Metro Extends Reach With Its New First Last Mile Strategic Plan

At its April 2014 meeting, the Metro board approved its First Last Mile Strategic Plan & Planning Guidelines. For readers unfamiliar with “first last mile” terminology, it’s planner-speak for looking at the portion of a transit trip between a transit stop and one’s final destination, most often a home or work place. Generally every transit trip includes some non-transit at each end. This last mile can include: walk, bicycle, skate, scooter, transit, taxi, carpool, driving, etc., or some combination of those. First last mile planning looks at the infrastructure that makes it safer and easier for riders to get to transit stops.

It is a welcome step forward that Metro is taking first last mile facilities seriously. Control over first last mile tends to reside somewhat outside of Metro’s direct jurisdiction. Metro drives the bus and operates the train, but passengers arrive via sidewalks, paths and streets that are designed and regulated by various cities.

In planning and building its transportation system, Metro already coordinates with cities. In some cases Metro accommodates car traffic by widening roads, etc., so it only makes sense that Metro can also work with cities to accommodate safer walking and bicycling to Metro stations.

Comparison of
Comparison of greenhouse gas emissions per person trip. From Metro First Last Mile Plan page 6.

Though there are a lot of ways to get to transit stops, but a lot of first last mile planning focuses primarily on active transportation: walking and bicycling. Walking is already the most frequent first last mile mode. Per Metro surveys, more than 80% of Metro trips begin by walking to transit.

Metro’s First Last Mile Plan is part of its overall sustainability strategy. As the above chart shows, to the extent that people chose to take transit and/or bike, transportation’s environmental benefits increase. Walking is even better, though not shown in the above chart. Similar graphics could be developed for other pollution — air, water, noise — and for public safety, public health and more. For all these reasons, the first last mile priority is fostering walking and bicycling.

To date, Metro hasn’t had any significant coordinated investment in encouraging walking and bicycling to Metro Rail stations. To some extent, the contrary is true; Metro has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build free parking, but that’s another story. Even without significant investment, Metro on-board surveys show that roughly 90 percent of their transit riders arrive without driving or being dropped off. For Metro rail, roughly 75 percent of riders already arrive without any driving.

Investment in first last mile facilities can, as the plan states (p. 3), “extend the reach of transit, with the ultimate goal of increasing ridership.” It can also shift existing riders on to healthier, more sustainable modes. These facilities also make areas around Metro stops more pleasant and more commercially viable. 

Access Sheds defined. To get to a transit stop, it's generally doable to walk about half a mile, bike about three miles, or skate about two miles. Graphic from Metro's First Last Mile Plan, page 14
Access Sheds defined: to get to a transit stop, it’s generally doable to walk about half a mile, bike about three miles, or skate about two miles. Graphic from Metro’s First Last Mile Plan, page 14

Metro’s plan shows the general distances that people will walk, bike or skate to get to a transit stop, calling these “access sheds.” According to the plan, to get to transit, people will walk roughly half a mile, or bike roughly three miles.

Federal transportation policy sets walk-shed and bike-shed distances at 0.5-mile and 3 miles, respectively. Graphic: Metro First Last Mile plan page 18
Federal transportation policy sets walk-shed and bike-shed distances at 0.5-mile and 3 miles, respectively. Graphic: Metro First Last Mile plan page 18

The walking and bicycling distances, though shorter than what many people who use active transportation daily might expect, are actually specified in federal transportation policy.

From these access sheds, Metro’s plan comes up with a “bold concept” which it calls: “the Pathway.”

From the plan:

The Pathway is a proposed county-wide, transit access network designed to reduce the distance and time it takes people to travel from their origins to stations and from stations to destinations, while simultaneously improving the user experience. At its core, the Pathway is a series of active transportation improvements that extend to and from Metro Rail and BRT stations.

The Pathway extends the positive experience of the transit user. It is intuitive, safe, efficient, universally accessible and fun.

Scramble Crossings are one component of the Pathway toolbox in Metro's First Last Mile plan. Image from page 30
Scramble Crossings are one component of the Pathway toolbox in Metro’s First Last Mile plan. Image from page 30

The plan then details an extensive toolbox of pedestrian and cycling facilities that would comprise the Pathway. These include nearly all of the livability improvements that Streetsblog readers know and love: mid-block crosswalks, signage, scramble crossings, landscaping, bus-only lanes, bike lanes, bike share, car share, even protected bike lanes, which the plan renames “rolling lanes”.

These are exactly the kind of facilities that are needed to make it safe and convenient to walk and bike to Metro.

The plan subsequently includes generic sample Pathway illustrations to show how various features can be combined. After those, the plan includes three real Metro station case study sites: 103rd Street/Watts Blue Line Station, Wilshire/Normandie Purple Line Station, and North Hollywood Red/Orange Line Station. Though these existing station case studies are detailed and well-thought out, that plan states that they are “meant for illustrative purposes only” with more detailed site-specific planning needed.

In April, Metro approved the First Last Mile Strategic Plan, as well as a series of First Last Mile pilot projects, anticipated to be funded by the current round of the state Active Transportation Program. The pilots are basically local jurisdiction projects that connect with Metro rail stations. These projects were already underway before Metro’s plan, so Metro is sort of re-branding them as first last mile:

  • 17th Street/Santa Monica City College Station (Expo Line, Phase 2) First Last Mile Enhancements
  • Exposition/Bundy Station (Expo Line, Phase 2) Multi-Modal Connectivity Enhancements
  • Arcadia Gold Line Station (Foothill Extension 2A) Pedestrian Linkage Project and Bicycle Facility Improvements
  • Duarte Gold Line Station (Foothill Extension 2A) Pedestrian Improvements
  • Unspecified projects at Metro Red Line Universal City and North Hollywood stations.

