Linking Transport and Land Use Planning to Achieve a Better City with Todd Litman

Linking Transport and Land Use Planning to Achieve a Better City with Todd Litman
September 19, 2017 Jordan Roberts

Tuesday 19 September, 2017
Kindly hosted by EY

“Paradise is not a distant destination – it is something we create in our own communities” stated public transport expert Todd Litman, Founder and Executive Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (Canada), as he addressed Committee members and stakeholders on Tuesday evening. Held in EY’s spectacular offices, Todd demonstrated the many benefits of more compact, multi-modal urban development, how this directly benefits households and how we can use Smart Growth to achieve more diverse, efficient and equitable communities.

Todd believes that the terminology of sustainability is viewed too narrowly as referring to environmental concerns, when in fact sustainability in cities is all about the ‘integrated nature of human activities and therefore the need to coordinate planning among different sectors, jurisdictions and groups’. Much of Todd’s work centres around the idea of smart growth, that is, the creation of places that are compact, accessible and multi-modal.

A critical lesson to take from Todd’s work is how to properly appraise the costs and benefits of different modes of transport so that transport analysis is truly multi-modal. Under Todd’s comprehensive analysis, which can be contrasted with conventional transport evaluation methods used in the past, many of the costs of automobile-oriented communities were overlooked, in particular parking costs and vehicle ownership costs. At the same time, many benefits of active and public transport were also overlooked, including consumer savings and health benefits. This, Todd argues, has distorted the market. Encouragingly, Todd did note that Sydney and Australia have been at the forefront of using more multi-modal evaluation methods.

Todd outlined his recipe for multi-modalism, a planning paradigm that recognises that an efficient and equitable transportation system must be diverse in order to respond to diverse demands. His recipe for multi-modal transport features:

  • Excellent walking and cycling connections
  • Complete and connected streets
  • Efficient and accessible public transport
  • Adequate carsharing, taxi and ridehailing serbices
  • Sufficient density and housing diversity to support these services

Using recent research from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Todd unpacked how understanding the benefits of density, along with integrated transport and spatial planning can lead to better outcomes for our city and greater community buy-in on major projects. He noted that governments in America with larger rail transit systems had lower costs for maintenance over the long term, and similarly that households in cities with developed public transport networks had significantly lower costs of living than those that are car based. Importantly for Sydney, a sprawling city, Todd noted that living in more dense, better connected locations is often cheaper in the long run, as the cost savings from using public and active transport outweigh higher prices for housing.

Todd then discussed the importance of public transport to economic opportunity and social mobility. As more accessible, multi-modal locations increase the number of jobs available to potential workers, living in an accessible, mixed-income neighbourhood increases economic mobility (the chance that a child born in poverty will become economically successful as an adult). In addition, more compact development tends to increase the efficiency of providing public infrastructure and services.

Todd finished his speech by outlining the importance of providing the public with positive messages when discussing higher densities and infrastructure investment. The communication of benefits to specific stakeholders – in local terms not just in a city-wide sense – helps to increase community buy-in, as does comparing the impacts of infrastructure on a per capita basis.

It was impossible to cover Todd’s research and knowledge in a keynote speech, and we encourage you to delve into his extensive written work on innovative and practical solutions to transportation problems.


Our thanks to the organisations who sponsored Todd’s visit, Transport for NSW, NSW Department of Planning & Environment, EY and Arup. It is with your help that we continue to bring the world’s best and brightest to inform policy in Sydney.