Todd Litman's blog

Todd Litman is the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
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A Scary Story for Planners

Let me tell you a scary story that you can use to frighten fellow planners at next week’s Halloween party. It’s not just fun and games – this story is true and may cause nightmares.

Faulty Assumptions In The TTI Urban Mobility Report

Once again the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) published its annual Urban Mobility Report (UMR), and once again I feel obliged to warn planners that it is based on faulty assumptions and biased analysis methods. This is not to deny that traffic congestion is a significant problem, but the UMR significantly exaggerates its importance compared with other transport costs and exaggerates roadway expansion benefits.

Risk Versus Dread: Implications for Planners; or Let's Not Let The Terrorists Win

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance– President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932

This being the decade anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks, it seems a good time to consider how our society responds to such threats, and what planners can do to maximize safety.

Evaluating Smart Growth Benefits and Costs

This is the third in a series of columns that respond to recent claims by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) that smart growth policies are ineffective and harmful. The first was, An Inaccurate Attack On Smart Growth, followed by Land Use Impacts On Travel: Current State of Knowledge. This examines smart growth benefits and costs.

Integrated Planning for Community Health and Safety

Automobile travel imposes significant health risks. Traffic fatality rates, obesity and related illnesses such as diabetes, and total air pollution emissions tend to increase with per capita annual vehicle mileage. These risks help explain why United States residents have significantly shorter life spans than peer countries: average longevity is almost 1.5 years below the OECD average, despite spending about 2.5 times as much per capita on healthcare.

Land Use Impacts On Travel: Current State of Knowledge

As discussed in my previous column, An Inaccurate Attack On Smart Growth, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) sponsored a research program intended to raise doubts about smart growth’s ability to reduce vehicle travel, conserve energy and reduce pollution emissions.

An Inaccurate Attack On Smart Growth

Note: This column was originally titled, "A Stupid Attack on Smart Growth," intended as a pun on 'smart' and 'stupid.' However, that sounds harsh so I retitled it. - T.L.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has a well-financed campaign to discourage communities from considering smart growth as a possible way to conserve energy and reduce pollution emissions. They contend that compact development has little effect on travel activity and so provides minimal benefits. The NAHB states that, “The existing body of research demonstrates no clear link between residential land use and GHG emissions.” But their research actually found the opposite: it indicates that smart growth policies can have significant impacts on travel activity and emissions.

Dagwood Should Be Fat, Sick and Impoverished

By all logic, the comic strip character Dagwood should be fat, sick and impoverished due to his gluttonous eating, sedentary habits, and automobile-dependent lifestyle. Blondie should worry about his high blood pressure and clogged arteries, and the Bumsteads should struggle to bear rising automobile expenses. Yet they are all thin, healthy and financially secure, protected from all consequences of indulgent consumerism.

 

Planners' Sacred Trust

Most professions have special responsibilities to society. Physicians are expected to observe the Hippocratic oath. Police officers must apply the law fairly and refrain from abusing their power. Lawyers and accountants are expected to offer accurate advice and protect client confidentiality.

And planners? We have a special responsibility to consider all perspectives and impacts. When evaluating public policy questions most people ask selfishly, “How does this affect me?” Planners, in contrast, should ask selflessly, “How does this affect the community, particularly disadvantaged and underrepresented groups?”

A War On Cars? Let There Be Peace!

Our job as planners is ultimately to manage change, which is often fun but occasionally ugly. A good example is a current debate over a supposed “war against the car.”

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