First and Last Mile Connections

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This report in the Transit Strategies Series explores first- and last-mile connections. When it comes to a traveler’s experience, “the last mile can be the longest mile.” The connecting journeys before and after the transit ride can be influential enough to encourage or discourage a person to ride transit again. For this reason, transit agencies and cities across the nation are developing and implementing strategies to improve first- and last-mile connections to transit services, stops and stations in order to facilitate a seamless and convenient travel experience and attract more riders. First-mile/last-mile connections are a particular challenge in Middle Tennessee, largely due to very poor pedestrian connections in many areas and the way the region sprawls.

What do you think? How could first- and last-mile connects be improved?


  1. Stephen says

    I’m happy to walk up to a mile – or even a little more – it’s good exercise. But often there is nowhere to walk. Nashville needs to do a better job with sidewalks – and on major roads with high speed traffic the sidewalk needs to be a little further away from the street.

  2. Barbara Mathieson says

    Last Friday, I took the bus from downtown to Harding Road. I had to get off at the BP station before White Bridge Road and walk to my destination – the Truxton Trust building. This is not a problem except that there was no sidewalk. I walked through parking lots, then crossed the street at the light at Belle Meade Plaza. Again no sidewalk, I was at the side of the road next to the turn lane into Belle Meade Plaza. I feared for my life.

    • says

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    • says

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    • says

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    • says

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  3. Liz says

    In Mexico City, and other more developing megalopolises, there’s a robust system of minibus/vanshare to get people from transit terminuses to their final destinations. Perhaps MTA could develop a system of circulator minibuses at transit terminuses that could get folks closer to their homes or park-and-rides.

  4. Ricky Smith says

    While individual cities have their own needs for transit tailored for their locales, I have been rather impressed by the network in Portland OR. of its extensive TriMet MAX light-rail transit (LRT), the urban-district linkings of the Portland Streetcar circulators, and their physical inter-connectivity along the city streets, with rail crossings and boarding change points at numerous intersections, primarily in the downtown area.

    The streetcars appear to have fulfilled a niche of providing direct connectivity among once disparately located and somewhat blighted districts in the urban area. Two complete loops connect major east- and west- side destinations, including Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Lloyd District, on the east of the Willamette River, with downtown and the South Waterfront District west of the river, all in a continuous loop (designated as “A-loop” and “B-loop” in opposite directions), which includes the recent construction of a new transit bridge dedicated to be shared only among the Streetcar loop, MAX light rail, buses, bikes and pedestrian traffic without cars (but with provisions for emergency motor vehicles). The city’s goal with this circulator is aimed at attaining 7½-minute headways through downtown.

    A second and earlier built streetcar line (basically a North -South Loop) connects the South Waterfront (SE) with the redeveloped Pearl District on the near NW side of the city. Both Streetcar routes, as well as one of the several MAX light-rail lines, also well serve and connect heavy activity areas at Portland State Univ. and Downtown Portland and the South Waterfront District.

    MAX light-rail, with heavier trains designed for conveying passengers at higher speeds between the core and the outlying areas (Hillsboro, Clackamas, Beaverton, Gresham, Milwaukie,…), including PDX (Int’nl airport), operates effectively as a hybrid of local service in the downtown district, serving local institutions, a convention center, and core-district housing and retail along the way, while also providing a connection with Portland Union Station (Amtrak) located on the north edge of downtown. At points away from the inner core, MAX trains often run on dedicated rights-of-way (in one case, a double-bore tunnel [Robertson] west of the city), and utilize either new rights-of-way or existing repurposed railroad lines, some along side local freeways. Max rail on the extreme east side on routes from downtown travel alongside Interstate 84 (US-30), to and a point passing over Interstate 205, where the routes split to the suburb of Gresham and to the airport along I-205. Planners in the region planned for transit-ways long before the initiative had been underway, a decision which proved worthy of preserved corridor properties for future projected needs and now current use.

    Portland has multiple bus transit centers, not just 2 or three, located throughout its network as deemed far more reliable in accommodation of rider transfers between bus and rail lines, than what could be practical for a central transportation center.

    My primary point in moderately detailing Portland’s system is that it demonstrates the establishment of a network of interactive local streetcar circulator routes, heavier light-rail for distant travel, and a judicious establishment of fixed-route bus service, all the rail portions of which have demonstrated capability of operating on surface roadways directly along the central grid, without separation of grade and in mixed-traffic with sensible roadway direction control, and into and away from the core. Not all core roadways with light-rail and/or streetcars are necessarily wider than those of Nashville, and traffic control systems in Portland appear to effectively handle the mix of car and both rail-mode (streetcar circulator and LRT) traffic into and through downtown.

