Todd Litman's blog

Todd Litman is the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
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Land-Use Regulation, Income Inequality and Smart Growth

A recent paper by Harvard economists Daniel Shoag and Peter Ganong titled, Why Has Regional Convergence in the U.S. Stopped? indicates that land development regulations tend to increase housing costs, which contributes to inequality by excluding lower-income households from more economically productive urban regions. Does this means that planners are guilty of increasing income inequality?

The Ecological Value of Lawns

I appreciate natural environments. I have always enjoyed walking in wilderness and cycling on rural roads, and I understand the ecological value provided by undeveloped lands, which include clean water, air and wildlife habitat. I also enjoy local fresh vegetables and fruits and so appreciate the value of preserving regional farmlands. Planners call these "greenspace," or more generally "openspace" since some, such as deserts and waterways, are open but not necessarily green.

New Understanding of Traffic Congestion

Congratulations to this year's high school, college and university graduates! The current crop includes our son, who was recruited by a major corporation. The location of his new job will affect his travel patterns and therefore the transportation costs he bears and imposes for the next few years: until now he could get around fine by walking, cycling and public transport, but his new worksite is outside the city center, difficult to access except by automobile. As a result he will spend a significant portion of his new income to purchase and operate a car, and contribute to traffic congestion, parking costs and pollution. This is an example of how land use decisions, such as where corporations locate their offices, affects regional transport patterns and costs.

Choosing Ignorance is Stupid

People love statistics. They let us understanding the world beyond our own senses. USA Today publishes a daily Snapshot which presents a graph of random statistics. Sports talk and business analysis are dominated by statistics. We measure our progress, or lack thereof, and compare ourselves with others, based on statistics about our size, activities and accomplishments.

Avoiding Undesirable Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Planners strive to anticipate future needs, which sometimes creates self-fulfilling prophecies: by preparing for a situation we help cause it. This is particularly true of automobile dependency. Planning decisions intended to accommodate automobile travel can create a cycle of increased vehicle travel, more automobile-oriented planning, and reduced alternatives. This concept is conveyed brilliantly in the cartoon below, drawn by transportation engineer Ian Lockwood and published in the March 2012 ITE Journal.

Avoiding Logical Fallacies in Planning

Our profession relies on logical analysis of accurate data. There are an amazing number of ways to go wrong.

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.).

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