SCAG and City of Los Angeles Thinking About Solutions to the Last Mile Problem

11_12_09_robinson.jpgRita Robinson and Tony Jusay’s folding bikes testify at a joint meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commissions. Photo: BikePedSCAG/Twitpic

 It’s not often that we cover news out of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), but a recent study funded by the City of Los Angeles and SCAG on the "last mile" problem has led to a report sponsored by the city that is all about getting people out of their cars. The report was presented by LADOT Chief Rita Robinson and Planning General Manager Gail Goldberg at a meeting this morning, then again by SCAG to regional stakeholders this afternoon.

While the report is progressive, it’s rare to see a report talking about getting people out of their cars with a "City of Los Angeles" crest on it, it’s just a report. While Robinson may like many of the ideas in the report, it’s still up to advocates and elected officials to get these ideas off the paper and onto the streets.

Just after this morning’s presentation ended, Robinson was speaking in front of the Transportation Commission about the massive cuts coming to LADOT. Even for a department that has the goal of moving as much automobile traffic as possible, now seems the perfect time to investigate low cost alternatives to get people out of their cars instead of expensive and time-consuming highway and road expansions.

The study team, led by consultants from Nelson Nygaard, was charged with focusing on the "last mile" problem. For those of you unfamiliar with the "last mile" problem, it is a term created to describe the barrier many car commuters feel to taking transit or other options to single-passenger vehicle commuting. Informally I call it the, "I would take the train but the closest stop is so far away from my house/office."

Broadly, the strategies studied should:

  1. Get people out of their car
  2. Provide incentives to help households avoid needing multiple cars
  3. Help cities meet the standards of SB 375

From there the team came up with thirteen strategies that would help cities, especially Los Angeles, meet those goals. They then narrowed down the list of thirteen to a list of six strategies that aren’t already being studied by another organization. The six transportation modes that SCAG, City of L.A. and their consultants want to expand are: casual carpooling, taxi’s, car sharing, short-term car rental, bike sharing, folding bikes.

For a full copy of SCAG’s presentation, click here. For a synopsis of the six strategies and some editorial commentary, read on after the jump.

Casual Carpooling – I honestly had never heard of this before, but apparently it’s all the rage in the Bay Area. Areas are set up where people can meet to form a carpool in lots and other areas near freeways to decrease the amount of cars coming into the city. In other words, there would be space where I get on the I-10 on my way to Church on Sunday where I could pick people up that were heading to the Whole Foods which is close to my destination. With these strangers on board, I could use the carpool lane on my entrance ramp.

Taxi’s – The study identified that the main fear people have towards using taxi’s is the unknown cost of taking the vehicle. The report recommends requiring taxi’s to charge based on distance traveled, "zone fares," instead of time traveled so that passengers would know the cost ahead of time. There was a concern on the SCAG call that drivers, already underpaid for their work, would balk at this sort of change.

Car Sharing – I think we’re all familiar with ZipCar and its history. We’ve talked about it at length. However, the report recommended studying city-supported car sharing that would lead to reducing the city’s vehicle fleet and save the city money. While that strategy is something that Streetsblog has discussed a couple of times; this is the first time we’ve seen it in print in a government document.

Short-Term Car Rental – Is similar to car sharing except you rent a car as though you were going to Hertz instead of being part of a membership organization such as ZipCar.

Bike Sharing – Who wants to bring a Velib to Greater Los Angeles? Wendy Greuel did at one point, but LADOT balked at both the price and the state of bike infrastructure in the city. The study identified several ways to encourage bike sharing in the big city. First, Los Angeles should clarify city code to allow bike share lockers and locations on government property. Second, they could allow developers to build in bike, or car, share locations instead of putting aside funds for road mitigation. Third, the city could embark on its own program and off-set the cost with advertisers.

Folding Bikes on Transit – Metro is studying a program that would subsidize the cost of folding bikes for transit users to get more bikes on trains and buses. Currently it is legal to bring a folding bike into buses or trains at any time. Not so for regular bikes.

