Thursday, October 06, 2005

It's All How You Ask the Question

Are Northern Virginia's controversial road projects really so controversial? Not really, found the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance in a telephone survey of 500 residents across the region. According to, the poll results show 70 percent support building a new northern Potomac River crossing and the Western Transportation Corridor.

Said Robert Chase, executive director of the NVTA:

The results show a disconnect between the elected officials making decisions and the motoring public dealing with the outcomes. “We hear all the time that these projects are just too controversial, that people don’t want them,” Chase said. “Well, if these projects were candidates, they would be pretty pleased with the public support they’re seeing.”

More likely, the poll results say little about public opionion and a lot about the way the questions were framed. It's one thing to ask people if they favor the Western Transportation Corridor. Sure, why not? It's another thing to ask if they would favor spending $1.1 billion to build the corridor, and another thing if they were asked if they were willing to pay an extra $100 year (or whatever the number would be) for 10 years to pay for it.

Finally, the poll would have yielded a different result entirely if people were asked, "Would you rather spend $1.1 billion to build the Western Transportation Corridor" or $1 billion to promote mass transit, telecommuting, traffic light synchronization, better urban design and other alternatives for promoting mobility and access?


At 8:52 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I agree that results depend on how the questions are framed. When special interests frame the questions you get skewed results on both sides as your own hypothetical question suggests.

If we were interested in the truth instead of promoting a pre-concieved point of view, we could get both sides to submit competing questions for the same poll.

Id suggest that youe question would be better stated if it included some metric on the proposed results.

For example: "Would you rather spend $1.1 billion to build the Western Transportation Corridor,carrying an average of 78,000 cars per hour during rush hour; or $1 billion to promote mass transit, telecommuting, traffic light synchronization, better urban design and other alternatives for promoting mobility and access, recognizing that we have no accepted way to measure improved access or mobility and all these options will affect and not replace, at most, 20% of transportation requirements over a similar area of service?

At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"State and local governments, as well as the feds, are not doing a very good job with Intelligent Transportation Systems, according to a recent Government Accountability Office study. ITS includes everything from cameras to sensors in the road to complex computer modeling programs and has been seen as a solution to many of the nation's congestion problems. But the GAO says money has been squandered and the technology is not always used to its best potential. The report suggests that, while there is good reason to be optimistic, better oversight and planning are needed."

Washington Examiner

At 9:59 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Speaking of alternative to easing road congestion, here is a novel one:

"Critters take to crossings
Study shows wildlife using passages beneath roads and likely averting crashes Deer taking to tunnels Study shows critters using"

Richmond times dispatch!health!healthology&s=1045855935235

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

If the goal were to truly find out what people were thinking, there would be multiple questions phrased fairly. But we are dealing with transportation issues in northern Virginia. The western bypass is designed simply to open more areas, which are owned by some very large land speculators, to further development.

More development up north means more crowded roads and schools and, of course, higher taxes for everyone else. Northern Virginia needs a five-year moratorium on all applications for rezoning.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I thought the western bypass was to offer some alternative to the American Legion Bridge and eliminate > shaped trafic patters from Western Md to NOVA.

We have had a lack of North/South routes since the Civil War, and it is about time to bury that hatchet.

I know of a few landholders in that area, but some of them are opposed to the route and the ones I know have owed land there for a long time, generations even. How does that make them speculators?

Anyway, just because someone applies for re-zoning does not mean it has to be granted. don't you suppose that our elected representatives can weigh the facts on each case as presented and make rational decisions?

Are you seriously advocating less democracy and freedom of choice in favor of a mandate that all the building that will occur happen in some other unspecified location? If that occurs, would you be in favor of building a road there? Would you be willing to help pay for it since it is being located to your presumed advantage?

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Jim Wamsley said...

For those of you who want a less biased survey, you can look at the one published by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. It is funded by your tax dollars.

Their conclusion: Half the respondents favor funding more transit. One forth favor funding more highways.

It is a 63 page pdf.

Bob Chase’s developer groups with a similar name gets different answers. I don’t wonder why.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

Ray, in all my years of watching state and local issues I've never heard anybody say (or admit) we didn't want to build something because the Yankees might invade again! I don't think we can stop them at the fords of the Rapidan and the Rappahannock next time.

At 2:39 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I've never heard anyone say that either, but the lack of north/south routes is based on simple observation.

Anyway, wasn't it the South that invaded Pennsylvania, and isn't it Maryland that is fighting a river crosing because they fear another invasion?

Just because the northern virginia transportation authority is funded by tax dollars does not mean, necessarily, that it is, or is not, biased.

The report is based on surveys of the most populous districts in the area, so it is not too surprising that public transit is a big issue.

The actual numbers are 50% who make public transit a first priority and 28% who make road improvements a first priority. 28% is 16% more than one quarter, so you could argue that the conclusion "just over a quarter..." is misleading. But if you consider those who consider transit or their first or second priority, then the numbers change to 74% and 51%, still a substantial margin, but not as great a difference as 25% compared to half.

More than half of those who do not use transit are in favor of spending more for transit, even including tolls. I'm surprised about the tolls part, but people who drive are often in favor of transit, thinking that someone in front of them will choose to switch modes, making their drive easier.

Apparently people buy the notion that transit will reduce congestion. They also buy the notion that roads breed more traffic. The idea that transit may also result in new users taking to the roads to replace those that changed modes has not sunk in yet. So far, we have no evidence that transit reduces congestion any more than new roads do.

You have to go back to the first slide in the presentation to see where this is going. 86% of respondents said traffic was their first frustration, so you have to think that they want transit for everyone else to make their drive easier. Except for inconsiderate/aggressive drivers, everything else on the list was in the 2-3% range: traffic light timing, construction, too many homes, and curiously, need for more public transportation.

There is no mention anywhere in the report of changing land use patterns as a means of improving congestion, and as far as I can tell, its not under consideration for the 2030 report either. Maybe that is an indication of bias.

Support for transit includes a willingness to pay for it. I read the numbers to come out to $150 to $200 million per year in additional taxes. But they want the taxes at the state level not the local level. In other words they want someone else to help them pay.

Gas tax increases were last on the list. This I don't understand: more tax is more tax, it comes out of the same pocket.

If the question was asked if they wanted to raise sales or income tax statewide enough to raise $175 million locally, the answer might be different.

When asked if toll money should be used to support pedestrian and bike improvements the answers were down around 20% (OK, take me to task on the exact numbers).

On the whole it appears that NOVA residents want to spend more on roads and transit, to the tune of $175 million a year.

Let's see, that should get us 17.5 miles of highway, fifty miles of secondary road, or five miles of heavy rail - if we can get the rest of the state to help us pay...........


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