Transportation planners talk about something they call “the last mile problem”; it’s the challenge of bridging the gaps from people’s homes to public transit stations and from public transit stations to their workplaces.
Generally the problem is dealt with by building “Park-n-Ride” lots. We’re all familiar with these large parking lots where transit riders park their cars while they make the remainder of their commute on transit. In the suburbs where I live, a large majority of transit riders use these lots. It’s not a terribly bad system; it reduces congestion and cuts down on fossil fuel consumption, but the parking lots are a blight and they cause heavy localized traffic conditions during rush hour.
A much smaller percentage of commuters walk to their transit stops. My guess is that these are people who live within a mile or so of their pick up point. Of the large group I ride with everyday, I only see a handful who appear to walk to the transit stop from their homes.
Arguably, the bicycle is best solution to the last mile problem. Bicycles multiply a person’s human-powered speed and range by at least four, 4-6 can be parked in the space it takes to park one car, and, of course, they’re eco-friendly. They can also be carried on buses and trains, extending the rider’s range on the opposite end of the trip.
Most bicycle commuters ride their bikes from point-to-point. In other words, 100% of their commute miles are covered on their bikes. For riders who live within 5-10 miles of their work, or for those who are athletically gifted and can maintain a long commute on a daily basis, this is an ideal way to get to-and-from work.
But obstacles arise when commute distances are too long, or a rider’s physical limitations are an issue. A physical handicap, injury, or even the rider’s age may limit the distances that can comfortably be covered on a daily basis. My commute is a good example; at my age and with my physical limitations, my 60-mile round trip would be impossible to sustain over time without at least some portion of it being covered on transit.
If you’re fortunate enough to live near your workplace and you’re able to make a point-to-point commute by bike everyday, you may not be interested in transit. But we’re all getting older, and most serious riders eventually end up with a bike-related injury at some point. Plus, in these unstable economic times, it’s not possible to know with certainty where we’ll be living and working a few years from now. So even though transit may not currently be on your radar, that could change overnight, and you may find yourself depending upon a bus or train in combination with your bicycle to get yourself to work everyday.