May/June 2010

On the Road with Randal O’Toole

For someone writing about the often lamentable state of American transportation, Cato senior fellow Randal O’Toole spends a lot of time on the road. Between January and May, he spoke at more than 30 engagements from Anchorage to Orlando, presenting the case against high speed rail and smart growth policies and promoting the message of greater mobility found in his new book, Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It.

“Congress, the administration, and others are making very important decisions about transportation that will influence how we travel, how we live, and how much we are taxed for many years to come,” O’Toole said. “I want people to be aware of what is happening and help members of the public to have an influence on these decisions.”

O’Toole spoke at Cato in January and at the National Conference of State Legislatures in April. His audiences ranged from populist to Ivy League. In January, he spoke at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, the largest independent bookstore in the world. He addressed a crowd of 250 people at the Racine Tea Party in Racine, Wisconsin, in March. A few weeks later, O’Toole took part in a special panel of the Janus Lecture series at Brown University, where he provided the libertarian perspective to counter co-panelist James Howard Kunstler, a leader in the anti-sprawl movement and author of The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape.

When he wasn’t speaking in person to audiences across the country, O’Toole was talking to the media and writing for newspapers. In January and again in March, he was a featured guest on John Stossel’s Fox Business program.

In March, O’Toole authored a full-page essay for the Wall Street Journal, “Taking the Driver Out of the Car.” Addressing a topic familiar to those who have read Gridlock, O’Toole extolled the benefits of driverless cars. “Driverless cars and trucks will be safer,” he wrote. “They will also be greener, first by significantly reducing congestion, and eventually because vehicles will be lighter in weight due to reduced collision risks.” For O’Toole, mobility is central to the American way of life. It makes us happier and wealthier. But mobility is threatened by calls for greater government control over how we travel and live, often in the name of saving the environment. “These policies will prove costly and ineffective at accomplishing environmental goals,” O’Toole said. “But most people aren’t even aware that they are being proposed or passed. I hope my tour will help publicize these problems.”