February 03, 2003
Your regular plug for light rail

A recent Rice University/University of Houston poll shows strong support for light rail in Houston.

"The clear message is that the public’s appetite for a solution to Houston’s traffic problem is extremely strong," said Robert Stein, Rice dean of social sciences, who conducted the survey with Richard Murray, director of the University of Houston Center for Public Policy. "Candidates for public office, particularly the mayor in 2003, will have to address this issue in some way."


Stein was surprised to find that more than half (52 percent) of the registered voters believe that rail is either a "vital" (29 percent) or "important" (23 percent) part of a comprehensive, long-term transportation plan for Houston. Only 10 percent of the interviewees said rail "has no place" in any long-term transportation plan for Houston.

By a margin of more than three to one, 62 percent of voters said they would support approving the next phase of a mass-transit plan if the proposal did not raise taxes and included some additional rail lines to connect with the Main Street line as well as bus improvements and continued spending for street construction. Only 21 percent said they would vote against such a plan, and 17 percent were undecided.

"We could not find a significant demographic group who won’t support such a plan, not even conservative Republicans," Stein said.

Voter support for a no-new-tax, long-term transportation plan dropped to 56 percent when the proposal focused solely on buses, street and road construction and excluded light-rail expansion.

Support for expanded light rail was close to a majority. Forty-nine percent of those taking a position on an expanded rail plan said they were "strongly for" the proposal, and only 15 percent were "strongly against."

Orlando Sanchez was anti-rail in the last election. Though I suspect other issues will dominate this race, I'd love to see that come back and bite him.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 03, 2003 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

I am in that very small 10%. I would have much, much rather seen the funding for the light rail go to improved freeways and especially to increased busing to the east and south sides of town where there is a higher concentration of the poor. Looking at the demographic of those who'd ride light rail, I am mostly impressed by how bland and well-off it is: the largest beneficiaries are also those who have the most transportation options at present.

If you're going to take my money away from me in the form of taxes and municipal bonds (which eventually get paid for by taxes), at least use the money on those with the greatest transportation problems.

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on February 3, 2003 2:17 PM

The poll should have simply asked whether or a not person supports light rail in Houston. By including three pro-rail categories and only one anti-rail category, the poll invariably biased the data. The "long-term" answer especially gets to me -- I mean when, in 50 years? What will the situation be then? What a worthless category. It's no coincidence that Rice is notorious for supporting rail.

Moreover, I'd like to note that Orlando Sanchez was not anti-rail in the previous election. He supported having a referendum on rail, but said that because construction was already so far along, he would probably vote in favor of rail in any referendum. This differs from my position, of course, since I have mountains of data showing what an abject failure light rail has been accross the United States. It certainly doesn't reduce congestion.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on February 3, 2003 3:11 PM

I realized a few weeks ago, riding the Green Line in Boston, that "light rail" is just a fancy term for "trolleys." Why can't we just say "trolleys?" Or "streetcars," if you like that better? "Light rail" sounds like a scary novelty to some people, but tell them you think trolleys/streetcars are a good idea, and they just might take to it like an old friend re-met. Think about it.

Posted by: Chris Quinones on February 4, 2003 12:20 PM


There are some very small differences that result in the due of different terminology. "Streetcars" not only refers to older transit, but light rail trains also have their own lanes in traffic (thus increasing congesion more than streetcars) and have multiple carriages. Besides, by calling it "light rail" it glosses over the fact that the technology is old and was abandoned across the nation due to excessive cost and abject obsolescence.

It would remind them that streetcars weren't a friend, and that's why we tore up the tracks in the early 40's.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on February 4, 2003 5:57 PM