The issues that sparked the most discussion were car sharing, short term rentals and bike sharing.  Because a public partner would be needed to bring, or in the case of car-sharing, expand, the program; each of these three ideas are low-cost to the local government be it a goliath such as Los Angeles or a smaller city such as Walnut.

Of course, the big issue is whether or not any of these ideas will ever see life outside of a presentation.  Hopefully, the city’s involvement in the presentation will lead to taking the lead on implementation.

  • Lightbulb

    How about streetcars positioned around major train stops? Could work as feeder lines like buses without the bus bias

  • Peter
  • @Lightbulb: streetcars offer huge circulation benefits and last-mile solutions for dense urban areas. Los Angeles Streetcar Inc (LASI)(www.lastreetcar.org) — which has been mentioned a couple times on Streetsblog — is diligently working to develop a streetcar system in Downtown Los Angeles. Take a look at the website for more detailed information, in addition to conceptual alignments we’ve generated. Streetcars are also huge supporters of economic revitalization, which is a major plus in this economy.

  • Onceaslug

    Man, I so used to have the last miler disease before I got a folding bike (www.montaguebikes.com). Ride a little ways to the bus, fold for the duration of the ride and then ride about 1.5 miles on the other side. I could take public transportation the whole way but it would take over an hour an a half. With the bike though, I’m able to reach routes that were otherwise untouchable and reduce the commuting time to just over a half hour. I’m thinking about bumping it up and commuting by bike the whole way this winter.

  • Ron Kilcoyne

    I would like to comment on the six strategies for addressing the last mile in the SCAG/LADOT report. Car sharing, bike sharing and foldable bikes on transit certainly are good ideas that can reduce vehicle trips or VMT. However I don’t feel the other three strategies will do much to reduce VMT or vehicle trips. Here is why.

    Casual carpooling: This has been gong on in the East Bay area since at least the 80’s. People driving to San Francisco would drive by AC Transit bus stops and BART stations picking up individuals who would have otherwise ride AC or BART into the city. It was a way for drivers to avoid paying a toll and get a faster trip into the city by using the HOV lane and for transit users to avoid paying a transit fare. It did nothing to reduce traffic. (Disclosure I worked in the planning department of AC Transit from 1980 to 1992 and served as Manager of Planning 1989 to 1992.) I used to get complaints from casual car pool drivers about our buses blocking their cars (the nerve of our buses blocking cars parking up people in a bus stop) and whenever I talked to with a casual carpool driver I asked why they drove and didn’t ride transit themselves. The answer I always got – their employer paid for their parking in Downtown San Francisco! This lead to a follow up question what if your employer didn’t’ subsidize your parking. The answer: I would ride the bus or take BART. Casual carpooling is also common in DC and like in the Bay Area it is transit riders who are using casual carpooling to avoid paying a fare.

    Taxi: Zone fares (which is done in DC) or meter rates – if it’s a single party is going from A to B what difference is it if they are being driven in a cab or driving themselves – it is still a vehicle trip – no reduction of VMT. Also whether metered or zoned, taxis are still an expensive way to travel. Some cites do allow shared rides (I have experienced this in Denver and San Diego years ago don’t know if it still is in place). This could reduce vehicle trips because what would be separate vehicle trips are consolidated. A better idea is described below.

    Car rental: Not sure why this is there, when car sharing is an option.

    Which raises the question if this study is about the last mile why not include subsidized shuttles or shared ride taxis exclusively to and from transit stops. San Mateo County has done an outstanding job dealing with the last mile from BART and CalTrain in this manner. Some cities in Fairfield County of Connecticut also have extensive shuttles in place. I am sure there are plenty of other examples probably right in Southern Cal.

  • Oh good grief. Can anyone smell another vanpool program coming out of this effort?

    I sure as hell can.

    Why do bureaucrats love these high minded initiatives, but ignore the most basic, cheapest, and quickest solutions?

