A clear majority of Mecklenburg County residents say they back increased local government spending to expand public transportation options, including buses, trains and light rail, according to a new survey from the National Resources Defense Council. The survey also found the American public is dissatisfied with transportation options where they live.
Results of the survey were released Wednesday. It included a national telephone survey, with 800 calls, as well as survey data specific to Mecklenburg County (200 phone interviews), and to suburban Philadelphia and Cleveland, Ohio (150 interviews each).
Nationally, seven in 10 Americans say they have no choice but to drive as much as they do, with about 1 in 5 of those polled commuting more than 45 minutes one way to work. And 68 percent said they support more local government investment in expanding and improving public transportation. In addition, more than one-third of respondents had used alternate transportation (biking, carpooling, buses or trains) in the previous month.
The national survey to assess public attitudes toward transportation options was conducted by a bipartisan polling team. The two teams – Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (Democratic) and Public Opinion Strategies (Republican) usually represent clients from opposite sides of the political fence. For the NRDC report they worked together.
Nationwide, one-third of Americans graded public transportation in their area a “D” or “F.” In the Charlotte region only 17 percent did so, and 47 percent gave it “A” or “B.”
Not surprisingly, 56 percent of Mecklenburg County residents said they consider the transportation system outdated and inadequate for today’s needs. Three in five said they would use public transportation if it were more convenient, and 71 percent said they support more local government spending to expand public transportation options for bus, train, and light rail.
Compared to the national results, Mecklenburg residents were notably more likely to say new development should go in undeveloped areas, rather than in existing cities and suburbs (see chart below).
Mecklenburg County residents were also more likely than Americans in general and residents of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, (Cleveland) or suburban Philadelphia to say they prefer a larger house and larger lot with a 40-plus-minute commute to a smaller house on a smaller lot with a commute of 20 minutes or less. Among the Mecklenburg respondents, 45 percent said they’d prefer the big house with the long commute. Nationally, only 29 percent chose that option, with 20 percent of Cleveland respondents and 35 percent of Philadelphia respondents answering the same.
Since public transportation is easier and more cost-effective in areas where homes are closer together, some of the findings may indicate a disconnect in Charlotte-area residents’ understanding about transit systems.
Large parts of the county already have commutes of 30 to 35 minutes (see map). So the Mecklenburg answers may reflect the region’s residents’ general willingness to drive long distances and a general preference for driving. A higher proportion of Mecklenburg respondents (64 percent) than nationally (56 percent) or in the other two communities (50 percent in Cleveland, 46 percent in Philadelphia) said they drive because they prefer to drive.
But at the same time, 51 percent of the Mecklenburg respondents said they would prefer a neighborhood with a mix of uses that are easy to walk to. A plurality of r’ ’s
Finally, the national survey found that across the political spectrum – from people who identified as liberal Democrats to those who identified as conservative Republicans, a plurality in each group said the best long-term solution to reducing traffic was more public transportation.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental action group. Its lawyers, scientists and other environmental specialists work to protect the world's natural resources, public health and the environment, and advocate for sustainable communities. NRDC has offices across the United States and Beijing.
If you value PlanCharlotte.org’s unique mission – covering growth and the environment in the Charlotte region – consider a tax-deductible gift to help us continue our work. Click here and choose “UNC Charlotte Urban Institute” as recipient.