    While it might be assumed that Portland has far more surface roadway river crossings than does Nashville, Portland actually has only 5 (compared to Nashville’s 4) bridges, all concentrated in the core region near downtown, the remainder being expressway crossings. The newly opened dedicated transit bridge (Tilikum Crossing) establishes a sixth surface way crossing for Portland. While the Willamette River in Portland is rather straight, the Cumberland meanderings create an additional challenge for transit corridor passage establishment in Nashville as a whole.

    The Portland circulators (streetcar loops) demonstrate the virtues of reliability and permanence of service ,in terms of unchanging routes, physical appearance of fixed guideways on mixed-use roadways, and short headways of wait times, for a combined service for the central core and specifically the downtown area, a service severely hampered in Nashville with current and ever-increasing construction activities. A downtown Nashville streetcar circulator system having a range extended to run on both sides of the Cumberland and into sections of midtown and into the near North and South sides would go far to establish a much better provision of predictable and trustworthy transit with both the central core and central business district as a whole, just as those of Portland have led to a such local appreciation. Portland Streetcars have a maintenance facility and storage tracks built right beneath an elevated section of I-405, part of the “inner loop” expressway, a feature which easily could be duplicated within Nashville’s comparable freeway.

    One advantage that Nashville does appear to have over Portland is the establishment of the Music City Star service (MCS) running directly into the downtown area of the core. Currently Portland boasts on a single 15-mile commuter rail segment (to Wilsonville) on its extreme west side, and which connects only from one of the city’s MAX lines (at Beaverton), rather than from downtown, as does Nashville’s 32-mile MCS. Dubbed the WES Commuter Rail, Portland’s “Westside Express Service” somewhat predictably has not achieved ridership numbers as expected, although its claimed ridership per mile of nearly 4 times that of the MCS appears relatively high in comparison, because it covers less than one-half the distance of the current MCS.

    As a final point, I highly urge the MTA/RTA examine the merits of a passenger real-time informing system found on Las Vegas’ RTC bus system, of which the “Deuce”, “SDX”, and “MAX” bus routes have one of the most advanced detailed and descriptive on-board GPS-based text-to-speech annunciator system of any bus transit system that I have experienced. It informs passengers both audibly and visually of transfer points and local easily identified landmarks combined with real-time display mounted in easily viewable locations on-board these buses to show a continuous progression of upcoming and passed stop points (e.g. “7-Eleven at Las Vegas Blvd and Oakley Blvd.). This technology, CAD/AVL – computer aided dispatch/automatic vehicle location system, integrated with an Audio Visual Annunciation System – AVAS, is not cheap but has been shown to effectively assist local riders and tourists alike in navigating along “uncharted territory”, and it assists immensely in reducing rider anxiety. I urge leaders of the MTA/RTA and engineers to examine this Las Vegas RTC transit service amenity, well adapted to a bus system.

    I reiterate that no one system fits all or even a second region, but Nashville region leaders and stakeholders would do well to examine the dynamics of the the Portland system, the first portions opened for operation about 30 years ago, as well as to study the pro’s and cons and performance parameters of other medium-to-moderately larger urban areas, with both modern streetcars and light-rail operating on surface ways.

  5. Ricky Smith says

    I’m all for promoting ridership for MNPS students, system wide. However, some issues the MTA, the MNPS board, and the city administration have failed miserably with a coordinated handling of unordered children at the Music City Central (MCC) downtown terminal.
    As a former teacher at a local middle school, I can appreciate the need to manage in an orderly and procedural arrangement the pre-boarding preparation for loading of multiple school buses lined up for home-bound destinations. First the MTA needs immediately to address safety concerns with students arriving from larger-capacity 60-foot articulated coaches, and surging to the boarding locations of the shorter 40-foot buses, often yet to have arrived from inbound runs. Students crowd around the bay platform yellow rubber“Tact-tile” designated boarding spots, almost always in total disregard for regular-fare-holding passengers. What’s even more dangerous is that these students step down onto the pavement beyond the safety boundary. Part of this cause of issue is that the MTA allows double-berthing of buses to share a loading bay concurrently, due to lack of terminal space to accommodate this overcapacity of vehicular traffic, particularly during the mid-late afternoon school-discharge period. Buses will double-park side-by-side (two abreast) to allow the boarding and discharging of passengers at a given bay, and students disembarked from one of the larger-capacity buses, originating from the magnet schools, will lunge in front of that bus, onto the pavement and back onto the curb and platform, in anticipation of their arriving outbound bus to their final point of destination. The MTA needs to maintain staffing to enforce order and safety at these non-standard over-capacity boarding points, so that no one gets crushed and so that all standard-revenue passengers can be assured of a comfortable or at least an uneventful embarking to a seat on the bus.
    Second, The MTA needs to prioritize the acquisition of and assignment of the larger-capacity coaches for these students on its outbound runs on routes which normally would not undergo such a state of overcrowding on its shorter buses, due almost entirely to student over-capacity. I have observed one outbound bus only occasionally having all seats filled will no standing passengers, until perhaps one or two miles beyond the terminal, at stops to pick up additional passengers. Most times however, I have counted no fewer than four passengers aboard the outbound bus, as standees (standing room only), and given that the fall semester 2015 starts the first full academic year for providing MNPS students fare cards, the surge of students usually has resulted in over-capacity of up to 10 or more standees at least 2 or 3 times during a given weekday afternoon. The MTA needs to address the immediate need for more higher-capacity coaches to handle this ever-mounting situation, which only can be expecte4d to get worse and even more critical during successive years. There is no way that the MTA reasonably can expect the overcrowedness to “take care of itself” and to go away. I have observed students sanding directly against the rear doors and even playing patty-cake to entertain themselves while having to stand en-route, while others simply will use their backpacks as floor seats in the aisle. There exist no rationale to forego reasonable levels of safety for all passengers on its coaches at any time of day, even if additional coaches and drivers must be dispatched. That’s the reason that I stress the need for provision of ne less than outbound buses of equivalent capacity. All the MTA needs is for some stupid and wreckless motorist at the Music City Center Roundabout to cut off the bus driver, and for a kid to go sailing like a missile against the fare-box, during a sudden attempt to avoid a crash.
    If the MTA intends to not lose its choice riders, then it needs to address these types of operational issues at the “First Mile”. Once lost, it almost always becomes next to impossible to win them back, once conviction has set in.

