On June 29 we hosted “Rethinking First & Last Mile: Transit-Driven Complete Streets”, the fifth installment in our monthly webinar series, Implementation & Equity 201: The Path Forward to Complete Streets. A recording of the webinar is now available above. You can also download the PDF of the presentation, or read the brief recap below.
A discussion recap
This webinar explored the “first-mile/last-mile” problem, which occurs when homes and destinations are too far away to comfortably walk to transit stops as well as when gaps in the sidewalk network, lack of crosswalks, or absence of bike lanes make it difficult or unsafe to reach public transportation. Emiko Atherton, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, kicked off the discussion by highlighting the equity implications of access to transit. She explained how transit-dependent communities, including low-income populations and communities of color, can be disproportionately impacted when transit services are missing, unreliable, or inaccessible. To reach jobs, schools, and other vital opportunities, these communities can be faced with the choice of a long, dangerous trip to public transportation or spending a disproportionate percentage of their income on a personal vehicle. Atherton also explained the other important benefits of transit, including improving air quality, promoting health, and providing a more cost-effective way for people to get around.
Rich Weaver, Director of Planning, Policy, & Sustainability at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), echoed Atherton’s remarks about the benefits of transit. He then showed examples of how incomplete streets can create serious barriers to transit services including bus stops without sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, or safe, sheltered places to stand beside the road. Weaver then highlighted some programs around the country that have used Complete Streets as the connective tissue to improve linkages to public transportation. These include San Diego’s Safe Routes to Transit program, which strategically introduces crosswalk improvements and bikeways between transit stops and common destinations, and Washington DC’s Metrorail Station Investment Strategy, which prioritizes opportunities to invest in bicycle and pedestrian improvements near Metro stations.
Next, Fred Jones, Senior Project Manager at Michael Baker International, told the story of how the Jacksonville Transit Authority (JTA) integrated Complete Streets into their system redesign. JTA realized they had to think differently to improve access to the system, so they launched the Route Optimization Initiative to overhaul their existing transit services, replacing them with new routes specifically designed to meet the needs of commuters. A critical aspect of this system redesign was improving safe, pedestrian access to bus stops. Jones highlighted Florida’s consistent ranking as the most dangerous state for pedestrians in our Dangerous by Design report, explaining that pedestrian fatalities in Florida are a public health crisis. He showed images of wide, high-speed arterials where walking is an afterthought, and where the lack of mid-block crossings means people must jaywalk to reach the bus stop. These conditions, Jones explained, create a first-mile/last-mile experience that is both uncomfortable and unsafe. In response to this crisis, JTA introduced Mobility Corridors, a program to invest in safety countermeasures and Complete Streets interventions on 70 miles of Jacksonville’s transit network. JTA conducted walk audits and examined the associations between safety, access to healthy foods, and other quality of life factors to identify the areas of highest need. They then started small with demonstration projects in focused areas to gain support for the program, generating momentum for more advanced projects. Now, JTA is undertaking larger-scale creative placemaking projects and road diets to give their transit corridors a sense of place and improve rider safety and comfort.
Want to learn more?
Check out these resources and upcoming events on strategies to overcome first-mile/last-mile and improve access to public transit:
- APTA’s publication on Defining Transit Areas of Influence gives a detailed overview of what advocates, developers, local jurisdictions, and transit agencies can do to assure quality access to public transportation. The report also explains how Complete Streets can increase transit catchment areas and ridership.
- Another APTA report, Design of On-Street Transit Stops and Access from Surrounding Areas, provides in-depth design guidelines for streets and transit stations, including addressing the best locations for transit stops and how surrounding land uses impact the rider experience.
- Visit the JTA Mobility Works website to explore interactive maps of all of the completed, ongoing, and upcoming Mobility Corridors projects in Jacksonville.
- To learn about another innovative approach to resolving the first-mile/last-mile problem, join Transportation for America’s Smart Cities Collaborative on July 13th for a webinar on how Centennial, CO is partnering with Lyft to improve transit connectivity.
We had so many great questions during the Q&A section of the webinar that we couldn’t get to all of them. We sat down with Fred Jones to discuss the answers to some of the questions we missed.
Can you talk more about overcoming resistance to demonstration projects?
Fred Jones: Storytelling is the key in order to build champions and elected official support. In the case of JTA, we really built the message around three main points. First and foremost, how do we get ourselves off of this Dangerous by Design list? This alone got the Chamber of Commerce and Councilmembers to see the value. Then it was about how the program fundamentally improves safety and access to the newly designed transit system. This message was enough for the Board of Directors to proclaim the importance of the project and to commit to building an on-going “first and last mile” capital program. Finally, we used the economic development and placemaking argument.
Does it matter if a Complete Streets policy is included in a Transportation Master Plan or as a standalone ordinance?
FJ: I would say it depends on the overall objective. I would suggest an ordinance over a master plan based on the degree of regulatory “teeth” and the longer-term policy assurance an ordinance would theoretically provide. The most important aspect, however, is the will to adopt such Complete Streets standards and implement projects. I’ve seen places that have the policies, but don’t have the projects.
Federal transportation funding is very challenging to use. Have you found other funding sources or partnerships that have been beneficial?
FJ: Local skin in the game is critical to the successful implementation of such projects. In the case of JTA’s initiative, they are leveraging local and state funding as the key sources. When it comes to Complete Streets projects, one of the most effective strategies is to target the state or local resurfacing schedule and integrate road diets, bicycle lanes, traffic calming, or other low cost safety countermeasures into an existing pavement rehabilitation program.
What can advocates do to move infrastructure projects forward to implementation when transit agencies and cities drag their feet?
FJ: Short term, tactical urbanism projects and pilots are effective, low cost ways to illustrate the benefits of Complete Streets.
Did you collect any data to show changes in pedestrian and bicycle crashes and usage where the improvements were put in?
FJ: We are still in the preliminary engineering and construction phases, but this will be an important part of the process. We will be documenting crashes and increases to accessibility, ridership, property values, and other metrics once the improvements are completed.
What are considered maximum peak hour and daily traffic volumes for a single traffic lane?
FJ: Based on the Highway Capacity Manual, the average daily traffic for a two-lane, two-way road with left turn lanes is typically around 16,000-20,000, but there are many places where a road diet on this kind of road can handle much higher volumes, up to 25,000. Generally, for a two-lane, two-way road, a single lane can sustain a peak hour capacity of around 1,200 vehicles per hour.
Join us for our next webinar
Thank you to our presenters and to everyone who tuned in to “Rethinking First & Last Mile: Transit-Driven Complete Streets”. Our Implementation & Equity 201 webinar series continued earlier today, July 10, with Greening the Streetscape: Complete Streets & Stormwater Management. We’ll share a recording of this next webinar here soon.