Todd Litman's blog

Todd Litman is the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
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Debating Smart Growth

Last Thursday I debated the merits of smart growth with ‘Anti-planner’ Randal O'Toole at a community forum in Langley, a rapidly-growing suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia. A recording of the Debate and presenters' slide shows are available at www.southfraser.net/2012/02/smart-growth-debate-media.htmlAt the end more than three quarters of the audience voted for a pro-smart-growth resolution. This may reflect some selection bias – people concerned about sprawl may have been more likely to attend – but I believe that given accurate information most citizens will support smart growth due to its various savings and benefits.  

Smart growth sometimes faces organized opposition by critics. It is important that planners respond effectively and professionally. Here is my critique of O'Toole’s claims and some advice for planners who face similar critics. 

Optimal Transport Policy For An Uncertain Future

As I write this column (2 February) the U.S. House Transportation Committee is debating changes in H.R. 3864, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, which will determine future federal transportation policy.

Yes, We Can Have a Healthy Environment and Economic Development: Reconciling Conflicting Planning Objectives

I am sorry to report that, Canada, my chosen country (I immigrated here in 1993), recently withdrew from the Kyoto Accord, which sets international climate change emission reduction targets. It’s worth noting that this decision was made by the ruling Conservative Party which received less than 40% of total votes, but the other four parties split the more progressive votes and are unable to form a coalition, resulting in federal policies that are far more politically conservative than the average Canadian would prefer.

New Understanding of Pricing Impacts on Travel

Bad planning simply extrapolates past trends: “We experienced 2% annual growth during the last decade, so we’ll assume that will continue into the future.” Good planning attempts to understand underlying factors that affect change. Such is the case with the price elasticity of vehicle travel, that is, the changes in vehicle travel caused by a change in transport prices (fuel, parking, tolls, insurance, etc.).

The Value of Transportation Enhancements; Or, Are Walking and Cycling Really Transportation?

An important current policy debate concerns whether the next U.S. federal surface transportation reauthorization should require spending on “enhancements,” which finance projects such as walkways, bike paths, highway landscaping and historic preservation. This issue receives considerable attention, despite the fact that enhancements represent less than 2% of total federal surface transportation expenditures, because it raises questions about future transport priorities, particularly the role of walking and cycling. In other words, should non-motorized modes be considered real transportation.

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.

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