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In Senate committee hearing, advocates link transportation and land use, discredit O'Toole | Congress for the New Urbanism

In Senate committee hearing, advocates link transportation and land use, discredit O'Toole

Streetsblog's Ryan Avent does an excellent job analyzing yesterday's hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Going into the debate about national climate and transportation policy, it's important that those in favor of a new direction for our country's built space emphasize the crucial link between sustainable transportation and mixed-use urban form to lawmakers. Thankfully, yesterday's witnesses appeared to do just that. Here's what Streetsblog says:

The committee heard from five witnesses, one of which was Cato Institute fellow O'Toole. Also invited were Michael Replogle of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, Rutgers University urban planning professor Clinton Andrews, West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon, and Ernest Tollerson of the New York City MTA.

O'Toole aside, the witnesses largely agreed in their recommendations: New transit investments are absolutely necessary for economic and environmental reasons, but most of the benefits from such investments will be missed without tight integration between transportation investment and land use planning.

Randal O'Toole, in his work for the Cato Institute, has consistently been a friend of the sprawl-promoting establishment. Hence it was both shocking and relieving to see his often-groundless claims rebuffed not only by the other witnesses but also by the legislators themselves:

Neither were the witnesses the only ones to hit back at the Cato fellow. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) icily noted that the last transportation bill included some $200 billion for highways. "That's a subsidy," he said.

Replogle piled on, noting that the failure to toll crowded roads appropriately or charge for "free" parking constituted yet another massive subsidy to drivers, encouraging auto-oriented land use patterns.

O'Toole fired back, arguing that those touting the benefits of transit investment overwhelmingly cited New York City. In his view, it appeared, transit is vital to New York but irrelevant to all other metropolitan areas in the country.

This seemed to irk Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), whose Northern Virginia constituency is part of a Washington metro area in which over 1.2 million trips are taken on transit every weekday. He countered O'Toole's negative assessment of transit's success rate in shifting land use patterns, citing Arlington County. There, an effort to build densely around Metro's Orange Line has led to population and jobs growth and massive private investment, all without an appreciable increase in congestion.

The backwardness of O'Toole's arguments have been clear to urbanists and planners for quite some time now. CNU member Mike Lewyn debunked his attack on Portland's planning policies back in 2007. But to see national lawmakers confirming the benefits of progressive land use and transportation policies is an encouraging signal about the vitality and prospects of American urban space, both extant and yet to be realized.

Photo: Randal O'Toole, from the Cato Institute.

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