Bicycles, Transit, and the Last Mile

Bike Oasis on the Portland Transit Mall

Transit agencies have a problem called the Last Mile.  It’s especially problematic in lower density communities, where convenient, high frequency local feeder bus, light rail, and trolley lines are unlikely to be economically viable.  Many US communities have this problem.  The most common solution is the Park-n-Ride — a gigantic surface lot or parking structure adjacent to a regional mass transit line.  People drive their cars a few of miles and park them all day — usually at very low cost to the driver, and often for free (though of course, parking isn’t actually free).  There are lots of problems with this model.  Parking lots take up a lot of space.  Structures are very expensive ($10k-$25k per parking spot).  What do you do when you get where you’re going?  If the transit line doesn’t come within easy walking distance (500 meters?) of your ultimate destination, this model probably isn’t attractive.  It also assumes that you’re going to own or have access to a car, even though you’re taking transit, which precludes you from reaping most of the economic benefits of not driving, as they only accrue when you get rid of the car completely.

I bring the Last Mile problem up because I just came across a study entitled Bicycling Access and Egress to Transit: Informing the Possibilities.  Combining bicycles and transit instead of cars and transit can help with a lot of the above issues.  The cost per bike parking space is at most a couple of hundred dollars, not $10,000 or more, and for a given area, you can park ten times as may bikes as cars, making a bicycle park-n-ride much more economical in both dollars and space.  It’s also possible to take at least a few bicycles along on transit vehicles, which can solve the problem of getting to one’s final destination on the other end, though not generally for everyone since bicycle capacity tends to be limited, especially on buses.

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