January 3, 2018

For people who use transit services, trips do not simply begin or end when they get on or off a bus or train. Trips begin or end with a walk, bike ride, or auto trip from home to the transit station, or from the station to a final destination. These connecting trips before or after transit, the “last mile,” are critical links essential to making transit a viable, convenient choice.

At GS&P, we and our transportation colleagues are enthusiastic advocates of Complete Streets and multi-modal solutions. We know that simply building roads is not enough anymore. To truly address the mobility and congestion challenges that face so many cities across the country, we have to accommodate users of all types and plan for all modes. And to take that line of thinking a step further, it’s especially important to plan for multi-modal solutions in close proximity to transit stops. If we successfully implement public transit options but then fail to help people reach their final destination, we have not achieved our goal. Getting 90% of the way is just not far enough. Improving last mile connectivity helps to reduce congestion by making transit a more viable option. In addition to enhancing mobility, last mile improvements provide people with more travel options, increase opportunities for physical activity, and help to attract and retain employers looking to locate in more walkable, transit-friendly areas.

First- and last-mile connections are generally made in one or more ways, including but not limited to:

  • Walking – Ideally, major destinations will be no more than ¼ mile from the nearest transit location. And walking only works if the infrastructure is safe and comfortable for pedestrians. Amenities such as shade and seating are also important for creating a pleasant walking experience.
  • Biking – For biking to be a feasible last-mile option, bike racks should be available at the transit station, at the final destination, and even on-board the transit vehicles. Bike-sharing services are also a great option for those who don’t want the expense or the burden of owning and maintaining their own bicycle.
  • Private automobile – These are typically used for first-mile rather than last-mile connections, since most people would drive from home and leave their car in a park-and-ride lot at a transit station.
  • Shuttle – Often, major employers will provide a shuttle to transport employees between the transit station and the office building.
  • Bus – These include local transit buses that can connect people from a rail station to their final destination, as well as regional buses that transport people from outlying suburbs to job centers.
  • Ride-hailing/ridesharing services (e.g. Uber, Lyft) – Growing in popularity, ridesharing and ride-hailing services are a quick and convenient option for many to make the last-mile connection. New options for ride-hailing carpools reduce the number of vehicles on the road and provide a more affordable service for patrons. Companies such as Zipcar provide a fleet of vehicles that people can use not only for last-mile trips, but also to run errands or make other short trips as needed during the day.

The problem you’ll notice is that several of these options may be cost-prohibitive for some people. Low-income individuals, even if they’re able to afford a ticket on the subway, light rail or bus for the majority of their route, often have a difficult time completing the last leg of their journey. Not everyone has access to a private automobile, and we all know that shared cars, shared rides and taxi costs can add up fast. Even owning a bicycle can be expensive. The time spent making last-mile connections also has a cost. It is well-known that lower income people spend considerably more time than many others getting to and from work, in part, because they often have to link three or more trips to complete their journey. In addition to being affordable, it is essential to streamline first- and last-mile options wherever possible. That means that it is crucial to provide safe walking environments around transit stations, as well as low-cost, convenient options such as timely bus service to help people make connections between their home and places of employment.

Figure 1. GS&P-designed multi-modal roadway in Cobb County, Georgia (Lower Roswell Rd)

GS&P has been working with the Cities of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven, in partnership with the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs) in north Metro Atlanta, to study last-mile connectivity needs throughout the region. The Perimeter area, already home to more than 5,000 companies including several Fortune 500 companies, is growing at a tremendous rate. New developments such as State Farm, Mercedes-Benz and other high-density commercial, residential and mixed-use developments continue to make it an exciting time to live, work, and play in the Perimeter area. All of this growth, however, will place additional strain on the already-congested roadways in the area. Given this growth, it is essential to make sure the Perimeter area has biking, walking, and transit options to keep people moving, and maintain its status as a desirable destination for workers, residents, and visitors.

Figure 2. Shared-use sidepath along Perimeter Center West leads to the Sandy Springs MARTA station

Transportation, and particularly non-automobile transportation, will play a critical role in the Perimeter area’s ability to maintain and strengthen its position as a premier urban market for residents, businesses, and visitors. According to data from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, within the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell Metro Area, 78 percent of all workers over the age of 16 drive alone to work while only three percent use public transportation. This equates to about two million people driving alone to work within the Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Roswell area. The purpose of the Last Mile Connectivity Study was to produce a consolidated program of investments in bicycle, pedestrian, trail, and roadway facilities, and to explore future transit opportunities to make it easier, safer, and more comfortable for people to leave their cars behind and embrace public transportation.

The project team took a two-pronged approach to examining connectivity within the study. One component focused on short-distance, true “last mile” connections within the PCIDs – getting people effectively between origins/destinations and the nearest transit stop or station, or facilitating short connections between multiple nearby destinations. The second component looked at longer-distance connections between the PCIDs and outlying activity centers, or nodes, in Brookhaven (Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA Station area), Dunwoody (Georgetown and Dunwoody Village), and Sandy Springs (City Springs).

Recommendations in the study were grouped into “quick wins” that we felt would have the biggest impact in a short amount of time and for a relatively low cost, and longer-term options that will require further study. It is gratifying that several of the project partners are already starting to take steps toward implementing new first- and last-mile connectivity options. Segments of new sidewalk and multi-use path have been programmed for funding, and Sandy Springs is now considering multi-modal options for one of its key corridors leading to the new City Springs area.

Ultimately, the goal with this study, and all of our projects related to last-mile connectivity, is to provide people with choices other than a personal automobile for completing short-distance trips. By making it easier on people to utilize transit services, we are taking cars off the road and thereby reducing congestion, reducing pollution, and significantly improving quality-of-life.