    • bill says

      “failed miserably with a coordinated handling of unordered children at the Music City Central (MCC) downtown terminal.”
      Too often the kids walk across the terminal, right in front of buses. They run, play, scream.
      They also cut line often.
      The last time a kid did that a supervisor was at there watching. When I complained he told me “you’ll still get a seat.” Quite a callous statement, don’t you think?

  6. Ellen says

    For years I was fortunate in being able to walk out one block off West End Ave. to catch the bus and arrive within a block of my office downtown.
    My new location still affords an easy well lit walk out, but when I arrive at work off of Murfreesboro Road the walk is not nice in any way. The street is barely paved and crossing the railroad tracks is required. Amazing enough this is the same route many MNPS students take to attend NSA. Improvement of services for our children should be a priority.

  7. Gerald says

    Stops along the Music City Star route before it reaches downtown Nashville need shuttle service so riders can travel the final miles to work or shopping, but studies/surveys should be done to determine how much desire exists at a given stop for that service. The Donelson stop, for example, is close to the main post office, Thomas Nelson Publishing, several hotels, and other businesses but not walking-distance close. Ideally, these shuttles would be public-private partnerships to reduce costs to the city.

    On a different matter mentioned by several people above, one major obstacle to success with mass transit in Nashville/Middle Tennessee is a resistance to riding buses.There is a decades-old stigma to taking the bus, even though such transport was commonly used for a long time. Riders must feel they are safe while on the bus and while waiting for or getting off the bus. When I worked downtown I used bus transit for a time because I grew up riding buses elsewhere. What convinced me to stop using Nashville’s public transportation system was too many people who obviously suffered from mental illnesses wanted to “latch onto” me on the bus. The vast majority seemed harmless, but it only takes one dangerous one following me home. Please don’t think I’m insensitive to the mentally ill – I have assisted in caring for some during outings from where they were institutionalized – but the purpose of the comments on this site is to identify issues that can prevent mass transit from being successful here, so solutions can be found. Frankly, I don’t have a solution this problem but hopefully others will.

  8. Virginia says

    Yes a study of first mile/last mile access to bus routes is needed to determine where and what would be most effective to encourage more ridership. I think a metro-wide push to have residents use the bus system is needed. Many residents would NEVER consider riding a bus but if they saw benefits and there was enthusiasm about how great it is to ride the bus, perhaps we could have some folks change their minds about public transit. More ridership could make way for the updates to first mile/last mile issues and other inhibiting factors that keep residents from using bus transit. This is a system that is already in place; let’s make it better and increase ridership. #hiptoridethebus

  9. katherine says

    Public transit has been done all over the world. The infrastructure is out there to see. Better infrastructure from more lines running more often, to places that are well lit and have a place for pedestrians to be off of the road, ticketing drivers for not stopping for people on foot are all needed. Discussion of pedestrian safety in the local news would help to; I believe we have one of the most dangerous cities to walk in.
    All we need is a REAL commitment to make Nashville more friendly for anyone not in a car! From there the pieces will fall into place and Nashville will graduate from big dangerous town to liveable city!

  10. Sherry says

    We need more bus stops. I have to walk at least a mile to get on it (from Charlotte Park). Then when I get off for work, I have to walk another mile, or go downtown and take another bus. (WHY DO ALL THE BUSES GO DOWNTOWN??? why is it the only connector?) It’s cost prohibitive to take four buses every day! The buses are too expensive. Four buses = $7.80 / a DAY! Even the bus pass is no bargain. I do not know how poor people do it.

