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).
  • Real New Yorker

    It’s interesting that in just about every survey across the city over the last couple of years, support for bike lanes hovers around that 60-70% zone.

    It shows how clueless and out-of-touch the Daily News and New York Post editorial pages are when it comes to issues that real New Yorkers actually care about.

  • Andrew

    This is absolutely fascinating.  Thank you!

    I was particularly intrigued by some of the statistics regarding bicycle owners.  For instance, 75% of them own cars (compared to 47% of non-bike owners).  And of the 25% of bike owners who don’t own cars, 84% are licensed drivers.  What of all the claims that cyclists don’t pay their fair share because they don’t pay registration fees, or that they should be licensed?  Already, 75% of them pay registration fees and 96% have driver’s licenses.

    Does Marty Markowitz realize that 77% of his borough’s voters support separated bike lanes and pedestrian islands, that 29% of his borough’s voters own a bike and that 25% of his borough’s voters intend to purchase a bike within the next year, that 43% of his borough’s voters think that there should be more bike lanes (and only 14% think there should be fewer), that 72% of his borough’s voters think that more people will be biking in five years?

  • Andrew

    Also: a full 64% of bike owners (who vote) have lived in New York City “all my life,” and another 33% for more than ten years.  Maybe it’s time to drop the “Move back to Ohio” canard?

  • carma

    This pretty much sums up how i get around.  i own 2 cars, but i primarily get around with public transit.

    i also bike 52 miles every week.  my cars only get 50 miles per week as well

    i also agree bike lanes are needed, but some are poorly designed while most are a great way to move around like PPW.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “What of all the claims that cyclists don’t pay their fair share because they don’t pay registration fees, or that they should be licensed?  Already, 75% of them pay registration fees and 96% have driver’s licenses.”

    Right.  And if you have a higher commercial license to drive a truck, you don’t need a separate passenger license to drive a car.  It’s covered, because it’s lower.

    As I’ve said, I’m licensed and insured.  Rather than requiring licenses, intended to prevent those too young to drive a car and too old to ride on the sidewalk from developing the habit of getting around by bicycle when they are young, the DMV should offer a second copy of the license with a non-binding “certification” for street cycling.  

    That is if you are licensed to drive, have a good record, and can answer a few multiple choice questions after viewing a street cycling safety video, you should get the certification and the second copy.  Then people can start developing courses for 12 year olds to get the certification without the driver’s license.  Then after a this has been in place for a couple of decades, they could require a license to ride a bicycle.

  • carma

    larry, while licensing may be fine as a form of id, it would be silly if those who ask for licensing also ask for plates on the bikes.  can you imagine a kids bike with a license plate?

  • Joe R.

    Bike licensing is a solution waiting for a problem if you ask me.  Once you have properly designed infrastructure cycling is very safe, and also fairly easy to learn.  Licensing is generally reserved for activities which are inherently dangerous to do without proper training.  Once you learn how to ride a bike, it’s practically as instinctive as walking.

    And count me in the 4% of cyclists without a driver’s license.  I do have a state ID card though.

  • Andrew

    @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus Much too complicated, and completely unnecessary.  Should we also eventually phase in pedestrian licenses?

  • Real New Yorkers are not politicians, is the main issue here. They actually work for a living.


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