Greater Greater Washington


Poll finds residents want more transit, like Metro

A new Washington Post poll shows large majorities of residents favor transit expansion and are generally pleased with the quality of Metro.

Image from Dulles Corr. Metrorail.

62% of respondents said the region should focus its resources on "providing more public transportation options, such as trains or buses," while 30% favored "expanding and building roads" (question 16).

Residents said this despite more listing traffic as the greatest problem facing the region (38%) than any other (question 1), and 65% of those who commute to work driving alone (question 3).

Residents, even those who themselves drive, seem to broadly support the idea that our region must accommodate its growth through transit and transit-oriented development to avoid even greater traffic. 43% of respondents reported not being able to take transit to work (down from 56% in 2005), but still support building transit.

One of the commonly heard arguments against Smart Growth or improved transit is, "I drive, and many people are going to drive, and some people want to live in low-density areas, so we have to spend most of our resources on roads." This poll shows that significant numbers of drivers don't fall into that trap. We have roads, and we have transit. If one-third of commuters don't drive alone, that's a lot of commuters not taking up much space on the roads. For every percentage point the Washignton region improves its mode share, it can add more jobs without adding traffic.

An Action Committee for Transit press release pointed out, "The priority that area residents favor by a majority of more than two to one differs drastically from current spending patterns. The cost of highway expansions now being built in the area, including the Intercounty Connector, the Virginia Beltway toll lanes, Montrose Parkway, and numerous lesser road widenings, dwarfs investments in transit. The only major transit project currently under construction is the Metro Silver Line to Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport."

A Transportation for America survey found similar preferences nationwide, with a supermajority preferring transit expansion to highway spending.

The Post survey also revealed that residents generally feel positively about Metro despite the recent mishaps and constant negative press coverage, sometimes warranted, sometimes not. 80% of Metrorail users and 70% of Metrobus users see their systems positively.

Rail users gave high marks for reliability (75%), comfort (78%), value (72%), and even safety (67%) (question 7). Some of these have declined since 2005, with reliability taking the greatest hit from 87% to 75%; "convenience to your home" and "going to the places that you want to go" increased by one (probably statistically insignificant) point.

Metro is also back to regularly breaking ridership records, recording its second highest ridership day on Friday, beating out the previous #2 record-holder, set the day before. And today is Opening Day for baseball.

Will these results shift the tenor of press coverage? Metro's harshest critics don't seem moved, like Unsuck DC Metro who Tweeted, "April Fools' was last week, guys."

Finally, the poll has sobering news on distracted driving, which U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood calls "an epidemic." 80% of drivers reported frequently seeing others not paying attention on the road, with 61% saying they see it "very often" (question 17). 80% also say they see others driving aggressively.

Of course, few people believe that they are the problem, though some actually do admit to it: 16% say they "very" or "somewhat" often don't pay enough attention, and 12% say they drive aggressively (question 18). But many more admit to certain behaviors that fairly clearly involve not paying attention some of the time: In stop-and-go traffic, 54% say they talk on the phone, 42% say they eat, 23% say they email, text or use the Web, and 14% of women say they put on make-up (question 19).

Large majorities agree it should be illegal to read (92%) and send (94%) text messages and talk on handheld cell phones (76%) while driving (questions 20-23), but 68% still feel it should be legal to talk on a hands-free device despite highway safety groups saying it's just as dangerous.

Update: Added mention of Transportation for America survey.

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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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 


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It's great that residents want more Metro.

The true question is whether they are willing to pay for it.

by Fritz on Apr 5, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

I should point out that a 62-30 majority chose transit over roads when asked what is the best solution for traffic congestion. If the Post had asked what is the best solution for crowding on Metro, my guess is that an even larger majority would have voted for building more transit over building more roads.

Here is the full ACT press release.

by Ben Ross on Apr 5, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

One of the commonly heard arguments against Smart Growth or improved transit is usually uttered by clueless politicians that can not think for themselves and have lost all connection with reality due to constant lobbying of the road lobby.

Great to see this poll. Obviously, the only right answer to is to cut service and starve transit even more so that service will become so bad nobody wants to use transit anymore, and the balance of the force is restored with Americans loving their cars again.

by Jasper on Apr 5, 2010 11:07 am • linkreport

Then there is the silent majority of drivers who favor transit so -other- drivers will Metro, letting them dive to work faster and easier.

by Wayan Vota on Apr 5, 2010 11:18 am • linkreport

Great stuff.

Couple very granular points:

** They didn't find anyone who commuted to work on a bike. I'm all for bike and that stuff, but lets admit it is NOT being used for getting to work, and it is not likely to increase in the near future. Summer is too hot for that to be a real option in DC.

