I recently had the opportunity to attend the “Last Mile Symposium” organized by the Denver Regional Council of Governments – a regional transportation policy organization. The symposium title surprised me for a regional transportation planning organization but it illustrates the mindset of those in transportation – the only transportation that really matter are bicycles, cars, buses, light rail and trains. I guess it never occurred to anyone that both first and last mile issues begin and end with walking or being a pedestrian.
The symposium began with an overview of the reasons for a last mile symposium. The Denver Fastracks program is a multi-billion dollar project currently involving 108 miles of light rail track and approximately 57 stations. 5 new lines or extension of existing lines are under construction and will come on line within the next 2-3 years. Denver citizens as a whole are very excited about the light rail system and all of the opportunities that it brings to the city. But many people living in neighborhoods along the light rail system are finding access to the rail system difficult. In the suburban areas, meandering streets, cul-du-sacs, dead end street and the lack of pedestrian paths are creating pedestrian barriers to the rail stations. In some urban neighborhoods, the lack of sidewalks, poorly maintained sidewalks or very narrow sidewalks create additional pedestrian obstacles. Then there’s the issue of wide high speed arterial streets that provide very little protection for pedestrians brave enough to consider an attempt at crossing.
Sadly enough, there was never a conversation during the symposium about pedestrians or walking and the infrastructure that makes walking a preferred choice over driving to a rail station or park and ride.
It was a great idea to get the conversation started in the Denver community about “last mile” connections … but the conversation should be about both first and last mile connections and pedestrian access to the rail stations. If public transportation advocates and planners aren’t talking about pedestrian issues, I guess it illustrates the lack of importance given to pedestrians and walking issues.