  11. Charles H. says

    I agree that the first and last mile of any bus trip is often the most difficult for those of us who are otherwise on foot. I understand the motivation behind creating Park and Ride locations at the outermost limit of each route. Unfortunately, most of the people whom I ride the bus with each day do not board at these Park and Ride locations. They climb aboard at stops along the route, walking there from the surrounding neighborhoods. Every effort should be made to ensure that all stop locations are well lighted, safe from passing traffic and covered from the elements.

    • says

      Genau das hab ich mir beim lesen der Vorschläge auch gedacht. Bei mir wäre bei Durchsetzung dieser Vorschläge Ende mit Twitter: Es muss ungeordnet, ungefiltert, unprivat, unonetrklliort und marketingfrei (bis auf tweets) bleiben. Sonst ist es facebook2 und das braucht niemand, wenn es facebook1 gibt.

    • says

      Ahoj, tak já bych taky hlasovala pro, nicméně bych místo morčete doporučila osmáka. Je to jeden z nejchytřejších hlodavců, dá se ochočit tak, že přijde na zavolání a navíc, od ostatních se odlišuje tím, že nesmrdí a spí v noci :-). Můžu potvrdit, máme ho doma a já i dítě, přestože jsme oba těžcí astmatici to zvládáme, právě díky tomu že nesmrdí a má i minimum roztočů :-DAlena

  12. Lisa says

    I agree with Sandra. The bus stops on my route lack sidewalk access and in many stretches there is no space to safely walk since the roadside drops straight into a ditch. Even where there is space, the lack of sidewalk is harmful to professional attire. I have ruined a pair of shoes because it was necessary to stand in the mud while waiting for a bus. Whether taking restaurant orders or programming, we all need to commute without having to worry about our clothes and shoes being dirtied on the way. More than once, these medieval conditions have made me question my commitment to public transit. I would like to avoid adding to the misery of congestion, but I have to agree that it is disheartening to get prompted for feedback and see no improvement.

  13. Joanna Polyn says

    This is a major barrier to using bus transit for our family, particularly pedestrian safety (crosswalks with lights that aren’t dependent on cars deciding to stop, better sidewalk routes to buses, heavy dangerous traffic). These are relatively cheap and easy fixes that could be implemented quickly.

  14. Bill H says

    I agree with Sandra adnd JoeES. There are many areas outside of last mile/first mile area.
    I walk to the bus and have to walk on the no-sidewalk-no-shoulder edge of streets.

    The bus stop I use (56) has NO parking at all beyond private lots. I’m told the Madison library objects to people parking in their (ample) lot.

    There is not one parknride lot along the 56 (BRT) route.

    These are long standing problems which MTA surely is aware of but doesn’t seem to address beyond asking for public comments which will be ignored.

    • says

      Thank you for your comment Bill. We’ll be releasing a report in the Transit Strategies Series that discuss improvements to the Park and Ride program in the coming weeks.

  15. JoeES says

    Actually having first/last mile service would be an improvement (it’s over 3 miles to an uncovered, sign on a power pole, bus stop from my house – inside the city limits).

    Beyond that, bike and pedestrian infrastructure designed for the safety of the vulnerable users and not just getting them out of the way of the cars is an imperative. This would include bike-ways or lanes, sidewalks, adequate crosswalks and signaling, as well as traffic calming.

  16. John says

    It seems like more local bus routes, improved pedestrian and bike lanes, and bike rental stations all improve “first and last mile” access.

  17. Nancy Kleinert says

    The entire commute is a priority. First and Last Mile seems to be a fairly easy fix to the mass transit administration.

  18. Andy Borchers says

    A key point, I believe, is employer involvement. Should service be put into an area like Cool Springs or Metrocenter, it would seem that “last mile” coverage would allow more folks to use transit. Regards – Andy

  19. Sandra says

    Improving pedestrian infrastructure around stops should be priority one. It is dangerous and just generally degrading as a human being to get let off in ditches, walk along a filthy road shoulder being buzzed by traffic, etc. It doesn’t matter how nice the bus is if you have this awful experience getting to/from there. MTA seems to take this with no particular urgency, complaints or requests for help about stops go unacknowledged. One situation made the news recently but the same thing happens all over the MTA. I have had my own experience with unsuccessfully getting MTA to improve conditions around a different stop. If you are indeed working in good faith , fix this AND communicate to your customers that you take this seriously and what you are doing. I don’t think anyone at MTA mgmt. has to tolerate these conditions for their every day commute, drivers are often not aware of the safety implications of where they drop people either. They have never walked the areas of the routes they drive. This is something that can be done NOW. We are tired of excuses. This is human decency, not just transit.