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More people support transit than new or wider highways

Over 90% of area residents want more public transportation options, walkable neighborhoods, and jobs close to housing, a WTOP poll found.

Not what DC-area residents want. Photo by MyEyeSees on Flickr.

WTOP's article on the subject emphasized highway construction instead. Highways garnered moderate support, but not as much as transit.

65% supported widening highways, but only 51% of people said they favor new regional highways. Inside DC, a large majority (59%) oppose widenings new highways. Only 56% of Virginians want to widen their roads add highways, and Marylanders are evenly split.

I'd have actually guessed the poll would produce higher majorities for the road projects. If widening or building a highway affects people's own neighborhoods, most would oppose it, but the typical person who doesn't follow transportation policy closely but does drive usually tends to support widenings and new roads by default.

The fact that large majorities of people don't want new highways and are closely split on widening existing ones shows the effect of our region's decades of debate on these issues. Residents realize that new roads actually don't make their lives better, since new vehicle trips just fill up the new capacity within a few years, and the existing driver faces the same traffic as before.

About two thirds of residents thought new bridges across the Potomac River were a good idea, though it's less clear what those bridges would connect to, since many of the same respondents apparently don't want to increase road capacity on each end.

Also not surprisingly, people don't want to pay for any transportation projects. They oppose both tolls and higher gas taxes.

Given this, it's sad that Governor McDonnell keeps pushing the Outer Beltway, and Maryland continues to put the $3 billion I-270 widening ahead of the Purple Line in its priority list for how to spend future federal funds. That's because 82% of respondents "agree with the strategy of locating growth around existing employment centers," while large numbers (about half of respondents regionwide) oppose growth in rural areas. Yet the big-ticket transportation priorities of both states would push rural growth over strengthening today's job centers.

Smart growth is what the region wants. We should focus on transit, expanding walkable neighborhoods and building more, and putting new housing and jobs in existing dense areas and near underutilized transit stations. That's the only way to add more people to the region and help everyone get to and from work without the massive highway expansions which many people don't want and very few want to pay for.

Correction: I listed some of the numbers as reflecting public support for widening existing highways that are actually the levels of support for new highways. The post has been updated.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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How does one take an article titled:

"WTOP Beltway Poll: 2/3 support wider highways", and turn it into...

"More people support transit than new or wider highways"?

I also think it is a little weird that the District only encompases ~11% of the metro population, but was counted as ~20% of the vote.

by mrb on Mar 6, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport

Article says 90% support new transit, while 67% support widening highways.

Seems pretty cut and dry to me???

by Kyle W on Mar 6, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

Eaxactly how wide was the sample? And what was the objective of those doing the survey?

It's nearly impossible to imagine that in a region with the nation's worst-congested traffic that the majority of those who stew in traffic every day (the majority of the population) would prefer to see more trains and trolleys instead of improved road capacity. Especially those in the areas outside the transit-centered core. This poll looks biased to me.

by ceefer66 on Mar 6, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

Seems pretty clear to me that 90% of the people want their jobs closer to where they live, 90% want walkable neighborhoods, and 90% want better transit options.

Of course WTOP chose to bury that under "2/3 of people want MOAR ROADZ!"

by MLD on Mar 6, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

We want more transit

We want wider roads

We dont want more taxes

We dont want more tolls

IOW, we want Christmas - NOW!

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 6, 2012 2:58 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure I buy all this pie-in-the-sky stuff. It's pretty clear from consumer choices that area residents want to sit, gridlocked, in bumper-to-bumper traffic. After all, that's what most people have asked for, because that's what the market has delivered. Am I missing something here?

by Oboe's Id on Mar 6, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

This poll looks biased to me.

Always good to question sources and look for biases. So, let's examine any potential biases.

First of all, despite the poll showing that 90% support more transit, the title of the WTOP article based on the WTOP funded poll was "2/3 support wider highways".

A perusal of the polling company's website indicates that they are corporate consultants and there's no discernible hint of partisanship. The closest thing is in the founder/CEO's bio which states he worked in the Reagan/Bush White House:

"From 1986 to 1988, Dee directed the public opinion research program for the White House, including a regular program of tracking surveys, supplemented by event-driven brushfire studies."

by Falls Church on Mar 6, 2012 3:04 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity: We also want none of these things to inconvenience us. Hence, it also must never cause a single delay on roads or on Metro. All of these walkable neighborhoods must be SFHs or low-rise condos and the shops all independent mom and pop stores but with prices lower than Wal-Mart's and Amazon-level selection. It cannot cost billions because we're "broke" and a billion is a big number that my brain can't imagine anything costing. I also cannot be taxed more than the cost of my use of the project no matter what or it's socialism and that = bad.

Can it be done by next Tuesday?

by Jen on Mar 6, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

I also think it is a little weird that the District only encompases ~11% of the metro population, but was counted as ~20% of the vote.

The CEO of the company that did the poll is the former President of Harris Interactive. I'm pretty sure they know how to do a scientifically accurate poll and pick the appropriate sample group.

by Falls Church on Mar 6, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

This is barely worth a Breakfast Link. Especially without wording of the questions, none of the results are surprising. People in DC are more likely to think of highways within the context of DC while Virginia residents think of VA and Maryland residents think of MD. I wouldn't call 59% a large majority, but there are few highway projects within DC where anyone would even consider widening. Virginia residents are likely more "regional" and think of 395 and 66 as well as Tysons Corner and shortly after crossing into MD using 495 as locations where lanes may assist. Residents of all locations likely have their own personal spot widening they may appreciate on a secondary highway. I don't support widening in general, but would support a few locations being widened.

