The Power of Polling

Image Courtesy Dmitry Gudkov

Did you know that among New York City voters support for protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands is highest in the Bronx? Did you know that citywide 82 percent of car-owning voters say they want more speeding enforcement cameras in school zones? Did you know that three in four Staten Island voters think Hylan Boulevard is the borough’s worst street for pedestrians?

No? Neither did Transportation Alternatives until it received a new set of polling data.

For the past three years, T.A. has been working with the opinion research firm Penn Schoen Berland to find out what New York voters really think about livable streets. What they’ve discovered occasionally contradicts long-held beliefs, confuses seasoned political players and complicates matters royally. It has also strengthened T.A.’s advocacy work by allowing staffers and members to develop new campaigns and managers to shift resources to where they’re needed most.

T.A. has always prided itself on fighting to empower community residents in the five boroughs, but now it’s able to respond to a broad swath of New Yorkers whose voices too rarely enter into the debate over safer and more sustainable streets.

“Instead of making assumptions or relying on stereotypes, we went and talked with New York voters,” said T.A.’s Deputy Director Noah Budnick. “The results have focused our work and given us a new kind of credibility with elected officials and policy makers.”

“Throughout the mayoral race, this work has been especially impactful,” Budnick added. “By partnering with a firm that can target voters, we’re learning the opinions of the people who show up at the polls on primary day and for the general election. Candidates sit up and take note and, if they’re smart, work to align their campaign platforms and rhetoric with voters’ opinions.”

Since its founding in 1973, Transportation Alternatives has relied on members, volunteers, community activists and, more recently, its 100,000-person-strong social network to determine what campaigns would work best where, and which infrastructure projects would be best suited for what community. T.A.’s work with Penn Schoen Berland has expanded the chorus of voices calling for change and helped Transportation Alternatives hear from people who may have stayed silent.

“No one knows New York’s streets better than New Yorkers,” said T.A.’s Executive Director Paul Steely White. “Our polling work has helped us hear from more people and develop campaigns that respond to changing needs and wants. Voters are now setting the agenda for New York City’s 6,000 miles of streets, which is exactly how it should be.”

Who did T.A. Talk to?
What did they say?
53% of the voters Penn schoen Berland surveyed were over 50 years old.
70% of voters don’t use private cars. They use subways, buses, bikes, their feet or taxis as their primary way to get around the city.
83% of voters have lived in New York City for more than 20 years.
67% of voters support bringing protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands to their neighborhoods.
MOST VOTERS live and work in the same borough.
5 TO 1 voters think more people will be riding bikes in New York City in five years.