Connecting the Nodes
Urban Mobility Daily poses the question “Has Public Transit Finally Found Its First Mile-Last Mile Partner In Micromobility?” Clearly acknowledging the potential impact of the affirmative, the article goes on to explain that few Americans will bother to walk more than one half mile to public transit, but increasing that radius to only one mile and a half will capture nine times the potential riders (16) (fig 7). With DC already walkable and with a variety of transit options accessible within the city, the fertile ground for increasing transit ridership is the suburban periphery, where Metro can only serve major centers and where bike commuting is typically under one percent. Outside the half-mile radius of the station, ridership quickly diminishes. The “first mile-last mile” dilemma has been a hard nut to crack, with both the vehicle and route choice being limited.
The suburban periphery of DC is a challenge that WMATA is now effectively addressing with its Bike & Ride facilities as a viable means of encouraging bicycle and eventually other micromobilty modes. With about thirty percent of all Capital Bike Share trips used to access Metro, Capital Bikeshare is now integral with most metro stations. Notably Bikeshare trips are typically about one mile, with three miles at the upper limit of a trip distance, potentially expending Metro’s reach considerably. Given sufficient infrastructure ensuring a comfortable ride to the metro on a morning or evening commute, this option will continue to expand and grow ridership.
In a similar vein, WMATA’s Bike and Ride program promotes bike access addressing the “first and last mile” by providing a secure option for parking privately owned bikes. The prototype, designed by KGP, will be installed in several urban and suburban stations in the District, Virginia and Maryland, MD as one approach to expand the reach of Metrorail ridership (fig 8). An expanded variation of an earlier more compact prototype tensile structure, “Meshroom” (fig 9), it has a capacity of 182 spaces, with flexibility to accommodate PMDs as they evolve.
The suburban fabric surrounding DC is slowly evolving to make the last mile access by PMDs plausible in many areas. The eight and one-half mile Route 1 BRT, spearheaded by Fairfax County DOT, with KGP as Station Architects, improves connectivity to the Huntington Metrorail Station as well as the future Hybia Valley Metrorail Station. A vibrant micromobility network within the corridor, ultimately connecting to the BRT is a critical aspect of the strategy. The local news source, “Covering the Corridor” says “[t]he ‘transit-oriented design’ will place emphasis on multi-modal forms of transportation, with BRT running through the Community Business Centers (CBCs) from the Huntington Metro station to Fort Belvoir. Dedicated bike lanes and large, connected sidewalks (will) make a place known for being less-than-friendly to pedestrians and bikers into something urbanists can get excited about” (17). (fig 9).
The Last Mile and PMDs
But as the “first and last mile” is replaced by “first and last miles” with efficient electric-assisted bikes and scooters hitting the market, more distant suburban residential and commercial now centers are now accessible. The one-mile or one and a half-mile distance to Metro, that conventional riders would consider, would double or triple. A once inconceivable sweat-free five-mile ride on the WO&D trail to a WMATA Silverline station is now an option with an e-bike or scooter. Micromobility Hubs at transit stations with smaller satellite hubs at neighborhood locations could provide extended first mile/last mile options for WMATA riders as well as a direct commute option to DC (fig11). The National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) noted in a 2018 study, that typically e-bike trips are longer and more frequent than bike trips, not surprisingly, but also the “percentage of people who felt safer on an e-bike was even greater when the respondents were women, over 55, or had physical limitations.” Given the currently poor bike infrastructure in many US cities, the added confidence and security level that e-bikes enable will make them indispensable in the effort to expand the range of users. Recognizing the potential of an expanded base of users, bike manufacturers are shifting their focus to e-bikes. Though e-bike sales in the US have grown by 8-fold since 2014, the CEO of Trek predicts e-bike sales will represent 35% of the market in the US by 2025. Significantly ahead of the US market, Shimano reports from a recent study in bike-eu.com that as the new technology is being adopted, 24% of Europeans would consider commuting by an e-bike, (with the Netherlands at 47% and Italy at (37%). Citing the reasons “to keep fit”, (34%); “to protect the environment”, (30%); and “to save money”, (30%) (18).