    To make less people drive, you need to re-dedicate the right of way to other uses and re-prioritize how the city delivers services to different modes.

    We don’t need a high capital input gimmick – we need quality sidewalks and bicycle facilities at or near every single transit facility in the city. We need high quality bus shelters and wide sidewalks for a 1/2 mile around each train station.

    We also need a Bike Plan that allows car parking and travel lanes to be reduced (especially on under-used arterials) in favor of bike, transit and ped facilities.

  • Last mile / first mile is very important. I’m glad SCAG is thinking of it.

  • Except SCAG has been thinking of it for 20 years. In the 1990’s they came up with Smart Shuttles, the stupidest transportation idea ever. Basically these were fixed route buses that could also act as deviated service – combining the worst of both worlds. Fixed schedules that had no semblance of reality, the extremely high costs of demand responsive service, and non-competitive travel times due to all of the deviations. At the end of the program they dropped the whole deviated service concept and just started running on major streets like Vermont and Western, cannibalizing existing riders of existing transit.

    There is one remaining Smart Shuttle today in the Rosewood area. The service performance is horrible – not even five riders an hour – and costs are excessive. Smart Shuttles, Maglev, Commuter Computer, and “public access vanpools” are some reasons why SCAG has no credibility in transportation circles, and why most local agencies wish that SCAG would just die.

  • Until the underlying pro-car tilt we have in our transportation agencies are addressed head on, we’re just talking about bureaucratic vapor-ware.

    Here is a way to get more people to stop driving: have less of them killed when walking!

    Wasn’t there a post on Streetsblog a few days ago about the abysmal state of pedestrian facilities in LA? 25% of the deaths for !% or 2% mode split, or something like that. I mean, come on, stop killing your own people first then lets talk about this high minded crap that requires additional funding sources and staff time.

  • All of this money and effort spent on endless studies and reports, and they all avoid the one thing that must be done to get people out of private automobiles: taking road space away from cars for other forms of transportation. All the rest is hot air.

    I’ve finally come to the conclusion that there’s a “bike sharing virus” that you can catch if you’re exposed to a transportation committee. The only people who are immune are people who have actually used a bicycle for transportation.

  • Rent a car, share a car, borrow a car, hitch a ride in a car…all of these solutions have something in common. I just can’t put my finger on it. Hmmm. Anyone?

  • DJB

    I went to another iteration of this presentation. The idea that caught my eye the most was subsidizing folding bikes. Apparently you can get one on loan from Metro if you agree to fill out a survey. In the discussion at this meeting there was a lot of talk about the need to expand bike parking, and to make sure that bike parking is covered and aesthetically pleasing. Also, apparently ever more bike valet parking is happening in Santa Monica :)

    SCAG isn’t the most powerful planning agency ever since most land use authority and money is at the county or local level, but it’s useful to think about stuff besides the (difficult to implement) fundamentals of complete streets and density near transit.

  • No word yet on the FIRST Team Westside’s recommendations which never never mentioned foldies or loaners, just went straight for the BIKE CAR on the train. wOOt! bit.ly/45Ixn7

  • @ DJB

    It doesn’t matter if you give away folding bikes for free as long as most people are scared to use them on our city streets. Without the foundation of safer and more accommodating routes, most people will continue to drive as if their lives depend on it, and as for as they will be concerned, it does.

  • DJB

    @Angle

    Hey, I see your point. Fear is one of the main things that keeps me off a bike. However, for people who live in areas with bike lanes and calm streets a folding bike subsidy could be just the thing to challenge their driving habit.

  • @DJB, if foldies are an option for people who live in areas with bike lanes and calm streets, what would you suggest for the people who live in Los Angeles?

  • DJB

    @SoapBox

    LOL. Yeah, well luckily it’s not literally true that there are no good places to ride a bike in LA, just not nearly as many as there should be.

