York Region and GTA traffic Map
York Region Transit Map

I spend a lot of time talking to clients, especially investors, about proximity. It’s a theme, quite possibly the most major theme, in the “drive til you qualify” equation. I’m operating on the assumption that I needn’t bore you with the details of the difference in affordability of markets like Richmond Hill or Markham, Aurora or Newmarket vs. Georgina or Bradford.

That being said, I thought it’d be prudent to illustrate why people don’t have a problem moving to affordable markets, beyond the economic motivation. A lot of people can’t stomach living north of Bloomington, and heaven forbid Green Lane, because it’s still a farmer’s field in their mind. The interesting part about living north of Bloomington in a post-404-at-Ravenshoe-world is that you might as well live all the way up. (as long as you’re comfortable with telling your friends you live in Keswick, of course.)

Three sample drives are illustrated here. Keep in mind this is independent of rush-hour traffic, which only exacerbates the point I’m trying to make here.

  1. Thornlodge Drive (Simcoe Landing) Keswick, Georgina, Ontario to the 407.
    Total drive time: 26 minutes, total distance: 43 km
    Average House Price: $550,000
  2. Woodspring Avenue, Newmarket, Ontario to the 407.
    Total drive time: 25 minutes, total distance: 34.6 km
    Average House Price: $950,000
  3. Mill Street, Aurora, Ontario to the 407.
    Total drive time: 19 minutes, total distance: 25.0 km
    Average House Price: $1,250,000

If you live in a highly developed area near Yonge Street in Richmond Hill, Aurora, or Newmarket, you’ll actually spend close to as much time in the car as you would if you lived in the south end of Georgina, such as Simcoe Landing. Furthermore, the traffic sensitivity of major thoroughfares is positively correlated to population density. You get more traffic in denser areas (novel conclusion, right?). Setting aside any economic advantages, what many clients and investors have realized, is that there’s really no major advantage beyond two things:

  1. the availability of commercial services and retail amenities.
  2. the total number of kilometres travelled

Everything in life is a trade-off or an exchange of value. Let’s really break this down simply. I’ve modeled this out more thoroughly but this may make things extremely explicit. If you live in Aurora vs. Keswick, in an absolute worst-case with 2x the kilometres, you need to spend twice the amount on gas, and replace your vehicle twice as often. Let’s assume you own your home for 10 years and a vehicle life is 5 years, and you buy an average car, for maybe $50,000. You drive 50,000km/year (which is obscene) at the government-rated $0.40/km, meaning wear and tear (although already factored in to vehicle replacement) and fuel will give you a car-ownership cost of $20,000/year (still obscene). So, it’ll cost you $250,000 more to live in Keswick for 10 years than Aurora. Chop that off the average house price in Aurora, and you’re still winning by $450,000, from a purely utilitarian perspective.

Another important variable to examine is the evolution of planning and the built-form environment and its gravitation towards high-volume infrastructure as a relief for municipal or regional roads. It does seem a bit like an afterthought to me that we’re only now pushing our residential towards the provincial highway system. I guess hindsight is 2020, not 2019.  Perhaps it was impossible to forecast the 1.5 cars per household Canada would get to, or that nobody would be riding their bikes to work in an ice storm. Perhaps we realized it was a mistake to designate all the interchanges to industrial uses and prioritize product logistics over human capital. I really don’t know, but I do know that vehicle automation is going to decide for us. Highway-oriented development is great, and we’re seeing it in areas like Aurora, Newmarket, Markham, Richmond Hill around the 404, and it’s working, it’s sufficiently attacking the excess demand on regional and municipal roads.

 

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