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.