By a Wide Margin, Americans Favor Transit Expansion Over New Roads

It's not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia
It’s not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia

If only our nation’s spending priorities more closely tracked public opinion: A new poll [PDF] from ABC News and the Washington Post finds that when presented with the choice, Americans would rather spend transportation resources expanding transit than widening roads.

In a landline and cell phone survey that asked 1,001 randomly selected adults how they prefer “to reduce traffic congestion around
the country,” 54 percent said they would rather see government “providing more public transportation options,” compared to 41 percent who preferred “expanding and building roads.” Five percent offered no opinion on the matter. The survey had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Attitudes varied by political leaning, place of residence, and other demographic factors. Urbanites were most likely to prefer transit spending (61 percent), followed by suburbanites (52 percent), then rural residents (49 percent), indicating that transit may be preferred to roads in every setting, though the pollster’s announcement doesn’t include enough detail to say so conclusively.

Among college graduates, racial minorities, people under 40, very high earners, and political liberals and independents, majorities favor transit expansion. Meanwhile, strong conservatives, evangelical white protestants, and white men without college degrees are more likely to favor road spending.

The poll release was timed in conjunction with Tuesday’s Washington Post forum on transportation issues.

11 thoughts on By a Wide Margin, Americans Favor Transit Expansion Over New Roads

  1. I not only prefer transit expansion but also encourage more bike lanes in suburbs outside of NYC. Especially in places that surround NYC within a 20 mile radius. So many of the suburbs close to the big apple have little or no bike infrastructure. I for example live about 10 miles from NYC and I’ll usually just bike in from NJ over the GWB and into uptown Manhattan. So many more cyclists have increased over the years but NJ lacks the safe bike lanes of NYC. We need them too here in NJ!

  2. Wow, there are a lot of mayors at that event. Garcetti and Foxx is going to be interesting–wonder if that means more money’s coming LA’s way for the Purple Line Extension…

  3. It is important to expand public transit, pedestrian, and cycling infrastructure across the nation. There are places all over the US where there aren’t even sidewalks! It amazes me when I see that.

    It is also crucial that roads and highways are maintained and rethought.

    Anyway good to see that more people are seeing public transit as a good service to have and not something those people have to take.

  4. What is fascinating here is that this survey doesn’t appear to take account of how our cars can effectively morph into Transit 2.0 within 10 years with the arrival of fully automated vehicles (AVs). If a large Transportation Network Company (TNC – e.g. Google and Uber partnered up even more than they have already) were to provide a huge fleet of shared AVs (SAVs) that encouraged ride-sharing then we would have an on-demand mobility service (that would benefit from being electric) providing door-to-door service. This would be more efficient, cheaper, safer, more sustainable and more environmentally friendly than private car ownership, and more convenient for the majority of people than a good deal of existing fixed-node transit services. So for future Transit 2.0 we could leave the private sector to provide this service, reduce the requirement for huge investments in fixed-guideway transit and it would make our existing roadways considerably safer, cleaner and more efficient.

  5. I see these sort of more generic polls as of limited value, they express general intentions. It would be more relevant when actual budget allocation process is in place and actual trade-offs need to be done.

  6. Why would the survey do that? The technology is still quite speculative and incomplete, but aside from that, most people know virtually nothing about it, so incorporating it into a public opinion survey doesn’t really make much sense.

  7. While “AVs” have many advantages over traditional cars, they aren’t going to redefine transportation, and they’re not going to replace mass-transit (despite the fervent wishes of libertarian types).

    (1) They aren’t going to happen as quickly, nor be as capable, as the believers think they will. The issues are hard (google’s autonomous vehicles succeed by being very limited in where they can go, and what they can do). Many of the advantages only come with universal adoption and dedicated routes, which won’t happen in the foreseeable future—and it’s far from clear that’s even desirable (a dedicated “automated roadway” is off-limits to any other mode of transport, and because of the inefficiency of SOVs, represents a significant amount of real-estate, and a significant barrier).

    (2) They do not come anywhere near solving the capacity issues of current SOVs. Mass-transit is far, far, more efficient at moving people—and can actually be made more efficient using the same sort of technical advances that make AVs possible (except that it’s much easier with mass-transit, because it operates in a more controlled environment).

    (3) Has some of the same social problems as existing SOVs, isolating people from each other, emphasizing spread-out sprawl over dense urban centers, etc.

  8. To paraphrase the first sentence, If only our nation’s individual choices more closely tracked (ostensible) public opinion. Americans tell pollsters they favor public transportation over new roads and then consistently vote for pro-road, anti-transit politicians, as we saw yet again on Tuesday. I think we are slowly, or not so slowly, losing our collective ability to make logical connections.

  9. Well summarized. But we should be aware that to land speculators, some in the fossil-fuel industry, and all too many politicians, such consequences as isolating people from each other, encouraging sprawl, and draining resources from urban centers are not social problems at all, but highly desired goals. See The Koch Brothers’ War on Transit, for example.–

  10. When it comes time to “Put your money where your mouth is”, a lot of Americans will sit on their hands. Some will vote for transit funding measures with the idea that “If some of those other bozos are on the bus or train, that will leave more room on the road for me.”

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