NYC’s Most Frequent Voters Depend on Transit, Want Safer Streets

Among likely Democratic voters in New York City, 64 percent support bike lanes.

Despite the millions of New Yorkers who ride subways and buses and the thousands of life-altering traffic injuries suffered by residents of the five boroughs every year, transit and safe streets are typically second- or third-tier issues in the city’s big-time political campaigns. The 2013 mayoral election could be different: NYC DOT’s program to re-orient city streets for transit, biking and walking has raised the profile of transportation and public space issues. And that’s before any bike-share stations have hit the streets.

A new poll commissioned by Transportation Alternatives [PDF] indicates that New York’s most dedicated voters — the ones who’ll head out to the polls in September and pull the lever in primaries — support livable streets policies, including some that politicians tend to shy away from. Mayoral candidates, take note.

The telephone survey of 603 likely voters conducted by Penn Schoen Berland found high approval levels for bike lanes — 60 percent of respondents support them — similar to the results of recent polls by Quinnipiac and Marist.

When framed in terms of public safety, increased traffic enforcement also appeals to voters. Three quarters of respondents said it’s very important to “crack down on reckless driving to improve safety.”

Transportation and livable streets issues still have an uphill battle for mindshare. When asked to name the single most important issue facing the city, 68 percent of voters placed “growing the economy and creating jobs” higher than priorities like fostering walkable neighborhoods and maintaining a quality transit system. The poll suggests that it’s extremely important for advocates to make the connection between bus improvements and job access, for instance, or between pedestrian safety and retail performance.

In addition to surveying attitudes about transportation and street safety policies, the poll reveals a wealth of information about how New York City voters get around. Among transit aficionados, it’s a well-known fact that most New York households don’t own cars and an even larger majority don’t drive to work. But the travel habits of NYC voters are less well-understood.

The TA poll indicates that while 55 percent of voters own cars, the vast majority rely on trains, buses, and their own two feet to get around. Windshield perspective, it seems, is more deeply ingrained in the people who hold office than those who elect them.

Here are some of the poll results that stood out:

  • 55 percent of voters own cars, but just 34 percent say driving is their primary way to get around New York, and only 24 percent say they drive four or more times per week.
  • 53 percent use transit as their primary mode, eight percent mainly walk, and one percent mainly bike.
  • 64 percent expect more people to be riding bikes five years from now.
  • A plurality of voters — 35 percent — hold the mayor most responsible for the recent MTA service cuts. The state legislature, which wasted golden opportunities to increase transit funding via congestion pricing or bridge tolls, was named by only 23 percent. Just seven percent named the governor, and while Andrew Cuomo wasn’t in office when the last round of cuts took effect, it’s the governor who selects the MTA chair, appoints most MTA board members, and sets the agenda on MTA funding to a much greater extent than the mayor.
  • Driving while talking on a handheld phone was the most commonly noticed traffic violation (46 percent see it “almost every day”), followed by speeding (35 percent).
  • Among car owners, overall support for bike lanes was the same as among voters without cars (60 percent), although support among car owners is somewhat less intense (22 percent strongly support bike lanes, compared to 33 percent among car-free voters).