote the use of active transportation, it misses the mark in providing clear direction to municipalities to adopt a Complete Streets approach to transportation planning.

Posted On: March 19, 2014