NASHVILLE — As Gov. Bill Haslam prepares to recommend a gas tax increase to address state transportation needs, a newly released survey says a majority of Tennesseans also support greater public investments in biking and walking trails, as well as sidewalks and public transportation.
Bike Walk Tennessee and Rail-to-Trail Conservancy, two advocacy groups, commissioned a center within the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's Social Work Office of Research and Public Service to conduct the poll of 762 registered voters.
It found 57 percent of Tennesseans back increased funding for biking, walking and transit.
The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percent. It was conducted by the UT Social Work Office's Center for Applied Research and Evaluation. Voters were surveyed in October through a mixture of landline and cell phones, as well as a web panel.
Advocates say their survey found general support for funding for multimodal transportation — highways, roads and bridges, along with walking trails, sidewalks, bike lanes and public transit.
Another finding: Tennessee voters also believe decision-making about transportation spending should occur at the local level.
"This survey shows that Tennesseans want more biking and walking opportunities in their communities," said John Paul Shaffer, board chairman of Bike Walk Tennessee, in a news release.
Shaffer said voters "believe that more sidewalks, separated bike lanes and off-street trails can make a difference in the safety and quality of transportation options for everyone in the state, regardless of whether they live in urban, suburban or rural communities."
Last year, two Hamilton County lawmakers — Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga — ignited a firestorm of opposition when they sought to block use of state gas tax revenue to pay for bike lanes, walking trails, greenways and the like.
Carter said at the time that with Haslam expected to press for a gas tax increase in 2017, lawmakers needed to make transportation funding transparent. Carter began moving the bill in the House. But Gardenhire ran into trouble when his companion measure failed to draw support from Senate Finance Committee members. Carter wound up shelving his version.
He also called the measure "an honesty in government bill, which is revolutionary and would be very difficult to pass."
Advocates said the survey shows that backing for biking and walking infrastructure isn't limited to large urban areas.
A majority of respondents in small towns and rural non-farm areas indicated there were "too few" on-street bike lanes, walking and biking paths, as well as off-street trails in their communities.
Support for spending any revenue increase on multimodal forms of transportation was highest in small cities (64.1 percent), followed by towns and large cities (58.7 percent each), rural non-farm areas (53.6 percent) and small towns (50.4 percent).
Safety and local control were important considerations for Tennesseans, proponents said, citing a poll finding that nearly two-thirds or 66.2 percent of registered voters indicated that adding a separated bike lane would improve safety for both vehicles and bikes.