Survey: Mayors see the problem but shy away from the solutions

By Eric Sundquist

U.S. mayors recognize safety and environmental issues resulting from automobile traffic, according to a new survey from Boston University. But they are leery about implementing commonly accepted remedies like lower speeds, more enforcement, reduced parking or separated bike lanes.

“It’s a positive that mayors recognize that cities have too many cars and are too reliant on cars, and there’s promising results, particularly in regards to bike lanes; mayors were willing to give up some parking spots and driving lanes to provide more bicycle safety,” Katherine Levine Einstein, a Boston University political science professor, told Fast Company magazine. “But I was really struck across the whole series of questions about largely their unwillingness to support or implement things that we in transportation planning know are evidence-based ways to make roads safer for vulnerable road users.”
On safety, the survey found:

Nearly half of mayors believe travel for cyclists in their cities is unsafe and nearly 40 percent are concerned about pedestrians’ safety. In contrast, fewer than 10 percent believe the city is unsafe for drivers or mass transit riders. Two-thirds of mayors have implemented bicycle lanes to improve cyclist safety, while pedestrian upgrades include a more variable array of changes from improved sidewalks to traffic signalization. Mayors may not yet realize the extent to which vehicular speeds are a key lever to promote safety; 77 percent of mayors believe speed limits in their community are generally set at the right level, 56 percent believe enforcement is adequate, and 52 percent reject the idea of stronger moving traffic violations.

And on auto-centric policy, the survey found:

A significant majority of mayors (76 percent) report that their cities are too oriented towards cars and 66 percent believe vehicles are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in their communities. Seventy-one percent of mayors believe cities should make their roads more accessible to bicycles, even if it means sacrificing driving lanes or parking. However, mayors in the aggregate, do not perceive parking as oversupplied. Sixty percent say that their cities feature the right level of street parking; only nine percent believe that there is too much street parking. A far larger share — 27 percent — worry that there is too little parking in their cities. Additionally, half of mayors interviewed believe their parking minimums for new developments are set at the right level, while 30 percent perceive them as too high.

The survey of 119 mayors of cities with at least 75,000 residents was conducted in 2019 by Boston University’s Initiative on Cities.

Eric Sundquist is Director of SSTI.