Here are a few concrete steps local governments and transit providers can take to reduce the amount of times their residents drive alone – and how they can increase everybody’s quality of life.
Reroute meandering suburban buses to faster arterial roads
Though congestion resulting from induced demand often clogs even arterial roads, wide arterials still typically provide the fastest, most direct available route from A to B.
Yet all too often, suburban transit providers fail to use arterials’ capacity to their benefit, operating meandering buses designed to minimize walking instead of fixed routes that head straight down main corridors.
Circulate San Diego Executive Director and La Mesa, CA City Council member Colin Parent thinks that suburban buses shouldn’t try to provide door-to-door service and should operate instead on busy, arterial roads.
“If you try to make the bus go to your door using a fixed route, it’s hard to have fast trips,” Parent said.
Transit systems can instead take several operational steps to make fixed arterial transit routes more appealing to suburban residents. If route alignment reflects peoples’ present-day travel patterns, schedules are aligned for quick transfers, and dispatchers make sure passengers don’t regularly just miss connections, riders will come. Using affordable GPS technology to provide real-time arrival information, displayed at bus stops and accessible on mobile devices, is also very important, especially when headways are lengthy and bus stop environments aren’t pleasant.
Solve first and last mile problem with bikes and walkers
Obviously, without door-to-door service, suburban and rural transit users need something to complete the first and last miles of their trips.
That’s why it’s vital to make space for cyclists and pedestrians and provide them safe, direct routes to access them. Given the often fierce hatred primarily car users have for bicyclists, such complete streets initiatives should incorporate motorists’ perspectives, advertising separated bike paths and safe crosswalks as improvements over the unpredictable “jaywalkers” and cyclists who dangerously weave their way through cars.
Clear up skewed cultural perceptions of mobility with the truth
When multimodal transportation works well, the benefits to society are clear. Thus, it’s important to not just emphasize the economic connectivity such mobility provides, but also to publicize the high quality of life it facilitates. Transit routes, bike lanes, and sidewalks bring families and friends closer together, while outings to restaurants, nightlife, sporting events, and outdoor activities create lifelong memories.
Currently, people in low-density areas associate many of these positive experiences with cars. Though the memories come from the fun activities at the destination, if people always drive there they come to believe that cars make such experiences possible. Even if the time spent behind the wheel proves miserable, people associate their cars with the physical and social freedom of their personal lives.
Thus, transit industry stakeholders should do all they can to organize multimodal public outings, in which transportation can be a substantive component of the fun, rather than just something people tolerate. Multimodal transportation networks allow people to access combinations of destinations that may not be practical or feasible if a personal car is involved.
Though educational transportation events such as Safe Routes to Schools demonstrations have historically focused mainly on walking and biking, Circulate San Diego has organized and developed maps to guide people on “Transit for Fun” outings. Such outings can highlight outdoor attractions, sporting events, local watering holes, and more. One event I participated in highlighted bars and breweries accessible via a frequent bus route traversing 30th Street through San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, a corridor which Men’s Journal once declared “the nation’s best beer boulevard.”
“We identify routes with bars and restaurants and meet up,” Parent said. “We show people how to use transit, and have them take selfies of each other.”
According to Parent, the City of San Diego has taken notice of this initiative’s success, applying for regional grants that would fund an even more robust multimodal transportation education program. Parent hopes to tailor events to a variety of potential riders, including business organizations that are interested in improving accessibility to the city’s airport but may not be familiar with the existing bus route connecting the terminals to downtown.
Diversifying suburban and rural transportation will be a long process. But it must be done.
Existing transportation systems serving low-density areas are a product of many decades of car culture.
While many residents feel the space they enjoy and activities they do would not be possible without automobiles, marginalization of other options substantially restricts their freedom and opportunity. When given the chance, people in these areas have shown great creativity, developing and utilizing unique transportation options that take advantage of what their infrastructure offers while avoiding the burdens of solo driving.
Now, it’s time to take things to the next level – making sure people are able to select the optimal way to take each trip while enhancing everything they enjoy about life outside cities.
Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab.