Mass transit just a matter of time

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From a column by Dave Zweifel in The Capital Times:

The times they keep a-changin’.

For the first time ever, the venerable Chicago Tribune/WGN poll shows that a majority of residents in the suburbs have joined their city brethren in believing that expanding mass transit is preferable to spending more on roads and highways.

For 30 years now, the poll has been asking the question: “Which should have greater priority, improving/adding to expressways and tollways, or to the public transit system?”

This year, 76 percent of city residents, most of whom forgo cars to ride commuter rail or the buses, answered “public transportation,” while 15 percent picked roads. (The remainder weren’t sure.)

What surprised the pollsters this year, though, is that suburban dwellers, who have typically relied on cars to get back and forth to work, also said they favored investing in public transportation over roads, although by a closer margin, 52 percent to 32 percent. In the past, suburbanites have strenuously objected to having their tax dollars go for improving what was once thought to be an expensive perk only for city residents.

Many of the respondents who would put public transit ahead of highways pointed to the growing stress that comes from highway congestion and high gasoline prices. Some identified the impact on the environment and health. The poll indicated that more and more people are concerned that sitting in traffic breathing exhaust fumes isn’t conducive to one’s well-being. Some 17 percent of the people polled said they had switched this past year from driving to using public transit.

According to the Tribune, the director of a Chicagoland civic organization called the results “phenomenal.”

“People are seeing that a car-oriented culture is limiting economic development and quality of life in the region,” said Frank Beal, executive director of Chicago Metropolis 2020.