Survey: Southern California Voters Want More Transit, Balk at More Highways

It's official. Southland residents are sick of sprawl and massive highway projects. Source: Key Findings from Recent Southern California Survey on Transportation and Land Use Planning

Even as Los Angeles embraces an expanded transit and bicycle program, the rest of Southern California is still pictured as a sprawling wasteland of highways and subdivisions.  However, that’s not what the people that live in the Southland want according to a new survey released by Move L.A., the American Lung Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Instead, Southlanders want the kind of dense mixed use development and short commutes over McMansions and sprawlways.

The survey, completed by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates, shows that voters in the six county region served by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) overwhelmingly support expanding and investing in transit over investing in highways.  Even when voters backed highway spending, there was more support for a “Fix It First” approach than funneling more money into mammoth road expansion projects.

“If Southern California voters were in charge of our transportation plans, the region would look very different,”Amanda Eaken, NRDC’s deputy director of sustainable communities, added. that “Voters understand what so many studies have told us: widening roads will not solve traffic congestion. Instead, designing communities that increase our mobility and freedom — helping us to get out of our cars — is what will ultimately solve the problem.”

The survey was released just days before SCAG is scheduled to vote on the region’s Long Range Transportation Plan this Thursday.  The SCAG Region encompasses six counties: Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura and Imperial, 18 million people and 38,000 square miles.  Organizations such as the three who commissioned this report and the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership have lobbied SCAG officials and testified at public hearings helping to create a far more progressive transportation plan than SCAG has passed in the past.

Move L.A. has analyzed the plan and offers support for its passage:

While the plan is good and seemingly signals that a new era is dawning in Southern California — one which could result in more housing and transportation choices for residents — the question is whether SCAG’s Regional Council will endorse it

Even so, the citizens of the SCAG region are well ahead of their elected leaders when it comes to a progressive transportation vision.

Many of those 18 million people are tired of the long commutes, tired of the endless highway spending, and anxious for a new way of looking at transportation.  Survey respondents were asked to imagine they were in charge of their region’s transportation budget, and to allocate a hypothetical $100 budget across five spending categories. Their responses indicate they would like to see a significant majority of the region’s transportation dollars allocated to expanding and improving public transportation and providing more bike and pedestrian infrastructure. While voters would allocate about 25 percent of funding to repair and maintain existing roads and highways, they would allocate less than 20 percent of the budget to expanding roads and highways.

Let’s just say that while the SCAG plan is a significant improvement over the current plan.  The 2008 RTP calls for a $1.8 billion investment in bikeways over 30 years while the 2012 draft calls for $6 billion.  However, the 2012 plan is allocating less than half of the 14.1% for bicycle and pedestrian projects that residents would allocate left to their own devices.

“Voters prioritize expanding public transportation as the most effective means of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution,” said Denny Zane, executive director of Move LA. “The findings also show that voters would prefer living in communities that are walkable and mixed-use even if this means living in a smaller home.”

Streetsblog will have an update on the Regional Transportation Plan after its passage on Thursday.

  • The survey questions are poorly designed such that the extracted meaning may not be reflective of the true attitudes of people.

    There are several things at play here.  Improved public transit and urban planning.  The signals for improved transit seem clear, but the mixed use, increased density urban planning does not.  What most folks fail to realize, is that increasing the local population via higher density infill development WILL INCREASE CAR TRAFFIC.  The vast majority of these new resident will own and use cars.  This means more cars on the road than before.  Sure, these new residents in urban villages will walk more than the average angelino, but they will still own and use cars (most of them).  It is impossible to guarantee that they will live close to where they work… especially since the average professional changes jobs every five years, but folks don’t move every five years.  Many of these new residents will have kids requiring car rides to various events and perhaps school.  Many of these new residents will have interests outside their local bubble and will often use a car to get there.

    More cars means more traffic, more congestion, longer travel times, worse emissions/ pollution (higher concentrations locally), more need for parking, more time vulturing for parking, etc, etc.

    Let’s improve infrastructure long before we increase density.

  • This is very old-school thinking that everyone will still insist on
    driving everywhere when they actually have viable alternatives. If there’s less reason to drive cars, there is less traffic. Increased public transit and walkable neighborhoods, when properly planned and implemented, compensate for the additional population by reducing their need to drive. And even if traffic were to increase, that would only encourage the use of other modes all the more. NYC has much, much greater density than LA, but NYC’s traffic, while still bad, is not as bad as LA’s. It’s no secret that the ability to walk and use transit in New York are behind this.

  • Ronrueda

    Increased density does not necessarily reflect in more traffic.If more mixed used developments were built with no parking allotted to them, its impact to existing car traffic would be minimal at best because the people living at said developments would not be using cars to get around.

  • Scott

    Even at their cheapest, cars are NOT cheap.  Even if you find a cheap car, it’s bound to be an old beater, and that will require maintanence, upkeep and repairs.  All of which are not cheap.  even if you are “handy” and can fix your own car, and have a driveway to do so in (assuming you don’t live in an apartment), cars these days are almost impossible to fix by DIY mechanics, there are so many computers in them.  Even if you could fix them yourself, there’s the added costs of your time, labor and mental anguish.  Plus the time required to smog a car, register a car, get insurance, pay for insurance, parking, parking ticket,  wating on line at the DMV, wet. wtc.
    So the odds are stacked  favor of not buying car, if viable public transit is available and close by.

