The Seattle Times published results of an extensive public poll ($) on local transportation issues this week. It asked hundreds of adults in households with registered voters, in both Seattle proper and King County, what they thought about where we are and what we need to do. The results suggest that King County deserve a little more credit than many give them on core questions relating to transit, but are not yet with us on all issues. The wild popularity of measures mired in endless controversy shows the extent to which Seattle politicians have allowed a few extremists to hijack the process.
First, a warning: the report freely admits that the survey over-sampled homeowners, who conventional wisdom suggests are more conservative on these issues. The Times posted the full, “topline” results, but not answers sliced among various demographic groups. These sample segments would be quite small with large margins of error. While some may seize the excuse to not challenge their preconceptions, even given the skew there are things to learn:
- Voters countywide believe in transit. “Make it easier to get around without a car” beat the car-centered by alternative by 11 points outside Seattle and by very wide margins when including the city. People are desperate for a transit plan that will increase their freedom, but Metro hasn’t offered them one since 2014.
- People believe right-of-way is critical. Even a homeowner-skewed non-Seattle residents favor the Center City Connector and bus lanes, because they recognize that traffic separation is the key to freedom from it. Seattle voters have approved rapid buses again and again, only to have their elected leaders water them down each time in a block-by-block war of attrition.
- Tolls, bike lanes, and relaxed parking requirements are not as popular. Conclude what you want about anti-bike homeowners polluting the sample, but the same people willing to embrace bus lanes and giving up on a fast drive are not nearly as excited about giving up their precious on-street parking to bicyclists and new residents. The bike lanes are more popular, however, than the other two.
The Sound Transit questions weren’t framed in quite the same way, so comparison is more difficult. The countywide view is somewhat negative, but given the sampling issues, and the role of two other counties, it’s hard to see any prescription for the Sound Transit board. However, light rail is clearly popular in Seattle, and voters would be open to some sort of in-city measure.
A popular policy is not identical to the right thing to do. Leaders with a firm belief that it’s wrong for bicyclists to be murdered in the street deserve praise for following their conviction. But these results show that there is a thirst for high-quality transit, quickly and competently delivered, that our institutions can’t seem to provide.