Monday, February 24, 2014

RTA looking to solve the "First and Last Mile" problem


A major problem that many bus riders face is a situation known as the "first and last mile" problem. This is a situation where the riders' origin and/or destination is far away from a transit bus stop. Choice riders often elect not to take the bus for this very reason. Officials want to study various multi-modal options to address this. Recommended strategies will of course vary by region. This study was designated to satisfy state law of developing objectives to reduce greenhouse gases. In addition to the goal of making the Earth cleaner--which is very noble, providing extra options for people to get around certainly should be a prime objective for this study. RTA will seek a total of $171,600 of federal grant money through Caltrans to pay for the study. Caltrans has budgeted $1,800,000 in FTA Section 5304 funds for this program with a maximum grant award of $300,000 per application. The Riverside County Transportation Commission is behind this effort.

It's no question that the Inland Empire's spread-out development is contributing toward the heart of this problem. Riders living in many single family tract and ranch developments will have to do some walking or bicycling to get to/from a bus stop. That has long been a reality. It will continue to be a reality. Some commercial office parks in the county are also developed far away from RTA-served streets. The western business park district in Temecula is a prime example.

There are several proven solutions out there that RTA and local government officials should consider as the transit agency explores ways to address this problem both for local and express travel.

First & Last Mile - Local Trips: Getting productive transit service through lower density areas continues to be a challenge. Dial-A-Ride service open to the general public and transit routes that deviate have both long been desirable, but proven to be an expensive alternatives. For mobile riders who are not eligible for RTA's current Dial-A-Ride service which is available to seniors and the disabled public, complete streets have proven to make the journey between the origin/destination and the local bus stop safer and more friendly.

With the area's spread-out development, a non-motorized solution is to incorporate additional multi-modal amenities into existing streets. That could be as simple as adding missing sidewalks in tracts and developing cul-de-sacs in ways where the street dead-ends for cars, but continues on for bicycles and pedestrians, thus cutting down on the amount of time to get to the main road without needing to drive a car. Private communities can have these access points gated. Another solution to debate is allowing property owners whose backyard is adjacent to a major road but separated by a wall can be permitted to drill out a non-motorized gated access point.

It has also been proven that connector roads through lower density rural areas can be made more transit friendly simply by adding bicycle lanes and pathways that would connect the rural region to the major highway with the through-bus service.

First & Last Mile - Longer Regional/Commuter Trips: Park & Ride lots have long been a proven solution during commute hours for choice riders where a commuter can drive from his/her home to the local lot, leave the car at the home city, and then ride RTA CommuterLink, Metrolink, or a private carpool the rest of the way. Another solution that is proving well is enticing the marketplace to invest in more car-sharing services at receiving transit hubs where inbound transit riders and carpoolers who need access to a car during the day have this option. Prime candidates for such service would be receiving transit hubs and train stations in Orange County. That will help entice more ridesharing for the 91 Freeway corridor.

Hopefully RTA's proposed "First and Last Mile Strategic Mobility Assessment" will bring to light these facts. In addition the study aims to accomplish the following:
  • Evaluate first and last mile transit connectivity at facilities with existing or forecasted high ridership concentrations throughout western Riverside County.
  • Identify strategic sustainable improvements needed to maximize connectivity options to and from transit facilities.
  • Ensure all alternative modes of first and last mile motorized and non-motorized travel are well integrated to encourage regional transit use.
The study also promises to address the following:
  • Extensive analysis and site evaluation of transit centers, Metrolink train stations, major transfer hubs, high density activity centers, and park and ride lots.
  • Development of service alternatives with recommendations.
  • Stakeholder outreach activities to identify site specific solutions with the best potential to increase ridership and intermodal connectivity.
The Transit Coalition is well aware that the "First and Last mile" problem is a major barrier to transit use. Regardless of whether or not RTA is awarded the federal funds to complete this study, we will continue to address this issue here with real solutions.

2 comments:

  1. With a lot of modern, walled tract developments, the community is literally walled off from the arterial where the bus runs. Simply installing gates and paths that lead to the bus stop is enough to cut the walk to the bus stop from a mile to a few yards. Unfortunately, transit agencies don't have zoning authority to force developers to make such changes, and developers have little incentive to do so on their own, envisioning all of their residents driving.

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    1. It's true RTA has no direct power in land use decisions, but the elected members of the governing boards of RTA, RCTC and WRCOG can take this situation back to their jurisdictions. The study can show any ill-advised growth plans as a transit mobility threats which the politicians will need to take into consideration. RTA's recent SWOT Analysis showed that continued freeway expansion without high occupancy lane infrastructure can threaten transit mobility, a situation that RTA cannot solve on its own.

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