  • so many across the region are working hard to see active transportation and public health addressed in the 2012 RTP  –  it’s so great and critically important to see people speak out on this.  The draft comes out next month and is scheduled for adoption in April – now is an important time to weigh in – we post about it on our blog here: http://saferoutescalifornia.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/2012_scagrtp_comments_11_11/

  • Anonymous

    If the questions quoted in this article are representative of the “poll,” then the questions were asked in such a way as to elicit the desired result.  The questions were as skewed as if I asked:

    Do you:
    A.  Want to drink milk?
    B.  Grow up to be a rapist?
    C.  Grow up to be a serial killer?
    D.  Get hit by a bus?

  • CottonEyeJoe

    Hey StocktonJoe, sounds like you’re saying that asking if people support “expanding roads and highways” is as bad as growing up to be a serial killer! You’re right! It kills habitat, it kills free time through longer commutes from places far away, and it kills people through air pollution.

  • Alexander the Great

    While density may increase traffic, it actually provides people MORE options (than in suburban areas), such as walking and using mass transit. Which directly contributes to better health and sustainability. Dense urban areas eliminates the need to drive while offering public parks, social activities and enjoying outdoors way more; new & rebuilt urban areas also greatly remove crime and offer upscale living and outdoor activities. Density should be embraced and we have to strive to part with our cars. For good!

  • Y’all need to add a little realism to the idealistic thinking.  If I were planning a brand new town in an unbuilt area, I totally agree that having mixed use or denser areas would help.   However, we are in a built out landscape here in LA with limited infrastructure options.  The fact is.. more people in LA == more cars.  More cars == more traffic, congestion, pollution.

    Here in Pasadena, with our greatly increased density, came greatly increased traffic and congestion on our local roads.  Anyone who has lived here any period of time will tell you that density has not helped traffic or pollution.  The exact opposite. 

    @Alexander:  Also, if you look at crime maps, the dense sections of town have the highest crime rates.

    @f2b6cf4a608c0d789f6e7da08e3df28d:disqus
    :  if you eliminate parking, you will either a) make traffic worse as folks vulture for parking  b) kill the shops.  This is evidenced by the south Lake Shopping district.  The area is surrounded by high density condos, yet many stores are going out of business.  There simply isn’t enough local residents to keep them afloat.  Since time restrictions and pay parking went in… business has declined.

    In theory, I agree with y’all… but the realities of increasing density and removing parking in near built out, low infrastructure areas such as LA… don’t match up well with theory.

  •  now, if we could increase density without increasing population.. that could be a win.  To do this, you’d mow down several blocks of single family residential areas near shops.. replace  those houses with condos near the shops and a nice park.  Ok, that would help.. but it will never happen.

  • Ronrueda

    Limited Options. Say What!!!!. I still see large lots of parking even in downtown LA that could easily be converted in some mixed used development.

    I suppose I forget to mention that when you build a new development with out parking it should be accompanied by good frequent transit connections.

    That’s where your South Lake Shopping district example falls apart. The ARTS 10 and 20 that connect the gold line stations to this area have terrible frequencies that discourage people from using transit as a means to get around.

    When I was living in Berkeley as a college student, which is no downtown Oakland or San Francisco but rather moderate density city with plenty of single family homes, traffic was never terrible. It got crowded some times but I guess what kept it in check was the plethora of walkable housing/shops, good transit connections like the AC Transit 51 line which had frequencies of 10 min throughout most of the day with a connection to the BART station which provided regional travel options throughout the East Bay and San Francisco, and a lack of off street parking which encouraged walking and transit use. I guess I should also add that most students can’t afford cars so that probably also added to the lack of terrible traffic.

  • @f2b6cf4a608c0d789f6e7da08e3df28d:disqus
    :  I see you’re still drinking kool-aid brewed in fantasy land.  South Lake’s issues have nearly zero to do with the frequency of the ARTS bus.  Why would I take the highly inefficient route of getting to the gold line station, riding, transferring to ARTS, riding, etc… when it is three times as fast to drive?  And when I talk infrastructure, I mean mass transit.  See, most people in Pasadena and surrounding cities would have to make several transfers to get to South Lake.  It’s far, far easier and quicker to drive.  Then, if they make it hard to drive (or park), all those shoppers will simply go somewhere else.   That’s what’s happening. 

    As far as density, here’s a way to think about the deleterious effects of increasing density in built our areas like LA.  Many smart growth studies have shown that if you double density, you’ll reduce per capita VMT by 30%.  Sounds great until you really think about the local impacts.  Now, instead of 100 people driving a 100 miles, you have 200 people driving 70 miles.  This is a 40% INCREASE in local miles traveled by car.  Sure, these folks are walking, training, biking more.. which accounts for the 30% drop in VMT.. but there are more cars on the road, more miles being driven, more parking spaces required, more congestion.. and worst of all… more emissions and pollution. 

    What we need to do it improve transit infrastructure (walk, bike, rail, bus) so that the inefficiencies are minimized.. such that it becomes a viable alternative for most people… WITHOUT increasing population density which adds cars.

  • this is so nice that you share a information of helping us to get out of our cars……..

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