** only 20% regularly ("often") used metrorail to get to work. Only 12% often used Metrobus to get to work.

** In terms of Metrorail expense, about the same percentage in '10 as in '05 said Metrorail was too expensive -- 36 to 33. But in 10 30 percent gave expensive as a big reason, as opposed to 9 percent in 05. The remainder give it as a "small" reason.

I actually read this poll as saying more people would take the metro if there was a station nearer to them. Sure, more density around metro station would be good, but that really requires new lines, and I don't see that happening.

Also no question about federal government workers. We know 40% of rail riders at rush hour are using the transit benefits, and I suspect there is a large number of contractors who work in federal buildings (or near them, like pentagon city) also using Metro. Throw in world bank, hill staff and DC workers, and maybe 60%-70% of rail riders are working for government agencies.

by charlie on Apr 5, 2010 11:26 am • linkreport

charlie: I think they actually didn't list bike as an option.

I don't understand what you mean when you say more density around stations would require new lines. Having more stations nearer existing residents would require new lines.

Having more density around stations would just mean more people have a station near them, because more people are near a station. That would only apply to new residents or people who move, but it doesn't really matter if the next 5% of riders are new residents or existing ones as long as 5% more people are riding.

by David Alpert on Apr 5, 2010 11:30 am • linkreport

@ charlie: lets admit it is NOT being used for getting to work, and it is not likely to increase in the near future. Summer is too hot for that to be a real option in DC.

I biked when I lived closer than 30 miles from work. For instance when I lived in Court House and worked in Georgetown. Nice ride. I biked every day I could. There are plenty of people who can shower at work and are encouraged to be active. For instance all military personnel. In academia, there is also plenty of opportunity to clean up after biking. I would be surprised if the federal gov't would not have showers here and there in their buildings.

Days like today are perfect for biking or walking to work. It's lovely out. I haven't used the shuttle to my job for a month.

If you do not believe that people bike to work, I'd suggest you go stand on Key or Memorial Bridge, or on the GW Parkway bike path during rush hour and ask all those bikers where they're going. Bikers are rather invisible in DC because they do not end up in traffic jams, but there are plenty.

by Jasper on Apr 5, 2010 11:42 am • linkreport

I bike 15 miles to work at least once a week; from Greenbelt to Silver Spring.

Of course, I grew up in Georgia, so maybe I'm just immune to the hellish 70 degree weather we're having.

by Matt Johnson on Apr 5, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

Dave, I read that response as saying in 10, "*" or less than .5 responded, while in 05 it wasn't an option.

Right, my critique isn't that clear: a lot of station already are pretty dense (arlington, downtown, etc) and some will never be dense (cleveland park). Putting in density around existing station is great (navy yard). But how much opportunity is left to do that? 1/2 of the system?

What I found a bit annoying was the entire focus on commuting -- a transit system can be used for more than just getting to work. And in my experience, a lot of the traffic difficulties in nova are related to non-communiting.

by charlie on Apr 5, 2010 11:48 am • linkreport

charlie: I don't read it that way. It specifically says, "Though not provided as an option, some respondents said they commuted via bicycle." I think that in 05 they didn't code it, and in 10 they went and coded the free responses which didn't add up to more than ½%.

I understand now what you mean about the TOD. But ½ of the system is a lot of the system. We can go for decades building stuff around those stations.

by David Alpert on Apr 5, 2010 12:01 pm • linkreport

This just makes me think of The Onion article from a few years back:,1434/

by ontarioroader on Apr 5, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

Jaspar, clearly people are biking to work -- they are all trying to kill me when I walk to work on the custis trail.

However, in the giant metro area, it is a tiny tiny number. Perhaps it might be higher in DC or Arlington for short trips -- 2 miles or so.*

A small vocal minority distorting public policy? heaven forbid.

* I'll grant you the question probably doesn't cover people who occasionally bike to work -- when it is nice out and so on. But net-net, people like that might drive or take transit when it nasty out.

by charlie on Apr 5, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

And how many people walk to work?

Provision of facilities certainly encourages mode choice, as does the placement of development.

For instance, my neighborhood has sidewalks, despite its suburban location, so I can walk to retail and such. If those sidewalks weren't there I'd probably walk less.

I can bike halfway across the region primarily because there are bike paths. While I will bike on city streets, I wouldn't be caught dead on University Boulevard.

Just because a small number does something now does not mean that policy makers should ignore them. In fact, policy makers should try to influence the behaviors that net a positive outcome.

by Matt Johnson on Apr 5, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

(from Fritz) The true question is whether they are willing to pay for it.


(from charlie) ** They didn't find anyone who commuted to work on a bike. I'm all for bike and that stuff, but lets admit it is NOT being used for getting to work, and it is not likely to increase in the near future. Summer is too hot for that to be a real option in DC.

