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What do Americans really think about spending on transportation?

Parade Magazine has an article about transportation up on their website that includes an online poll. They question asks readers, “should America divert some funding from highways and bridges to invest in public transit?

There are many problems with this question, but even with the false framing of this debate, results are currently split near the 50/50 mark. The most glaring issue with the poll is that it makes it seem like there’s something written in stone determining that federal transportation money is “roads” money — instead of money that should be spent on whatever can best keep us moving and give us the most bang for our buck.

Spending money on public transportation or other transportation options won’t prevent us from repairing and maintaining our existing roads and bridges. In fact, our roads and bridges aren’t in poor shape because we don’t spend enough on roads overall — it’s because we’ve neglected to maintain our existing roadways and instead spent taxpayer dollars on more new roads and highways, whether or not these were the best investments of our transportation dollars

Regardless of where we’ve spent money in the past or “what we used to do,” people are ready for something different.

Rather than asking Americans if we should “take” money from roads, what happens when you ask Americans a more basic questions: “Where should we spend our transportation money?”

Earlier this year, Transportation for America and the National Association of Realtors did just that in our own poll. (Background on the poll here and here). The bottom line? An overwhelming majority of Americans believe restoring existing roads and bridges and expanding transportation options should take precedence over road-building alone.


Given that the U.S. population will increase by one-hundred million people by 2050, which of the following transportation approaches do you prefer to accommodate this growth?

Build and improve rail systems, such as commuter rail, light rail, and subways Build new highways and freeways Not sure
75% 20% 5%


I’m going to mention types of transportation, and I’d like you to tell me which one or two you think are not getting enough attention and emphasis from the federal government.

Trains or light rail systems Roads Buses Bike paths or trails Sidewalks None Not sure
56% 27% 21% 15% 14% 2% 3%


Many communities experience traffic congestion. I’m going to read you two statements about traffic congestion and I’d like you to tell me which of these is closer to your view: A) Some people say that we need to build more roads and expand existing roads to help reduce traffic congestion. B) Some people say that we need to improve public transportation, including trains and buses, and make it easier to walk and bike to help reduce traffic congestion. Which of these is closer to your view?

Improve public transportation Build more roads and expand existing roads Not sure
67% 27% 6%

Which of the following proposals is the best long-term solution to reducing traffic in your area?

Improving public transportation Developing communities where people do not have to drive as much Building new roads Not sure
47% 25% 20% 8%


As the federal government makes its plans for transportation funding in 2009, which ONE of the following should be the top priority?

Maintaining and repairing roads, highways, freeways and bridges Expanding and improving bus, rail, and other public transportation Expanding and improving roads, highways, freeways and bridges Not sure
50% 31% 16% 3%

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  1. Pingback: The Bike Pittsburgh Blog Archives » The Headlines: 6.16.09

  2. Ernest B. Cohen, PE

    8 years ago

    There is one auto-train in America, which runs from Virginia to Florida, and makes a profit for Amtrak. We should start a cross continent auto-train service, with several intermediate stops. I suspect it will also run at a profit.