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Survey shows most people want more transit, walkable places

In many communities around Greater Washington, attempts to improve transit, accommodate walkers and bicyclists or do infill development are often controversial. But a new survey suggests that public support for these and other measures is high in both urban and suburban areas.

Most people support better transit and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. All images from the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan.

Over the past 2 years, the Transportation Planning Board, which coordinates road and transit planning efforts across the DC area, has identified ways to improve the region's transportation network to support future growth. As part of the process for creating the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan, TPB surveyed area residents on what transportation issues mattered to them.

TPB mailed out 10,000 inquiries to randomly selected addresses across their planning area, which includes 13 cities and counties in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The agency received 660 responses, and the results are surprising.

First, TPB gave survey respondents a list of 14 transportation challenges in the region and asked them to rate each one's significance on a scale of 1 to 5. The top four responses were transit crowding, repairing Metro, roadway congestion, and road repair needs. Respondents gave each of those issues an average score of 4 or higher.

Survey takers also ranked as major challenges the distances between housing and jobs, pressure to develop open space, and inadequate bus service. Pedestrian and bicyclist safety and building around Metro were at the bottom of the list, but with average scores of 3.27 and 3.26, people still considered them significant issues.

No matter where people live or how they get around, they agree that transit, bike and pedestrian access are major transportation challenges.

Planners broke out the scores by where people lived and how they commuted to work. Surprisingly, people's responses were similar whether they lived in the urban core or the inner and outer suburbs, or whether they drove, carpooled, took transit, walked, or biked to work.

While this is a small sample, it suggests that people across Greater Washington want more options in how they get around and what kind of communities to live in. This survey lines up with findings from other studies that there's a lot of demand for compact, walkable, transit-served neighborhoods.

People want more places like downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

The DC area is a national leader in creating and sustaining places like this, whether traditional urban neighborhoods in DC or in newer suburban downtowns. But there's still a small supply of these places relative to demand, especially the ones that are safe and have high-quality public services. As a result, prices for these places can be prohibitively expensive, and people who might otherwise choose a walkable, transit-served community may opt instead for one where they have to drive everywhere, putting further strain on our transportation network.

Yet many neighbors and sometimes even community leaders fight attempts to make TPB's proposals a reality, whether it's building homes near a Metro station, giving cyclists a safe route across downtown DC, or extending transit to underserved areas. While the opposition may be vocal, this survey shows that in reality, most people are fine with these changes, provided they're done in a sensitive manner.

Public input is an important part of any planning process, but planners and community leaders often hear only from a very small segment of the public that's opposed to any change, good or bad. Surveys like this can help them understand what people actually want and care about.

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 


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Thanks for the interesting survey. Some other points that bear further analysis:

The Driving Alone and Carpool groups were most concerned with Transit Crowding. Hard to say whether they are expressing a desire to fix this problem, or merely explaining that the reason they drive is because they think Metro is hopeless.

Also interesting is that the Walk/Bike group was more concerned about roadway congestion than drivers were. Is this because they feel congestion leads to dangerous walking/biking conditions, or is slow road traffic slowing down their commutes also?

Transit users are not very concerned about Development around Metro. Hmm... I can't figure that one. Shouldn't they be leading the charge?

In terms of the strongest opposition, DMVers seem to be really ticked off about Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Bicycle Infrastructure. Strange indeed. Seems like those are two things that everyone could get behind.

by Chris S. on Aug 26, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

@Chris S, re: bike infrastructure - only 13% were "strongly opposed" to bike facilities + 17% "opposed" (total ~+30% opposed), compared to 30% "strongly support" + 31% "support". I read that as very favorable, strong and overwhelming majority supporting bike facilities.

by Tina on Aug 26, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

@ Chris "In terms of the strongest opposition, DMVers seem to be really ticked off about Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Bicycle Infrastructure."

Ticked off? Where I come from, having > 60% of respondents support or strongly support something translates into "a majority of respondents support" something. They just support other things more.

As I recall, these responses on bike infrastructure are very similar to the results from the Washington Post survey on transportation issues.

by fongfong on Aug 26, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

I feel like many people, particularly suburban residents, are all in favor of public transportation, smart growth, etc. but often intend it to be used by other people.

Typical line of thinking: "Why yes, I support the use of transit to get other people's cars off the road so that I have an easier commute in my own vehicle."

by Adam L on Aug 26, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

I, a long time ago came to the conclusion that the vast majority of supporters of transit (and now more transportation option) do so for one selfish reason. They want the person in the vehicle in front of them to use transit (or other transportation option). so they can get to where they want to go faster.

by Sand Box John on Aug 26, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

"Typical line of thinking: "Why yes, I support the use of transit to get other people's cars off the road so that I have an easier commute in my own vehicle.""

If you have a commute thats not that transit amenable (you have a last mile problem, etc) but in a congested transit amenable corridor, thats a perfectly reasonable position. Transit should be taken by those for whom it makes the most sense, and of course other people benefit from that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 26, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

Unfortunately, the survey design sounds quite flawed. Voluntary responses suggest that only those with the strongest opinions will respond, which could skew potentially quite far away from the distribution of opinions across the entire population. Just because a survey is done doesn't mean you need to report it. Sounds like this survey was worthless, I wish you wouldn't give it any airtime.

by JRose on Aug 26, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

@ Tina "re: bike infrastructure - only 13% were "strongly opposed" to bike facilities + 17% "opposed" (total ~+30% opposed), compared to 30% "strongly support" + 31% "support". I read that as very favorable, strong and overwhelming majority supporting bike facilities."

I'm just looking at those responses relative to other responses. If we look at Metro maintenance, the total of all levels of opposition is only 4%. But as you pointed out, in the cases of Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Bicycle Infrastructure the total opposition rises to about 30%, more than 7 times higher. That seems to indicate that these issues (for whatever reason) are much more controversial. I'm just not sure why. Seems like both are win/wins for everyone.

by Chris S. on Aug 26, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport


I totally agree with you, but the issue is that support then precipitously declines when the motivating factor is moving you faster in your own personal vehicle instead of supporting a more efficient transportation network.

If the question were asked: "Would you support dedicating a travel lane to buses in order to provide increased service?" I believe the answer would be drastically different from someone who just a minute earlier said they support greater transit.

by Adam L on Aug 26, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

The urban rail expansion plans of Ed Tennyson & I (Metro, MARC/VRE, Light Rail & streetcar) are designed to saturate the market for TOD. Build enough lines and stations, that a good % of the DC population is within 1/3rd to 1/2 mile of a station.

More Metro cannot do this. We may add 50 to 60 more Metro stations, but that is not enough. Living close to Light Rail and streetcars, which feed into Metro as well as supplying complete trips by themselves, can supply most of the demand for TOD.

Affordable TOD may be 4 or 5 blocks from a Light Rail station - while living across the street from a Metro station will still be pricy. One spouse may go to work on the Light Rail line, another takes it to a Metro station and transfers.

BTW, we de-emphasize Park & Ride (although we have HOV P&R#) and emphasize bike & ride, including health club run showers at a few select stations.

# HOV Park & Ride at new stations, requires use of MetroCards by all, or $12.50/day charge.

One rider for a parked car - $10/day
Two people swipe their Metrocard for slot #134 when parked, and both board within 45 minutes - $7.50/day
Three people - $5/day
Four people - $2.50/day
Five people - Free parking :-)

These prices will pay for the current cost of new parking garages.

Bike to Metro ? Free secure parking near the entrance.

by Alan Drake (AlanfromBigEasy) on Aug 26, 2013 6:16 pm • linkreport

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