Elephants in the Room on “First and Last Mile”

By Dom Nozzi

July 24, 2018

A recent concept that has emerged in transportation planning is known as “First and Last Mile.” It refers to the beginning or end of an individual trip made primarily by transit (usually a bus or train). In many cases, people will walk or bicycle to transit if it is close enough. However, on either end of a transit trip (the “first or last mile”), the origin or destination may be very unsafe or unpleasant to walk to or from, or bicycle to or from.

When this “first and last mile” is unpleasant or unsafe, people are discouraged from using transit.

Therefore, the thinking goes, to meaningfully increase transit ridership, it is very important to ensure that this transition zone be safe, convenient, and pleasant for the pedestrian and cyclist seeking to use transit.

Lafayette, Colorado recently proposed modifications near its transit stops to improve this “first and last mile.” As is so often the case, the city was proposing the same old song and dance. The same old ineffective ideas. Wider sidewalks. More bike paths.

Therefore, I must again point out a few elephants in the room. Here is what Lafayette SHOULD be calling for to meaningfully improve the “first and last mile”:

The disconnected street pattern found in Lafayette needs more street connectivity. Without connectivity, pedestrians and bicyclists are often obligated to travel out of their way or travel on hostile, unpleasant roads.

Oversized roads and intersections need to be shrunk down in size to more human-scaled, slow-speed geometries. Such oversizing is extremely intimidating, dangerous, and unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists. They destroy the human-scaled sense of place that draws walkers and bicyclists.

Buildings set back from the street by a large asphalt surface parking lot must be pulled up to the streetside transit stop. Not doing so prevents place-making, and creates a highly inconvenient and unsafe distance between buildings and the transit stop.

The study appears to disregard the zero-sum nature of this issue. Unless road design reverses the century-long effort to ease high-speed, high-volume, inattentive car travel, efforts to promote better and more common walking, cycling, and transit use will remain marginal and our low levels of per capita walking, cycling, and transit use will be perpetuated.

I’m sorry that despite our safety and non-car travel promotion crisis, Boulder and Boulder County are not being bold.

One of the primary problems caused by our century-long effort to build oversized, high-speed, high-capacity roadways is that because these roads and intersections become too dangerous to bike or walk on, too many are obligated to drive to transit stops. The large number driving to transit stops recruits even MORE to drive to the transit stops because we have been obligated to build big and dangerous asphalt parking lots to surround the transit stops (to provide motorist access to transit).

It would have been far better to have compact, higher density housing, offices, and retail abutting the transit stop. Doing so makes it substantially easier and safer to walk or bicycle to the transit stop because distances are much smaller and there is no need to cross large parking lots of bicycle on oversized roads or intersections.

Doing so is also a powerful way to engage in place-making – that small-town, human-scaled, slow-speed charm that so many of us desire and that is so increasingly rare these days.

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Filed under Bicycling, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

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