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Polling and Policy

The National Journal once again asks their transportation experts a question inspired by the bike/ped/transit world. In light of the recent Transportation for America poll and other sometimes conflicting surveys, the National Journal asks: what role should polling play in transportation policy making?

League President Andy Clarke weights in:

Polls clearly have a role to play in shaping policy and informing messaging, otherwise we wouldn’t collectively invest in so many of them at such enormous cost. Equally obvious is the need to interpret poll results carefully based on who is asking the questions.

Would the Highway Users Alliance poll answers be different if the question was “would you still support greater investment in roads and bridges if they were deliberately built in such a way as to make them inaccessible to one third of the population who cant drive, inpenetrable to anyone that wants cross from one side of their community to another, and destined to result in even more cars and trucks getting stuck in pretty much the same spot from the moment they are open”? I don’t think so.

Would the T4America poll results be different if their questions concluded with “and by the way we are also going to take your car away from you and your family”? I don’t think so. And I am pretty confident that in this day and age neither AHUA or T4America would either suggest or actually espouse such a foolish view.

As others have said quite effectively, people want choice. They don’t equate roads and bridges as being exclusively for cars and trucks, especially in metro areas – they want the public right of way and the public realm to build community, to generate activity and jobs, and to facilitate commerce, and they understand that there’s a balance to achieving all these goals that isn’t always easy.

My interpretation of what people will actually vote for – as opposed to what they will say in response to a poll – in recent years is that they will vote to tax themselves for smart transportation investments in building sustainable, livable communites that offer transit, bicycling, walking and driving as options; they will vote for park and recreation bond issues and sales tax initiatives that build critical infrastructure such as parks, trails and open space. The public is much more suspicious of, and less likely to fund, “more of the same” monocultural highway expansion projects that are rooted in a 1950’s planning ideology and placed in the hands of heavy-handed state highway agencies with a “trust me we know what’s best for you” approach to project selection.

That’s something we should all pay attention too as we figure out what the public will support and expect their representatives in Washington DC to support as we move forward on the next transportation bill.

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