    I just looked up Metro’s bike map (http://www.metro.net/riding_metro/bikes/images/la_bike_map.pdf) and it looks like you’re in luck if you live in Silver Lake, along the Orange Line or near Venice Blvd.

    Good luck in most other parts of the city.

  • Everyone raises some interesting and completely valid points.

    I was the SCAG lead on this study that was done for $125K. I think it was a great step in talking about getting people out of their cars. Something our transportation decisionmakers definitely need more presentations and venues that this is the key topic for the meeting.

    I was excited in the morning when the study – that’s looking at first and last mile barriers to transit – was presented to the first joint meeting of the City of LA planning and transportation commissions. It was incredibly valuable to have these two commission discussing ideas such as walking bicycling, parking and pricing and more.

    Josef – you’re completely right on about the safety element – it’s actually 30% of all traffic fatalities in the state of CA are bicyclists and pedestrians – unacceptable.

    I’d be happy to talk more about this or discuss ways it could be done better. I am working on bicycle and pedestrian regional planning at SCAG and would welcome any and all advice/input/criticism. you can reach me at meaney(at)scag.ca.gov

    I’ve been living car free in LA since 1997 and am committed to pursuing ways to rethinking the overpowering role we give to the car in our neighborhoods/streets/communities in So Cal – there is much to discuss and critique. All the more reason to for increasing citizen involvement in public decisionmaking.

    btw – metro is doing a foldable bike study to see potential ways bike might be subized for those interested in purchasing. Various vendors have lent Metro bikes to ride for a limited time to see how they work. NYC MTA sells a foldable bike for $299 right off their website. At this point – so early in the study – who knows what policy reccomendations will happen but I think it’s important to be looking at all the various ways and strategies to make provide ways for people to get out of their cars. It’s def valuable to hear people ideas on it – let me know if you want to discuss with me more.

    Perhaps we all need to rally around making a ciclavia happening? quit studying and get to walking and bicycling? I do think it is contagious – once you are able to see the alternatives to driving and how it impacts your community and life – it’s pretty infectious (with the right land use and transportation elements to help support it). No doubt something we need to be dicussing a lot more of – whenever we can.

    Glad to see all the comments and the post.

  • DJB – thanks for coming too!

  • also – once the study is finished in December it will be posted online – I’ll post the link on the bikepedSCAG twitter once it is

  • And if you think that SCAG isn’t doing a good job (or even if you are), you can always tattle to the Feds… the once every-four-year opportunity is coming up on December 2.
    http://www.scag.ca.gov/cgi/Calendar/eventInfo.cfm?ID=3362&CurntDate=12/14/2009

  • “All of this money and effort spent on endless studies and reports, and they all avoid the one thing that must be done to get people out of private automobiles: taking road space away from cars for other forms of transportation. All the rest is hot air.”

    ——————

    Great point.

    And it’s the one thing they politically won’t consider. Part of what makes a sprawling city like London so great for public transit isn’t just its 12 tube lines and dozens of commuter rail lines but a comprehensive bus network with bus only lanes.

    It takes a tremendous amount of political courage for any politician, especially a southern California one, to tell a motorist that their single-occupancy vehicle is not our highest transportation priority.

    If Metro moved from transportation model of moving “vehicles”, where a bus and car are treated the same, to one of moving “people”, where the greater the number of people being moved, the higher the priority, it would revolutionize transportation planning in L.A. Good luck on getting politicians here to go along with that.

    The other suggestion is eliminating free parking, which is also politically problematic..

  • Sam

    @Jessica

    I’d love to make a ciclavia happen in Santa Monica.

    To safely close off a road for an adequate distance, maybe 3 or 4 blocks to start, we would need some traffic control devices. Also, if it were in a business area, where I think it could be most viable to start, we’d need buy-in from all or most of the businesses.

    Can this be done by an active group, given the limited resources of the City? To make this happen the City would have to rent additional traffic control devices, deploy and monitor the traffic control devices, staff traffic officers at key intersections (overtime pay), and notify all affected businesses.

