The problem with transit pollingA new, expanded version of the 2007 Houston Area Survey came out today, and the Chronicle story notes the high support for transit as a "solution to traffic congestion." If "solution" means "alternative" - then maybe - but if means "alleviate" - then even David Crossley will admit it does no such thing.
People often think one of two things when you ask if they support transit. One is, "yeah, so everybody else will take it and leave the roads clear for me" - which, of course, is not the case in any major transit-based city anywhere in the world (they're all gridlocked). This Onion article really sums up this sentiment the best... ;-)
The other is, in their imagination, they think "yeah, I'd love to have express transit a few blocks from my house (but not closer!), that bypasses all the traffic at high-speed and goes straight to where I work."
Of course, in reality, transit is rarely close to where you live, has quite a slow net speed with all the stops, usually requires a time-killing transfer or two to get where you're going, and still stops quite a walking distance from your final destination, where you're exposed to heat, cold, and/or rain. Then you're at work without a car, so you can't easily get out to lunch, meetings, or errands. Once people experience the "reality" of transit, they often switch back to their cars. Unfortunate, but true. We live in a society where convenience is king.
Then there's the financial reality that at least 75+% of the cost of transit is subsidized by the government, so there's the natural incentive to want that instead of paying the full cost of owning, insuring, and fueling a car yourself. People love it when somebody else buys them something they would normally have to pay for.
The real polling question should be "Should government spend tax dollars on transportation solutions that move the most people for the least cost?" - which I'm sure would enjoy overwhelming support, and, of course, would point directly at road capacity in most cases (although, admittedly, not all - the Main St. LRT is quite popular and successful, and the Galveston commuter rail plan looks not bad if these numbers hold).
The problem is the average citizen doesn't have the cost-benefit expertise to allocate transportation dollars. It's analogous to a poll asking the American public, "Given modern threats to national security, should we spend more defense money on the Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force?" Polls aren't the right way to answer those sorts of questions - we delegate to experts with a deep understanding of the cost-benefit tradeoffs.
Hopefully I'll have time to go through the survey in more depth soon, and do a follow-up post.