One of the most important purposes of the Loudoun County survey is to get a reading of public opinion on key issues facing elected officials. The 2012 survey asked questions about the number one issue in the county – transportation – and also some other areas of interest.
In past columns, I have observed that a sizable majority of Loudoun residents feel safe in their neighborhoods, believe there is a high quality of life in Loudoun, feel they get good value in return for their tax dollars, and rate county and school services highly.
Last month, I raised the possibility that the survey results changed the momentum of the debate on Loudoun Metrorail and put pressure on the Board of Supervisors to approve the plan. It was impossible for the board to ignore the fact that 78 percent of respondents said it was important that the county focus on providing rail transit service in the next few years.
Imagine that the percentage was reversed, and 78 percent of respondents said that the county should not focus on rail transit. I believe it is unlikely that there would have been the necessary five votes on the Board of Supervisors to approve Loudoun’s participation in Metrorail.
Rail transit was just one mode of transportation covered by the survey. Residents were also asked how important it was for the county to focus on improving pedestrian walkways and bikeways, improving or building roads, and providing or improving commuter bus service or local bus service.
Not surprisingly, building or improving roads topped the list, with 87.6 percent saying this was very or somewhat important. Next were rail (78.2 percent) and commuter bus service (77.8 percent), with 55.5 percent of respondents saying rail was very important, compared with 45.3 percent who said improving commuter bus service was very important.
Residents also see pedestrian walkways and bikeways (74.8 percent) and local bus service (68.7 percent) as important pieces of the transportation system.
One key takeaway from the survey results is that many residents see traffic and transportation as the most serious problem in Loudoun County, and that a healthy majority want to see the county actively involved in pursuing a variety of transportation options.
One interesting pair of questions asked residents about nightlife in Loudoun County. These questions were first added to the 2007 survey at the urging of economic development officials who were concerned that a perceived lack of local nighttime activities might make it difficult to attract businesses with lots of young, single employees.
There is good news: 62.9 percent of respondents said there are sufficient nighttime activities in Loudoun, compared with 29.1 percent who said there are not. The results are virtually unchanged from 2007, when 59.7 percent said yes and 27 percent said no (with the “not sure” percentage decreasing from 13.3 percent to 7.9 percent).
It would be interesting to break those responses down demographically, and see how younger, single residents answered that question.
Residents were also asked what nighttime activities are missing. This was an open-ended question, with “other” topping the list in the preliminary report.
Among the most frequent responses were bars and nightclubs (28.2 percent), downtown activities such as art galleries, concerts and special events (22.6 percent), live entertainment and music (21.8 percent), live theater (19.7 percent) and fine dining (18 percent).
In the preliminary report for 2012, these percentages were all substantially lower than reported in 2007. Those responding “movie theaters” decreased from 25.6 percent in 2007 to just 8 percent in 2012 – not surprising, considering the opening of multiplex theaters in recent years. [Editors note: And others are coming at Dulles Town Center, One Loudoun and Loudoun Station.]
The survey also asked residents if they believe county facilities are adequate. A strong majority, 63.7 percent, said yes.
Less than 10 percent of residents said that one or more of the following types of facilities were lacking – active parks and recreation centers (8.4 percent each), passive parks (6.9 percent), libraries (3.8 percent) and community centers (3.3 percent).
I find it somewhat surprising that so few people felt that we need more parks. For years, I have been hearing that there are not enough playing fields for youth and adult sports. Perhaps the supply of parks is catching up with demand.
Of course, Loudoun County is still a high growth community, and we will still need to build more facilities to keep up with future population growth.