By Josh Stephens, June 4, 2015
f all the misconceptions that get assigned to Los Angeles, one of the
most untrue is that the city has no public transportation. In fact, the
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) runs
the second-most extensive public transit system in the country, behind
only that of New York City. Metro records 1.5 million average boardings
per day on buses that traverse every major boulevard in the city and
trains that parallel some of the region’s busiest streets and freeways.
Even so, only 11 percent of Angelenos commute via transit. For the
rest, it’s still easy to miss Metro’s services for all the cars.
has always been considered a city of the automobile, a city of the
freeway, a city of sprawl,” says Diego Cardoso, a Metro
executive.“[Transit ridership] depends on the cultural shift that needs
to occur in the city of Los Angeles.”
This is the shift that Metro’s “First Last Mile Strategic Plan & Planning Guidelines”
aims to effect. Adopted in early April, it won a 2015 National Planning
Excellence Award for a Best Practice from the American Planning
Association a few weeks later. Anything that gets Angelenos, famously
fossilized by traffic, out of their cars surely is worthy of
celebration. That goes double in a state that is aggressively trying to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
so-called first mile/last mile problem plagues transit systems across
the U.S. Naturally, lines have to follow major corridors and serve
population centers. They can’t be everywhere. In a dense but
geographically sprawling city like Los Angeles, that means that many
workplaces, and even more residences, are not in easy walking distance
to a station. According to some planners, this problem, more so than
issues of routing or headway, prevents Angelenos from taking full
advantage of public transportation. (The Los Angeles area is served by a
dozen or so smaller transit systems sponsored by individual
municipalities. Many of them coordinate with Metro.)
mile/last mile solutions are very good value for their dollar because
they have an opportunity to encourage more users on your current
system,” says Hilary Norton, executive director of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic, a business-backed advocacy group for transportation.
the past decade, Metro has focused on the development of $40 billion
worth of major infrastructure — light rail, busways, highway expansion
and the like — that collectively constitutes the largest public works
program in the country. The strategy, developed in collaboration with
the Southern California Association of Governments, is the agency’s way
of thinking small.
“The emphasis is going to be in investing
transit dollars in such a way that it maximizes the connectivity of the
system,” says Cardoso. “The system is not just the trains, the bus. It’s
more than that. It’s bicycles, it’s walking. It’s understanding the
better interaction between land use and transit.”
addresses this problem on multiple fronts, acknowledging ways that
different modest of transportation complement each other. It includes
everything from recommendations for novel new “mobility centers,” to
better bike lanes and wheelchair accessibility, to partnerships with
ride-hailing and bike-sharing services, to attitudinal changes that
neighborhood groups can effect. It also includes informational shifts,
like analysis of “access sheds” and “pathway” maps of high-volume
transit stops that identify the ways that passengers can arrive at and
depart from a given stop.
Because it can be replicated countless
times across the region, the strategy takes a more expansive view of
transit than has ever been conceived of in Los Angeles — or, possibly,
“Metro went from saying, ‘we run buses and we run
trains’ to, we get people from their homes to the buses to the trains to
their destinations,’” says Norton. “That’s a big change in their
overall view of what a transit trip looks like.”
Among the most
novel of the strategy’s ideas, “mobility centers” would be a cross
between a convenience store and a bus stop. They would give transit
riders safe, comfortable places to wait. They could come with secured
bike racks, rain shelters, landscaping and information kiosks about the
“If you’re waiting for a bus or a train and it’s
night and you’re female, you’d like to be in or near someplace that’s
open for business that you can be inside drinking a cup of coffee or
reading a newspaper,” says Norton.
Importantly, Metro envisions
them as being privately funded — by the retailers themselves.
Convenience store chain Famima, a Japanese import that has made inroads
in Los Angeles, has already expressed interest in sponsoring pilot
projects. The chance to increase ridership without spending a public
dime has Metro officials nearly giddy.
“We welcome any strategy from the private sector that maximizes the reach of accessibility to our system,” says Cardoso.
modest tactics include the installation of signs and other wayfinding
devices, to help cyclists and pedestrians locate the nearest transit
stop. Metro is also discussing partnerships with ride-hailing services
like Lyft to arrange short-distance rides between home and the bus stop
or train station.
Especially with the rise of app-based
transportation, these strategies face few technological hurdles. The
logistical hurdles, however, have been massive thus far. Because Metro
is a countywide agency, its services run through the vast majority of
the county’s 88 cities and its pockets of unincorporated areas. Metro
has control over only its own services and rights of way. This means
that the passengers whom Metro wants to attract have traditionally been
beyond their grasp.
Metro’s strategy overcomes this challenge by
taking a do-it-yourself, open-source approach to infrastructure
development. The strategy is essentially a guidebook that cities,
community groups and businesses can follow according to their own needs,
timetables, capacities and — perhaps most importantly — budgets.
culture in L.A. was that Metro kind of stayed to its own right of way,”
says Metro Transportation Planning Manager Steven Mateer, who worked on
the guidelines. “A lot of cites were really excited about Metro being a
partner in conducting the planning work for ‘First Mile Last Mile.‘”
is currently pursuing pilot projects. Generally, there is no master
plan or timetable, and Metro will accept implementation as it comes —
hopefully sooner rather than later. Metro officials are promoting these
strategies in the hopes that partners will see their wisdom and jump on
board. In essence, anyone can now be a transit planner in Los Angeles.
In fact, Metro’s strategies may apply to plenty of other cities around
the region and around the country.
“Not everybody can go and build a rail system, but lots of people can address the first mile/last mile problem,” says Norton.