From the First to the Last Mile
“That was surprisingly easy.” The clunk of the bike rack on the front of the bus and the whirr of the trains in the station above us echoed Megan’s words as she looked triumphantly up at me. My partner of five years and I had just completed a journey around Vancouver, BC. Our trip involved taking our bikes over water on ferries and riding on a mix of slow-trafficked streets, off-street trails and separated bikeways. The option to throw our bikes onto public transit greeted us at many different points along the way. Now we were riding home, and we were surprised at how ordinary and natural our travels seemed, especially by bike.
Infrastructure that is supportive of people on bikes, especially those who use bicycles for transportation, expands our daily travel choices, allowing us to find the most convenient, fastest way for our own particular needs. Like many people who live in cities, Megan and I needed to see that functional, comfortable and identifiable infrastructure – such as separated bikeways, secure bike parking, and bike racks on buses, trains and ferries – not only existed, but that it would connect us comfortably from destination to destination.
Save for walking trips, no trip involves just one form of transportation. We inevitably shift between two or more methods of travel – by foot, bicycle, bus, train, car – so we must be aware that every mode of transportation is connected and strive to make these connections seamless. A wave of cities around the world have already recognized the need for integrated transportation and the coordinated planning it takes to make this a reality. These cities are changing gears from the one-by-one developments of roads, bike routes and public transit systems to taking a more holistic, connected approach to infrastructure and urban development. The results show that these changes make cities more humane and vibrant – a new form of human-powered city.
Known as the first and last mile, the part of the trip that connects you to the door of your destination poses a problem for transportation planners. Public transit can efficiently transport a large number of people on specific routes, but it can’t connect to every door. Urban planners and transit authorities are considering bicycles as a way to connect the “last mile” in a sustainable way while decreasing overall commuting times.
Redesigning Cities with a Focus on Experience
A strategic shift gaining popularity in city planning is to look at how cities are experienced through all forms of transport and how design either aids or inhibits one form or the other. Rising economic and environmental costs are making many people reconsider their dependency on cars, while also making them want to live in places that are walkable and accessible to the entire family. As a result, the bicycle is gaining new ground as an attractive transportation choice, even in car-dependent North America.
“Cycling is truly a mode of transportation,” announced Michel Labrecque, Chair of Société de transport de Montréal (STM), as he began his keynote speech during Velo-city Global 2012 this past summer in Vancouver. In Montreal, including the bicycle as a transportation choice meant building infrastructure that would support the transportation cyclist as well as the recreational cyclist.