The best long-term solution to the traffic problems in the Houston area is improvements in public transportation, according to half of the respondents in the new Houston Area Survey. Today Dr. Stephen L. Klineberg released the results of the 2009 Houston Area Survey at a Greater Houston Partnership luncheon. For nearly three decades, the Rice University survey has tracked resident responses to a wide range of economic and demographic trends in the Houston metropolitan region, including attitudes about transportation issues.
“Improvements in public transportation” has been the choice of the largest proportion of respondents since the HAR first started asking the question “Which would be the best long-term solution to the traffic problems in the Houston area?” in 2005, but this percentage has increased with each survey, growing from 40 percent of respondents in 2005, to 42 percent in 2007, and 50 percent in 2009. A steady decline in the response “build bigger and better roads and highways” was documented for the same time period, falling from 30 percent in 2005, to 27 percent in 2007, and, finally, 25 percent in 2009. Twenty percent of the 2009 survey participants said that developing “communities where people can live closer to where they work and shop” is the best long-term solution to solving traffic problems in the region.
Increasing support for public transit can also be seen in the nearly continual upward climb in the percentage of survey participants who agreed with the statement “The development of a much improved mass transit system is ‘very important’ for Houston’s future.” This figure grew from 47 percent in 1991 to 62 percent in 2009. Of those respondents who said that improved mass transit is “somewhat” or “very important,” a growing number of people within that subset - increasing from 34 percent in 1991 to 58 percent in 2009 - said they think it is “very important” for that transit system to include rail transit.
The portion of participants who disagreed with the statement, “Even if public transportation were much more efficient than it is today, I would still drive my car to work,” increased from 38 percent in 2004 to 41.5 percent in 2009.
Klineberg sees this attitude shift as a “sea change” in the way that Houstonians think about public transit, and that “people are realizing that more roads and highways will not solve our transportation problems.”
Klineberg notes that years of Houston Area Surveys have shown firm or growing public support for a variety of initiatives to improve the quality of life in Houston. “Quality-of-place” considerations will weigh heavily in Houston’s future economic success, he says, because these are the factors that will attract skilled and creative individuals (“knowledge workers”) and high-tech companies to Houston, and make them want to stay. In order to compete successfully with other metro regions, Klineberg says that Houston must make “significant improvements” in a number of areas, including:
- the region’s mobility and transportation systems
- the revitalization and preservation of its urban centers
- the enhancement of its green spaces and bayous
- the healthfulness of its air and water quality
- its overall physical attractiveness and aesthetic appeal
The Houston Area Survey is the longest ongoing public opinion survey of any metro region in the US, and perhaps the world. Rice University’s new “Urban Research Center of Houston” will soon house the annual surveys, in addition to providing a stimulating environment for new urban research, and a place for the public to access data on metropolitan regions.
Highlights from the 2009 Houston Area Survey are now available to the public.
Download Stephen Klineberg’s full PowerPoint presentation (926 KB) from the 2009 HAS.
The Houston Business Journal published a story about the demographic transformations documented through decades of Houston Area Surveys, and the impact of these population changes on the political temperament of Harris County.