Metra trainThe Chicago Tribune/WGN released a doozy of a poll Saturday finding a surprisingly large appetite for cutting highway expansion and redirecting the money to transit. City residents overwhelmingly prefer bus and train service improvements to highway spending — that’s no surprise.

The news is that a majority of suburbanites — 52 percent — agree with them. That’s up from just 34 percent in 1999:

Most suburbanites support investing more in mass transit than roads, sharing the long-held stance of a large majority of city residents, the poll found. Suburban residents also said they are driving less and taking more advantage of expanded suburban train and bus service in communities where the automobile has been king.

Drivers who said they would back spending more on mass transit cited the growing stress associated with congestion; high gasoline prices; and, to a lesser degree, the environmental and financial benefits of riding transit instead of inhaling belching emissions from cars.

I grew up in suburban Chicago, and it’s not an easy place to navigate without driving. It’s a bit hard to believe the Tribune‘s finding — if it’s true, it suggests quite the cultural shift. (It’s not clear whether the Tribune has been polling on the same questions for long — and full poll data doesn’t seem to be available.)

For decades, 80 percent of federal money for ground transportation has been allocated to roads and 20 percent to mass transit in the region, the Tribune reports. And as with most areas, most transit “spokes” in the suburbs lead mainly to the city center.

“The problem with Metra [the commuter rail network] is that it is a spoke system without a wheel,” Ceithaml [of suburban Elgin] said, noting that the only way to get from one suburb to another on a different Metra line is to travel to downtown Chicago, switch trains and head back out. “Why don’t we have an around-Chicago rail line?”

Such a project wouldn’t be cheap — but neither are new highways.