Overall, it’s important that Metro is acknowledging that transit trips are multi-modal, and that Metro’s passengers’ trip experiences extend outside the boundaries of Metro’s stops and stations.

Nonetheless, there are a few things missing from the plan:

  1. Connections to Metro Bus: The First Last Mile plan is too narrowly focused on Metro’s rail system stations. Similar first last mile issues exist throughout the Metro Bus system. Many bus stops in population-dense areas have greater numbers of daily boardings than outlying Metro rail stations. A thorough Metro first last mile program would include bus, rapid bus, BRT, and rail stops. Ideally, it could extend beyond Metro’s direct purview to municipal bus system stops and even Metrolink stations. Thanks to UCLA Planning graduate student Daniel Berez for raising the lack of bus connections at Metro’s April board meeting.
  2. Missing the Bike Shed: After stating that the bicycling access shed extends a 3-mile radius from each transit stop, all the First Last Mile Plan examples design for only a half-mile radius. Especially as Metro proceeds with implementation of regional bike share, it’s important that Metro consider a sphere of influence well beyond a half-mile from its transit stops.
  3. Lack of Funding: Despite billions of dollars for building rail, there’s no Metro funding source for implementing first last mile improvements that will make rail successful. Pilot projects are anticipated to be funded by the state using federal pass-through monies, and implemented by local cities. Construction of rail, road, and parking lots is expensive. Walking and bicycling facilities are relatively cheap. Where is Metro’s leadership on funding for extending the reach of its own transportation system? Perhaps first last mile will be included in Metro’s Short Range Transportation Plan underway? One potential future funding source would be the proposed “Measure R2.” Move L.A.’s straw man proposal includes a 3 percent first last mile set-aside in its proposed new rail project funding.

Some Metro facilities have included active transportation facilities: the Expo Line bikeway, and the Orange Line bike path. Generally, though, Metro has treated these facilities as peripheral, and only included them at the insistence of local cities and communities. With Metro’s new embrace of first last mile planning and facilities, Metro can now fully partner with local jurisdictions and make great safe places to walk and bike at each end of every transit.

In the long run, Metro will need to include first last mile facilities as a component of all its transportation system planning. When a new bus line is established, a new BRT facility is installed, or a new rail station is built, Metro can respect its customers by including new walkways, bike share, and other first last mile features.

  • AJ

    The “rolling lanes” concept is where this plan falls apart. The idea of combining nonmotorized vehicles with breaks (bikes, etc.) nonmotorized modes without breaks (skateboards, roller skates, etc.) and faster motorized vehicles (scooters, etc.) sets a poor precedent that could lead to dangerous and dumb designs.

  • Fakey McFakename

    Also missing: any strategy to deal with the enormous asphalt deserts that surround stations like North Hollywood, basically killing the pedestrian life around the station

  • Joe Linton

    There is a strategy for that very parking lot on page 71 of the plan. I don’t think it’s great, or even the long-term best use of that site (ie: mixed use with affordable housing – in my opinion), but it would be some improvement over what’s there now.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    That picture of the subway station and parking lot is the northeast corner of Lankershim/Chandler.

    The southwest corner will have a bicycle hub with secured indoor parking for at least 250 bicycles in 2015.

    There is currently about 145 bicycle parking spaces at the North Hollywood subway station and perhaps 15 bicycle parking spaces at the Orange Line station directly across from it. That’s about 160 bicycle parking spaces. The bicycle hub will bring that total to at least 400 parking spaces.

    Metro’s 2013 counts had about 320 bicycle boarding’s at the North Hollywood subway station. That’s in the top three of all the counts that were conducted at the rail stations. An additional 250 bicycle parking spaces should significantly increase the amount of people arriving at this transit hub by bicycle.

  • Peggy Drouet

    Bangkok has already solved this problem: tut tuts, small motorized vehicles, meet passengers at metro stops to take them to work, hotels, places of interest, homes, etc. In Thailand, the tut tuts are individually owned but a fleet of them owned by a company or companies would work here. In Thailand, the tut tuts still run on gasoline but there are new electric and solar-powered models.

  • Alex Brideau III

    If by “tut-tuts” you’re referring to the moped/motorcycle-based, three-wheeled, covered transports often seen in Asia (I believe they’re called “motorelas” in the southern Philippines), they may only provide limited usefulness as they would sit in traffic just like a taxi or other car-for-hire would have to. Enhancing non-motorized first/last mile options allows folks to bypass LA traffic when getting to and from Metro stations.

  • Peggy Drouet

    Yes, those are the type of transportation I am referring to, but there are metro stations where they could be very useful, such as in getting home from the Gold Line stop in South Pasadena or to the Norton Simon Museum or the Huntington Gardens from other Gold Line stops. There are places of interest within a mile or two of other metro stops including the Disney Center from Union Station on a Sunday when the Dash is not operating on that route, rather than having to take the subway to the Civic Center and walking up that steep hill. These are short hops that would make using the metro much more convenient and would not be in congested car traffic areas and would be too short of a distance for taxis to be interested in. An efficient metro system uses many types of transportation.

  • caseym54

    London, with as much spawl as LA, solves the interconnect problem with local loop buses that serve one or two stations so that people are never more than a block or two from a pick-up/drop-off point.

  • caseym54

    I can think of no better way to kill off all rail funding than to piss off all the drivers who go through these scramble intersections in heavy traffic. Bundy/Olympic is terrible enough without halving auto throughput.

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