Randal O’Toole is the director of the Independence Institute’s Transportation Policy Center. As the author of The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Will Harm American Cities, O’Toole is a nationally recognized expert on urban land-use and transportation issues.
O’Toole spent the first fifteen years of his career as a forest economist helping environmentalists oppose wasteful below-cost timber sale programs on the national forests. When O’Toole began working on this issue in the late 1970s, the Forest Service was selling 11 billion board feet of timber a year and losing money on most of it. By the late-1990s, national forest sales had declined to 2 billion board feet per year, and part of this reduction is due to O’Toole’s work.
O’Toole’s 1988 book, Reforming the Forest Service, showed that most national forest controversies result from a budgetary process that rewards Forest Service managers for losing money on environmentally destructive activities. O’Toole proposed free-market reforms of the national forests to give managers incentives to produce things that people want, without tax subsidies, instead of using subsidies to produce things that people don’t want.
O’Toole is an avid cyclist who has never commuted to work by car as well as the owner of two Belgian Turveren, with whom he walks several miles a day. So when planners came to the Portland suburb of Oak Grove in 1995, promising to make it easier for residents to walk and bicycle more, O’Toole wondered what they meant.
It turned out that they wanted to quadruple the population density of O’Toole’s neighborhood with minimum-density zoning, meaning that if someone’s house burned down they would be required to replace it with apartments. O’Toole and his neighbors successfully stopped this plan, but Oak Grove was the only one of three dozen Portland-area neighborhoods that had been targeted for densification that escaped the planners’ wrecking ball.
This led O’Toole to research the issues behind urban planning, New Urbanism, and so-called smart growth. Since then, O’Toole has helped people fight smart growth and light-rail transit in California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, and several other states.
“O’Toole is an articulate skeptic who marshals a formidable array of facts and figures to argue against the major tenets of smart growth,” says the American Planning Association. “He lambasts planners’ attempts to limit personal freedom and contends that few Americans freely choose the ’smart-growth lifestyle.’”
In 1998, Yale University named O’Toole its McCluskey Conservation Fellow, and he designed and taught a course there titled Incentive-Based Conservation, which offered free-market solutions to a variety of environmental problems. In 1999, the University of California at Berkeley invited O’Toole to teach the same course, which was repeated in 2001. In 2000, O’Toole served as the Merrill Visiting Professor at Utah State University.
Newsweek listed O’Toole first among twenty “leading movers and shakers in the West.” O’Toole is also the recipient of the Oregon Environmental Council’s Neuberger Award for Service to the Conservation Movement and the Oregon Natural Resources Council’s David Simon’s Award for Vision.