Monday, May 17, 2010

Confusing Survey Question

What would you answer if confronted with this question, as I was today in the 2010 UCLA Graduate and Professional Student Survey:

Which of the following housing situations best describes your CURRENT residence?
  • on-campus
  • University owned student housing (e.g. Weyburn Terrace)
  • Off-Campus, University owned student housing (e.g. University Apartments South)
  • Off-Campus, non-University owned housing - within walking or biking distance
  • Off-Campus, non-University owned housing - within driving distance

This question both dumb-founded and offended me, sufficiently so that I wrote the Student Affairs Information and Research Office an email:

I took the UCLA Student Affairs Graduate and Professional Student Survey today, and as a bicyclist and an urban planner in-training, I was concerned by the phrasing of question 30.

I find the distinction between "walking or biking distance" and "driving distance" a problematic one. I personally did not know which of these to choose. I live 12 miles away, which many people would consider NOT a bikable distance in Los Angeles. However, in Portland it's a bikable distance to many, and in Copenhagen plenty of people bike that far to work and school. I bike it, too, and of course I consider my home within biking distance of UCLA, but does that mean I should select "within biking distance"? Or would that be incorrectly interpreted by people who compile the survey?

Lumping walking and biking distance together as one thing is additionally confusing, because obviously much further distances can be covered much faster on a bike.

Finally, your categorization excludes the possibility that someone could live outside of "walking or biking distance" but still take transit. It's insulting to the thousands of UCLA graduate students that take transit daily from many far-flung areas of LA County to tell them that they live "within driving distance."

I hope in future surveys you can reconsider how you phrase this question. Depending on what you are using the survey results for, it might serve you to ask about travel time instead of mode.

Thank you for your consideration.

Kristen "Herbie" Huff
M.A. Candidate, Urban Planning 2011
UCLA School of Public Affairs
 After I sent this email, I realized that one of the prizes for taking the survey is a Parking Permit! Of course, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I disapproved of that, so I had to add this PS.

P.S. I should probably add that I don't think a parking permit is a good prize to incentivize people to take the survey, as the entire UCLA community is struggling with how to accommodate the immense costs associated with car traffic and parking, and UCLA Transportation Services is actively encouraging people to avail themselves of other options to get to campus, and parking lots are expensive to build and maintain; and air pollution and traffic fatalities afflict us all, and driving makes us fat and unhappy...

I mean this critique in the friendliest, most constructive way, but I still had to call you all on that. Plain cash will do better, I think.
I should have written that they could also give away bikes!

Transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians4LYFE out there, what would you have answered if confronted with such a question?