Introducing Todd Litman

Todd Litman's picture
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Greetings from Victoria, British Columbia!

Let me introduce myself as a Planetizen blogger. I am the founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independant research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems. Much of my work involves improving the way we incorporate social and environmental values into transportation decision making. This is often called "sustainable transportation". This line of research leads to a wide range of interesting issues, including transportation equity analysis, smart growth planning, comprehensive evaluation of alternative modes (walking, cycling, ridesharing, public transit, carsharing, etc.), parking management, and various types of mobility management (also called "Transportation Demand Management"), which includes various policies and programs that change travel behavior in order to increase transport system efficiency.

Much of my theoretical research investigates what transport and land use system could be considered socially optimal, that is, would provide the greatest overall benefits. Our current transport and land use markets are distorted in various ways which reduce people's accessibility and land use options, underprice motorized travel, and encourage dispersed development patterns, such as planning practices that undervalue nonmotorized travel and public transit services (leading to underinvestment in these modes), free and bundled parking (which forces people to pay for parking indirectly), uncompensated external costs of travel (including congestion, accident and pollution impacts imposed on others), restrictive zoning codes which reduces density and mix, and development charges and utility fees that fail to account for the higher costs of providing public services in more dispersed locations, and therefore fails to provide financial incentives for smarter growth development patterns. Although individually these market distortions may seem modest and acceptable, their impacts are cumulative and synergistic; together they significantly increase total vehicle ownership and use beyond what consumers would choose if transportation and land use markets were more efficient and fair, and as a result they increase total transportation costs. Many transportation problems are virtually unsolvable without market reforms. For example, urban traffic congestion will not be solved without significant increases in travel options and pricing, and non-drivers will continue to be significantly disadvantaged compared with drivers without fundamental changes in transport and land use planning practices.

This is actually good news, I believe, becuase it indicates that we CAN solve many problems in ways that provide multiple benefits. For example, reforming parking planning practices not only helps reduce parking problems, it also helps reduce traffic congestion and air pollution problems. Similarly, congestion pricing not only reduces congestion problems, it can also help reduce parking and traffic accident problems. I have identified a number of Win-Win Transportation Solutions which are policy reforms justified on market principles which increase transport system efficiency and help acheive multiple planning objectives.

The challenge we face is to show people that they can actually be better off driving less and relying more on alternative modes and more accessible land use patterns, and to create policies that help increase transport and land use efficiency. I'm looking forward to exploring these issues in this blog.

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

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