NJ Bike and Walk Coalition Executive Dir.: State Should Consider First Mile, Last Mile Plan

Urban planners working on building sustainable societies worry most about what they call the last mile. How can mass transit replace cars when the train lines don’t drop you at your front door. That’s where bikes come in and a good pair of kicks that’s according to the Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition Cyndi Steiner. She told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that the First Mile, Last Mile initiative is help people have easier access to mass transit and their destination than reaching those destinations in a vehicle.

“The First Mile, Last Mile solution or idea is like you said, how do you get from your door to mass transit and again from mass transit to your final destination,” said Steiner. “Whether it’s work, or shopping, or whatever you’re doing. And here in New Jersey we have a few ways of doing that — a lot of that involves sitting in traffic, trying to get to a train station via car. Biking and walking makes that easier by basically facilitating…being able to do that from your door step or being able to ride your bike and reaching transit.”

When asked if the First Mile, Last Mile plan would rely on building infrastructure and if it would be affordable, Steiner said that for the transit agencies, it would be much more affordable than having them extend their network. She said bike racks on buses and trains, as well as parking for bikes at train stations will be needed. Steiner said bike lanes and cross walks need to be separated and protected in order to make the roads safer.

In New York City, bike lanes have been set throughout various locations of the city. Steiner said the bike lanes have caused some congestion, but that 9th Avenue saw a 49 percent increase in retail sales as a result of bike lanes along the street. According to Steiner, the overall city has seen a three percent increase in retail sales.

“They saw commercial vacancies disappear on 9th Avenue as a result of putting bike lanes in,” Steiner said. “So the economic opportunity is significant for a town. We also like to talk about what we’re calling expanded TOD, TOD meaning transit oriented development that is typically your half mile around a train station that’s a walkable distance. We talk about expanding TOD — three miles that’s your bikeable distance. So, if you can make the three miles circumference around a train station more bike friendly, think of all the transit oriented development you can do and that catchment area and that is a significant opportunity for economic vitality for towns.”

Recently there have been conversations about the Transportation Trust Fund running dry, but Steiner said the idea of bikes and walking never gets to be part of the conversation because the roads are not safe.

“We have to make our roads safer through some of the infrastructure we talked about and legislation like the safe passing law, the pedestrian safety and pedestrian cross walk law,” she said. “It’s a combination of infrastructure and policy but the biggest reason is that our roads are not considered safe.”

In order to encourage people to use their bike or to walk, Steiner said that the roads need to be safer. She also said the NJ Bike and Walk Coalition have labeled 60 percent of the population as interested but concerned, meaning they will try it and start doing it if the roads are made safer.

NJ Transit has approved a nine percent fare increase that is expected to go in effect in October. Steiner said that the increase will effect commuters and that the increase will have a bigger part in one’s monthly outlay.

When asked if millennials are increasingly being drawn to cities with mass transit, Steiner said, “Our millennials don’t want to be driving any more. They’re the children who grew up in the SUV. They want the freedom, the biking and walking mass transit gives them. They don’t want to be sitting on congested roadways, which is what we’re doing in New Jersey. Getting from point A to point B should not be an experience of just being in a parking lot on the Garden State Parkway for most of that. So our millennials like the freedom of biking and walking in mass transit. They want transportation options and they’re looking for cities and communities that provide that and that’s why its very important that New Jersey starts to pursue that in a much more substantial way than we’ve done — cause we will see a brain drain if we don’t provide these options.”