By Colin Walsh
The City spent $250,000 on a User Survey about the Davis Amtrak station. The funding came from a state of California grant and not the City of Davis, but that is still a pretty good chunk of CA taxpayer change.
I am a frequent train commuter, so I was interested to take the survey. Having grown up in Davis I am a native bike rider, having lived in New York I am an adaptive strap hanger, and having lived in LA I have certainly done my share of driving.
First, the survey is a little inflexible. I answered with what I do 80% of the time, but not with what I do the other 20%. I imagine others have some variation to their routing as well, information about that is not being captured.
The survey asks if I drive to the station, but it does not ask where I park. I haven’t parked in the Amtrak lot after 6:30 am probably ever. The lot fills with early morning commuters. Lately I have been taking a later train and I know a good free spot to park a few blocks away that I am not going to tell you about for fear you might want to park there too.
But not asking where people are parking if they drive misses a big opportunity to gather information on drivers. Do they pay to park in the G St. garage? Do they park in the Amtrak lot? Do they have a secret spot? How are people dealing with the inadequate parking at the Davis station? We may never know.
The survey also doesn’t ask if I visit any other downtown businesses when I visit the station. Generally speaking, I visit at least 1 downtown business on days I take the train, sometimes 3-4. The Village Bakery or Posh Bagels are frequent pit stops in the morning, the Co-op or a bakery are frequent stops on the way home. There certainly is something nice about getting off the train and grabbing a fresh loaf of bread to serve with dinner. Asking a simple question or two about other economic activities of train commuters would help better understand the impacts of the station on the downtown economy. Do people like to grab a drink after work? Do they go right to ArtAbout from the train?
Do people from out of town spend money in Davis because they take the train from the Davis station? This survey provides no clue. This $250,000 survey misses an opportunity.
The third page of the survey is terrible.
It asks what prevents me from walking, biking or taking public transportation, but none of the answers fit. They want to know if it is too far to walk or bike. No. It is not too far to walk, but I don’t have the extra time in my day to walk to the station and I almost never go directly home, instead picking up groceries, etc. My days are full. Being a sandwich generation single dad with a full-time job keeps me busy. There was no check box for anything close to that. I expect many others have similar situations and outlooks. The data from this question is likely not going to be that helpful.
And public transportation? Well there are no direct routes from my house to the station, but I could transfer at the MU, or I could take a bus and walk the rest of the way, but see above about time constraints. There is no question that captures the idea that the routes are inadequate, although you can choose that it takes too much time. Strange that they didn’t include time as an option for walking or biking, but they did here. It also lets you choose that “Transit doesn’t serve the places I need to go,” but nothing about the transit not getting you were you want to go efficiently.
It does allow you to choose that you don’t take a bus to the train station because “parking at work is cheap or free.” Wait a sec, what does free parking at work have to do with not taking the bus to the train station when you go to the train station? I mean really? How ridiculous is that? It is like they took another survey and repurposed it for the Davis Train Station and no one proofed their work. It was when I hit this question that I reached my limit and decided this survey was probably a colossal waste of time and money.
It is just a survey monkey survey that just about anyone could put together.
I mean who designed the Davis Amtrak survey? Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, but there is something really inadequate about this survey, and yet overly specific at the same time. Surveys can be designed to push results. Or a bad survey can unintentionally skew findings.
On the fourth page toward the end of the survey it wants me to rank improvements I would want to see at the station. Here it asks if I would like to rent an office at the station or if I want housing on the property. That is a pretty surprising breadth to a transportation survey. What exactly does the council have in mind? I don’t begrudge them wanting more information, but it seems like there are other questions that did not get asked that are actually about transportation.
The survey asked if I thought there should be more electric vehicle charging stations at the station. That is an interesting question considering the weird situation. There are EV charging spots at the station now. The charging spots are 4 hours only. This restriction likely precludes 99% of train riders. So as a train rider who aspires to having an electric vehicle yeah, it would be great if I could charge while out of town on the train, but a 4-hour limit means any additional spot for EV charging, is one less spot for a train commuter to park. So, adding an EV spot would convert a train commuter parking space to a parking space a train commuter could no longer use.
Amazingly there are zero questions about if I am willing to pay for parking, or how much I would pay for parking. I guess the City Council wouldn’t want to find out that 99% of the people who took the survey want the parking to be free considering the Council already voted to charge for parking there.
That’s my quick take on the survey. I am sure others will spot flaws I have missed.
This survey certainly left me questioning why I bothered to take it in the first place.