I want to begin my rebuttal by expressing my condolences to the Antiplanner, Randal O’Toole, for the pain and suffering he endured reading more than seventy metropolitan transportation plans. It is quite a price to pay for insight. I am happy he survived the ordeal, although it seems Mr. O’Toole may now be suffering from an intellectual form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that has biased him against planning. I’m gently teasing, but let me offer some "treatment".
I don’t know what will happen on my way home from work today. I may be killed in a car accident. I may stop and help a woman deliver a baby on the side of the road. Or I may stop and buy milk before heading home. Using Antiplanner logic, I should not bother to call home to see if anything is needed at the grocery because I am not sure I’ll even make it home. In contrast, Strong Towns would argue that I should buy life insurance and carry a cell phone for the first two possibilities, but should assume I will make it home for dinner.
To be fair, O’Toole has indicated that he is not opposed to short-term planning. But short-term planning is an oxymoron commonly known as “reacting”. The fact that we don’t know what will happen in twenty years is the exact reason we should plan.
We agree that the current state of public planning is dismal. I fully believe Mr. O’Toole when he says the plans he read did not do a good job of evaluating alternatives. That is our experience as well. This means we need to reform our approach to planning, not choose simply to stumble blindly to our future.
The special interests that O’Toole laments are a function of the way we plan. The standard approach lines up all of these interests and then seeks to appease each. The result is generally a perpetuation of the status quo (largely, more auto-based infrastructure) with the occasional “innovation”, like a rail line through a low-density suburb. Neither one is an accurate response to market signals.
The solution is to open up the planning process, make federal projects more “national” in nature and give local governments more flexibility and responsibility for the financial ramifications of their transportation choices. Some interesting examples:
- New Urbanist Planner and Architect Andres Duany has proposed a method of soliciting public input using the jury pool to create a random sample of the population, providing a “community voice” that is given equal standing next to special interests.
- Republican Newt Gingrich has argued that the federal government should get away from local projects and focus on “mega-projects” instead, such as regional high-speed rail connections.
- Robert Puentes of Brookings has suggested methods to fund transportation that would more accurately reflect market preferences, such as replacing the gas tax with a mileage tax.
Long-range transportation planning has an important function in building a strong America. We should do it better, not abandon it altogether.
As a final thought, but not an afterthought, I again want to express my gratitude to Randal O’Toole, the Antiplanner, for the opportunity to debate on this topic.