    Those are the challenges I see; I’d very much like to see them overcome and welcome any ideas.

  • @Sam – When I see the words Ciclovia and “3-4 blocks” I wince. Bogota opens something like 80 miles to bikes and peds every sunday. 3-4 blocks can hardly compete with the 3rd street promenade and the beach bike path… and is unlikely to attract any bicyclists. I would think a small Ciclovia event would be 8-10 miles… that would attract peds, bikes, rollerbladers, etc. Yes – it’s more expensive and has more challenges, and will take some notification and logistics… but it will feel like a substantial reclaiming of street space for people. I know the first ones will be smaller… but don’t think toooo small!

  • Sam

    @Joe

    I totally agree a longer route would be better.

    Given the resource dillema, a shorter route may be more viable to get things started. Maybe have some sponsors / donors to cover the costs associated with traffic control?

    Again, I’d really like to see this happen.

  • @Sam – Thanks – we agree more than we differ… there’s definitely a balancing act between few available resources and expansive visions… but I think that there’s a sweet spot in there somewhere… and I think the sweet spot is significantly more than 3 blocks long! I worry that nobody (or perhaps nobody on a bicycle) would show up for a 3-block ciclovia… then maybe critics will say “we tried it once and nobody came”

  • Eric B

    @Sam and Joe: Why not revive ArroyoFest? It seemed to be loved by all and is still talked about however many years later. Obviously it’s a lot of work, but talk about reclaiming auto space. I feel like the logistics are also easier than negotiating with the city about this or that many blocks.

  • There’s some interest in reviving ArroyoFest… but it took a lot of work, hence won’t be easy to re-do… we’ll see.

    Personally I like the idea of ciclovia events being in community retail areas – so folks connect with their communities. Freeways are set apart from the areas where we people actually walk and ride.

  • While I wasn’t here, and Arroyo Fest sounds awesome, I have to think that Ciclovia (or yes, a CicLAvia) is the way to go on this issue. Once businesses see that there’s a lot to be gained by having more cyclists and pedestrians on the street, the faster more people we’ll have interested in “Livable Streets.”

  • Interurbans

    The people at SCAG haven’t a clue. They have been cloistered in their offices for many years coming up with ideas that have no connection to reality or the real world. They seam to think thank that anything that runs on two rails is from the last century and should be disregarded along with the stage coach and buggy. Instead they come up with people movers, monorails, car sharing and their most recent last mile ideas. The idea of the last mile is very important. Getting to and from the MetroLink, Subway or LRT is as important as the long distance trip. But as usual SCAG got it all wrong as one would expect from a group who has no experience of doing anything but driving. Japan, Hong Kong and China have a large network of mini and micro busses that have short fixed routes that go between rail terminals and smaller neighborhoods and industrial sights. They are also available in dense areas where they share stops with busy bus lines, trams and LRT lines and take you that last mile at each end of your Journey. They really work well. The busses range in size from 12 to 25 passengers. Streetcar and bus circulators also do a very good job. I wonder why something like this is not in the minds or thoughts of our SCAG people.

  • I will note one thing – the planners have finally killed SCAGLEV (hopefully for good), with the maglev task force dissolved:
    http://www.scag.ca.gov/committees/pdf/tcc/2009/nov/tc110509min.pdf

    I have to decide how badly I want to ream SCAG next Wednesday. Should I at least be conciliatory and recognize the efforts of their line staff to pay attention to these issues, or should I totally rip into them for their stupid ideas, that have never worked, and their poor public involvement process, which just hit a new low in the 2008 RTP cycle? (I have been involved in RTPs since 1997, that’s how long I’ve been in the business, and I’ve never seen it that bad as the last cycle.) Jessica, and Ryan, are doing a good job with what they have. They are trying harder. Nor do I want ot discourage innovation. The question is whether SCAG’s policy and programmatic failures are a problem of the past administration, or are systemic, and could mean that SCAG should be disbanded and MPO status devolved to the local county transportation commissions.

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