As far as transit options... of course in a perfect fantasy world, people want more transit options in most locations. (I wouldn't mind an underground mag-lev stop that has a personal entrance from my basement.) Further supporting fantasy transit options, "Ninety-one percent support the idea. Nine of 10 residents also think walkable neighborhoods should be encouraged, and 9 of 10 believe jobs should be located closer to where people live." In other words, "It would be nice if I had everything and other people were encouraged to do stuff. That might look pretty."

by selxic on Mar 6, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert,

The WTOP article states:
The greatest opposition to building new regional highways comes from the District at 59 percent.

While you stated:
but inside DC, a large majority (59%) oppose widenings.

by Fitz on Mar 6, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

@falls church; small typo:

"The CEO of the company that did the poll is the former President of Harris Interactive. I'm pretty sure they know how to do a scientifically accurate cherry picking poll and pick the appropriate sample groupget the answers the client wants."

I fixed it for you. H/T Oboe.

by charlie on Mar 6, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

I'd also like to add that the WTOP article stated:

Asked whether they agree with the growth strategy of widening existing regional highways, 65 percent percent say they favor the idea. There is little difference among residents of Virginia, Maryland and D.C. on that issue.

If a large majority of residents in the area favor widening existing highways then does that mean they only support certain segments of Smart Growth?, or segments in a vacuum without real world limitations and alternatives?

by Fitz on Mar 6, 2012 3:42 pm • linkreport

Fitz: Oops, fixed.

by David Alpert on Mar 6, 2012 3:45 pm • linkreport


--2012 GOP Platform

by Bob on Mar 6, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

Hate to point it out, but I think some people are realizing that even though 495 in virginia is 10 lanes wide and growing, traffic continues to suck. And even though the Mixing bowl was the biggest monstrosity built in the history of roads in this area, traffic continues to suck.

I think you are negating the intelligence of people and empirical evidence if you think that the trend is starting to shift. Especially since many of the road widening projects now and days run upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars of tax payer money.

The people of Centreville (which make up a huge population) want the orange line extended to them for the most part, more so than they want 66 widened again (after only a few years since the last one). There is a diminishing return on road widenings people. This is scientifically and empirically proven in traffic queue basics. Evidently Loudouners don't want this yet based on their latest gripe against Phase II... but what do they know they are building TOD projects without any TOD as a possibility. You can't just cluster a bunch of mid levels around a poor road system and call it TOD.

-End Rant

by Tysons Engineer on Mar 6, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport


What answers do you think WTOP wanted? Their listening audience is primarily drivers.

by Falls Church on Mar 6, 2012 5:15 pm • linkreport

Oh Falls Church, not only are your and my region friends, but now I want to be your friend too. Haha, seriously yer spot on with that one. To imply that a WTOP poll was trying to skew transit, is dismissing the fact that they highlighted the highway in their report. I know exactly how they asked the question too, "Would you like wider highways" and like most WTOP listeners, the lead interview would say "Yea of course, wider means faster right?" If it were fair they would ask would you rather have another lane on 66 from 495 to Route 28, or would you rather have metro extended along this same corridor, or something similarly specific. Instead this poll was set up to be a failure of "Of course they would's"

Your kidding! People think traffic is bad and want more roads! shocker!

by Tysons Engineer on Mar 6, 2012 5:23 pm • linkreport

"Polls" like this always make me think of this Onion article:

Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others,1434/

by ontarioroader on Mar 6, 2012 6:28 pm • linkreport

"tax baby tax"
"spend baby spend"
"bag fees for you"
"free condoms for me"

--2012 Democrat platform

Amazing how quickly every article posted here turns into Democrat good Republican bad...

Ontarioroader is right. People want transit for other commuters and roads for themselves.


by kaleel on Mar 6, 2012 7:10 pm • linkreport

90% of locals want someone else to subsidize their trip to work. What a surprise.

by JAY on Mar 6, 2012 9:00 pm • linkreport

There are many shades in the gradation of transportation. A poll like this does nothing to understand what people really want.

Do people want options to get around besides cars? Certainly. Do people still LOVE to drive? Absolutely. Do people like to visit mixed use areas to shop and dine - without a doubt. Are single family homes still the dream of 90% of folks? Yes * (*including townhouses). Is mass transit's popularity growing? Yes. Are Costco and Ikea still incredibly popular and decidedly mass-transit unfriendly? Yes as well.

Peoples' minds (mine included) are riddled with contradictions.

by stevek_fairfax on Mar 6, 2012 9:25 pm • linkreport

Is traffic bad around here? I hadn't noticed...

by rg on Mar 7, 2012 9:03 am • linkreport

@ Kaleel -
I'd like transit as an option for myself. Other people can feel free to sit in traffic jams.

@ Jay -
Most people do have their trips to work subsidized... it's called income, property, and sales taxes (oh, and a small fraction comes from gas taxes as well). They pay for roads, they pay for transit, they pay for almost everything the government at any level does...

@ rg -
My ride to work this morning wasn't bad at all! Not much traffic on the W&OD trail...

by Matt on Mar 7, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

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