Disagree. People DO bike to work. Two of my neighbors (one works for EPA, the other for the District) do so.

(from Jasper) There are plenty of people who can shower at work and are encouraged to be active. For instance all military personnel.

The problem here is that, for the most part, our military personnel are stationed in locations that are not easily accessible via existing infrastructure. Thinking Meade, Belvoir, and Andrews in particular here, but even I have the same case. Improving the bike infrastructure to/from these bases, not to mention within the bases (as I suggested a couple months ago for Andrews AFB) would help in some cases, but not all.

Like in my case. It's not just the lack of a decent/safe way to get between the Wilson Bridge and Suitland, but Suitland itself is one of the higher-crime areas within PGC. Within the past few weeks alone, we've had two shootings and several muggings just outside the Federal Center. DURING WEEKDAY DAYLIGHT HOURS.

by Froggie on Apr 5, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

HMOG, you bikers are sensitive. Well, I guess we should be glad you are pushy -- if it wasn't for your lobbying 100 years ago we wouldn't have paved roads to begin with.

To answer Mike question, the poll says that in '10 3% of the people employed outside their homes walked to work. Less than .5% did in 05. I fall into that category myself -- rising metrofares and gas led to me walking.

The macro issue is again the focus on commuting. People use transport for things other than getting to work. That's why I want cheaper off peak metro rail, more frequent buses on off hours and weekends, and no on-street "performance parking". Rising costs on those discretionary trip are hugely regressive. Charging peak of the peak fare, taxing downtown garage spots more, or turning 66 into a lexus highway during rush hour - well, if you are employed full time in this area you are generally making a decent wag and might be able to afford it. Part-timers get crushed.

by charlie on Apr 5, 2010 12:45 pm • linkreport

@ Froggie: The problem here is that, for the most part, our military personnel are stationed in locations that are not easily accessible via existing infrastructure.

Correct. However, the Pentagon is on the GW parkway. Oddly, a few bases are in places that could be very bikable. Belvoir for instance. I'd guess Walter Reid as well, but I am not very familiar there.

The thing with biking is that it's one of the cheapest ways to reduce congestion. Painting a bike lane is cheaper than making a side walk. With the current budget problems gov'ts should be looking for ways to encourage biking in stead of killing bike programs.

@ charlie: I want cheaper off peak metro rail, more frequent buses on off hours and weekends, and no on-street "performance parking".

Sure. And I want a beautiful unicorn to come close all the budget holes so that we can build more transit and roads.

by Jasper on Apr 5, 2010 1:55 pm • linkreport

Jasper: Pentagon is off the GW Pkwy, but there's no direct way to get between the two, at least from the south (aside from going through Crystal City and Pentagon City on-street). That said, I wasn't thinking specifically of the Pentagon when I made my post. I was thinking squarely of the big bases outside the Beltway as well as Suitland (where my office is located).

And I include Belvoir because the bike infrastructure onbase is lackluster at best, plus there's only really one direction (coming off the GW Pkwy and MVT) that is bike-accessible to the base. That said, the part of the MVT between Mount Vernon and Route 1 is in poor condition.

by Froggie on Apr 5, 2010 2:34 pm • linkreport

@ Froggie: I think we agree. I said: a few bases are in places that could be very bikable. implying they are not. I do think they can be made bikable fairly easily.

by Jasper on Apr 5, 2010 5:02 pm • linkreport

@ Charlie - numbers are probably a little dated (it was the easiest for me to find), but Census Bureau survey in 2005 found that about 4,300 people in DC bike to work, or about 1.7% of the workforce 16 or older. Yes, it's a relatively small number, but it puts DC in top 10 nationally (Portland has double the percentage and gross number) and still keeps a lot of cars off the road.

by Mike B on Apr 6, 2010 10:09 am • linkreport

@ontarioroader: Quality link, thanks!

by Matthias on Apr 6, 2010 3:25 pm • linkreport

This Washington Post poll is flawed in that it doesn't ask about bikes specifically. Nor does it capture fair weather cyclists or those who bike to/from the Metro. It seems logical that those who use both Metro or bike use Metro for the longer distance. Who's going to bike 4 miles and then ride Metro for 3? I also suspect that there are more people who bike less than 125 days a year, than those who bike more.

MWCOG's polling is also flawed, but better. In 2007-8 it showed that 3.3% of all commute trips in DC are by bicycle, and that 1.5% of all trips in DC are by bicycle. Regionally that drops to 1% and 0.5%

And those numbers are up a lot in DC (by 50% since '94) and Alexandria (~400% since '94). So contrary to charlie's statement, there is every reason to believe that that number will go up in the future. Other cities are easily hitting 10-20%. And a study by UK's version of the DOT put the theoretical limit at around 40% for London.

by David C on Apr 6, 2010 10:37 pm • linkreport

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