Those of us who live in Houston are a diverse lot. We have members of our community from all over the world, never mind the state of Texas. Yet we can all agree that traffic here is god-awful. But what we can't seem to agree on is why or how to fix it. A recent study from Texas A&M University's Transportation Institute points out some rather bizarre discrepancies between how we feel about the traffic we encounter every day and what we want to do about it.
There are a few things that are certain when one peruses the data, however. We all think traffic is awful. We agree more money should be invested in transportation issues. We should not raise taxes to do it. Public transportation is both inconvenient and under-utilized. And, as cute and quaint as the notion of cycling and walking might be, you can pry the keys to our big cars from our cold, dead hands.
Just look at some of these numbers:
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- A personal vehicle is the primary means of transportation for 87 percent of people.
- Only 35 percent have used public transportation in the past two months.
- Traffic is rated a 6.93 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being "extremely bad."
- Nearly 80 percent of Houstonians have experienced congestion with regularity, but...
- Only 16 percent have used a bike for any trip in the past 30 days.
- 71 percent have not attempted to telecommute.
- Only 37 percent have walked for a purpose other than recreation recently.
- Only 28 percent have carpooled.
- 76 percent refuse to switch to a fuel-efficient vehicle (despite saying they have tried other things to spend less on fuel).
- 74 percent chose where they live with no regard for transportation.
- Most believe that congestion in our area is due to an influx of new residents and is a byproduct of economic prosperity.
- Nearly as many people believe more should be spent on public transportation as on roads.
- And while 46 percent say they would bike more if they felt safer doing so (32 percent disagree), when asked who should have the greatest influence on public policy, cyclists were dead last while car drivers were at the top of the list.
For anyone who has lived here for more than a few years, none of these numbers should be all that shocking. Frankly, they aren't even that disheartening to me, someone who would love to see fewer cars on the road and safer conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. My guess is if they had done this survey 20 years ago, the numbers would have been skewed in favor of drivers to a much greater degree.
Nevertheless, what the data suggests is that we really, really, really hate traffic, but we have no desire to do anything that might reduce said traffic. We would prefer others take public transportation, carpool, ride bikes, live closer to work and walk. We think our public transportation system operators are incompetent and we don't want to spend a nickel of our own money to do anything about it even though we think both our roads and public transport need desperate attention. I'm not sure if that makes us naive or just stupid.
Either way, it leaves us with the same mess as when we started, a mess that is entirely our doing and completely within our ability to change, if we really wanted to.