Balancing transportation investments to maximize access: Connecting nonmotorized trips with transit

By Mary Ebeling
New research from the Mineta Transportation Institute contributes essential insights into improving transit access for nonmotorized transportation. Researchers assert that a city should develop a low-stress road network while balancing these improvements with the desire for efficient transit service.
Most transit riders walk or bike to bus and train stations. However, transit stations often are located along high-speed or multi-lane road networks that effectively limit access to transit for these travelers. Improving the safety and comfort of nonmotorized users could allow transit to capture a larger share of trips.
The Mineta report builds on previous research that lays out an argument for the importance of low-stress biking and walking networks as well as network connectivity. The report categorizes Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) into four categories with LTS 1 and LTS 2 having slower speeds, lower traffic volumes, and bicycle/pedestrian facilities. These roads are most appropriate for bicycle and pedestrian travel. LTS 3 and LTS 4 encompass higher levels of stress with multiple lanes, higher vehicle speeds, and limited nonmotorized facilities. These roads function as barriers for nonmotorized travel. Specifically, the LTS criteria used for this study include vehicle speeds, number of lanes, presence of parking, presence of bike lanes, and intersection type (whether signalized or unsignalized).
“The relative effectiveness of automobile alternatives (i.e., buses, bicycling, and walking) depends on how well streets are designed to work for these respective modes in terms of safety, comfort and cost.” One interesting side effect of leveling the playing field for the different modes is that it may shift some trips from bike/bus to bike alone. Researchers offer the example of “a street network that works well for high-speed vehicle traffic may work well for buses, but not for bicyclists and pedestrians.” Streets and networks with LTS 2 or below work well for biking and walking, but make bus travel times comparable to bike riding times. This may shift bike/bus trips to bike only trips. Future research may bring further clarity to this phenomenon, but the researcher conclude that LTS 2 is the optimum balance to both improve access to transit and still keep buses moving.
Communities are beginning to recognize the importance of building separated and dedicated nonmotorized facilities to increase access to transit. Places like Newark, NJ, have applied for and received funding through NJDOT’s Local Aid Bikeway Grant program to build separated and dedicated bicycle routes linking Newark’s Penn Station and Broad Street Station. Tracking improvements in mode split after the development of facilities such as this will help decision-makers in future multimodal planning efforts.
Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.