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Mayors Say Roads, Transit Top Tasks

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

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Infrastructure tops the list of concerns reported by 89 mayors representing cities across the United States, according to a recent report from Boston University.

The 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors, which sheds light on the most pressing needs and policy priorities of mayors in 31 states, was released Wednesday (Jan. 20) during the 84th Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), held in Washington, DC.

© / Supannee_Hickman

The United States' aging urban infrastructure topped the list of the most pressing needs and policy priorities of 89 mayors surveyed by the Boston University Initiative on Cities.

After aging urban infrastructure, policing reform, municipal finance and their relationships with constituents are also among the mayors’ top concerns, Conference officials announced in a statement.

“While the findings of this study are revealing, they are not surprising,” said Tom Cochran, USCM CEO and executive director.

“The fact that crumbling infrastructure and policing reforms top the list of priorities only underscores that the fact that mayors are less focused on ideology and are more interested in getting things done.”

He added that mayors know the needs of their residents and are committed to responding to those needs.

The survey is the result of a partnership between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Boston University (BU) Initiative on Cities with the support of global banking institution Citi.

A Focus on Infrastructure

Despite city size, location or party affiliation, a majority of mayors shared the common viewpoint that more attention—and funding—should be given to physical infrastructure issues. As such, infrastructure topped the list as the greatest shared challenge facing their cities.

As a group, they called attention to the need to fix crumbling roads, grow mass transit, and repair water infrastructure, as well as a desire to improve pedestrian and bike infrastructure.

The mayors collected responses also suggested that too little financial support is received from federal and state government in this area. One respondent was quoted as saying, “The lack of spending on infrastructure is a failure at the local, state, and federal levels.”

istock/James Anderson
© / James Anderson

While mayors noted “roads” among their top three priorities, when asked to select just one big project where they would invest a large unrestricted grant, mass transit garnered the most mentions.

Through the survey, the leaders identified specific projects they would prioritize for investment:

  • In the 2014 survey, infrastructure topped the list of mayoral challenges. In 2015, mayors named continued underinvestment in infrastructure their greatest shared challenge. In an open-ended question, more than half of the mayors cited this as the greatest shared challenge facing their city. Overwhelmingly, roads topped their list of needs.
  • If mayors were the sudden beneficiaries of a large unrestricted capital grant to devote to one specific project, the specific “big ticket” priority projects they would invest in included:
    • Mass transit: 22 percent;
    • Roads: 20 percent; and
    • Water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure: 18 percent.
  • With a small unrestricted capital grant that they could devote to just one project, mayors indicated they would invest in modestly priced priority projects such as:
    • Bike and pedestrian infrastructure: 20 percent;
    • Parks: 19 percent:
    • Roads: 15 percent; and
    • Municipal buildings: 14 percent.
  • While mayors most often must partner with state and federal government to address infrastructure priorities, they’re “not confident” that either will adequately help them solve their challenges.

In terms of cycling infrastructure, the mayors express strong support for improved accessibility for cyclists—even if it means sacrificing parking or driving lanes. Bike infrastructure was included as a key funding priority.

  • More than 70 percent of mayors supported the tradeoff favoring improved bike accessibility in their city.
  • Democratic and Republican mayors differ in their level of support for improved bike accessibility and street designs that favor cyclists over drivers:
    • Republican mayors: 44 percent; and
    • Democratic mayors: 81 percent.

Call for Action

The Menino Survey of Mayors represents the mayors’ collective call for the presidential candidates and Congress to focus on those issues of importance to their cities and metropolitan areas, while urging national leaders to invest in and help protect communities.

“Mayors are innovators, collaborators and problem solvers by nature, often taking action when other levels of government cannot,” said Graham Wilson, director of the BU Initiative on Cities.

For example, according to the 2015 survey, mayors look to one another’s cities for inspiration—particularly New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, Salt Lake City and Boston. However, they noted, the prominence of the city often matters less than their reputation for policy innovation.

© / olaser

Bike infrastructure was among the key funding priorities; the mayors expressed strong support for improved accessibility for cyclists—even if it means sacrificing parking or driving lanes.

Additionally, fellow mayors are often one another’s closest allies, they reported. Other local governments, where mayors have reported more positive working relationships come in second as the most frequently cited partner, following the mayor’s respective state government.

“We hope that the Menino Survey shines a light on their leadership and helps mayors communicate the needs, challenges and achievements of cities today,” Wilson added.

Second Annual Survey

The researchers’ overall goal is to gain insight into the specific needs of mayors within a broad spectrum of mayoral challenges and contemporary realities.

Responses for the 2015 survey were collected by BU researchers, who interviewed mayors in person at the 83rd Annual Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, and over the phone or by email in the months that followed.

Researchers targeted 63 cities with a population over 100,000, and another 26 cities with lower populations. While 74 percent of the sample was Democratic (and 26 percent Republican), which reflects the tendency of cities to be more Democratic than suburban and rural areas.

This is the second year for the mayor survey, and has been able to build on lessons learned from the inaugural 2014 survey.

About the Organizations

The Boston University Initiative on Cities researches, promotes and advances the adaptive urban leadership strategies and policies necessary to support cities as dynamic centers of growth and positive development in the 21st century.

Founded by a proven urban leader, Former Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino, and a highly regarded academic, Professor Graham Wilson, the Initiative serves as a bridge between academic research and the real-life practice of city governance.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. Since its founding in 1932, it has prided itself on nonpartisanship. The U.S. Conference of Mayors does not identify it members by party, and mayors are not required to state their political affiliation.

The Conference allows Democratic and Republican mayors groups to meet during its Winter and Annual Meetings, and participates in both major party conventions. According to Conference bylaws, both major political parties are represented among the Conference’s Officers.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Funding; Government; Industry surveys; Infrastructure; Market trends; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways

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