Nearly 70 percent of millennials use multiple travel options several times or more per week. The commute to work no longer consists solely of sitting in traffic or making an hour drive each way. Cities in America are beginning to respond by providing more connected transportation options than ever before. The country now has 1,700 rails-to-trails projects that total more than 22,000 miles, with bus rapid transit being adopted by more than 35 cities, and nearly 30 offering light rail. As we continue to advance in our multimodal transportation systems, here are some of the cities that are utilizing it the best.
Earlier this year, Columbus won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Smart Cities challenge. Through extensive research, the city was able to uncover the needs and pain points of the Columbus citizens’ and residents’ transportation situation, which resulted in a proposal to the DOT that recommended distinct solutions surrounding the use of real-time and integrated data, connected visitors and citizens, and offering sustainable transportation options. Their winning proposal was awarded a total of $140 million to change the mobility landscape of the city. Columbus faces similar challenges to other cities across the U.S., including socioeconomic and geographic isolation, mobility dominated by the private automobile, and lack of access to transportation options for lower-income neighborhoods. At the same time, the city has a growing economy and population, which results in increased housing and construction, traffic and environmental obstacles. Columbus’ strategy to alleviating its problems is a multi-pronged attack:
– Smart Corridor: In order for employees to get to work efficiently, Columbus will have a pathway with concentrated transit services that focus on those last mile connections to the workplace.
– Smart Logistics: Columbus is a major freight hub, so the city plans to help trucks via real-time and integrated data. We’ve seen how big data can have an effect on transit – being able to improve reliability and the efficiency of operating is a huge boost.
– Connected Visitors and Citizens: Columbus is working on a private sector app for events and activities happening in the city, with real-time updates on traffic, parking, and alternative transit choices. The city will also partner with local private and public social services providers to improve mobility options.
– Sustainable Transportation: As many smart cities do, Columbus is planning an infrastructure centered around car-sharing, vehicle use, and grid mobility patterns in order to make itself not just more sustainable, but more mobile, too.
Santa Monica, CA
Cities with congested downtown centers are embracing multimodal transit. Nestled beside the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica might have more alternatives to driving than just about every other city in the country. In fact, Mayor Tony Vazquez has a goal of making Santa Monica the “leading example of pedestrian and transit-oriented lifestyles.” The city initiated a program entitled “GoSaMo” which is designed to educate and get people excited about the variety of transportation options available to them in their city. To start off, Santa Monica reintroduced the light rail to its residents in May of this year. As the first train to exist in the west side of Los Angeles since 1953, the Expo Line light-rail has brought much-warranted attention, but the city hasn’t stopped there. In addition to the city’s three Expo Line stations, it’s introduced six new bus routes, 12 new scramble crosswalks, 107 miles of bikeways, new Zipcar additions, and an esplanade going all the way down to the beach.
That’s a lot to introduce to the general public, so Santa Monica is aiming to make it as easy as possible via the city’s website. Visitors can find upcoming events and specials – such as free rides – as well as maps of local businesses nearby the Expo stations, with detailed information on how long it would take to walk, bike, or bus to those businesses from each station. The city is also bringing “pop-up mobility kiosks” to the public that will travel around the city. People can ask questions and receive free TAP cards – durable, reusable smart cards that riders can load with money and simply “tap” as they board the bus. Obtaining TAP or similar smart cards are a major barrier for riders to use transit options. This gives riders an easy way to access them other than retail or light rail stations. As a way to engage the public, for the more photogenic travelers, the city is planning to place photo booths around transit stations, where riders can share stories of why they ride via pictures.
Orange County, CA
Also in Southern California, Orange County Transportation Authority’s OC Bus recently released an app where riders can buy a ticket or day pass from their smartphone and take one of the various 65 routes to work, school, shopping, and other entertainment. The mobile ticketing app eliminates the need for carrying exact cash or change, since fares can be easily added using PayPal or a debit or credit card. In addition, riders are able to store multiple passes on their phone for future use, which makes riding OC Bus so simple all you can say is Bravo!
Just up the west coast, TriMet, in Portland, is also making it easier than ever for people to plan and pay for trips. TriMet offers bus, light rail, and commuter rail to Portland residents and visitors, who can opt to receive real-time updates on arrivals, service alerts, or other delays via the TriMet mobile app. Additionally, TriMet users also have the option to hail a Lyft, reserve a car2Go or BIKETOWN bike from directly within the TriMet Tickets app – connecting the rider with their next mode of transportation.
Also in Portland is the Tilikum Crossing, the first bridge of its kind in the United States. The four-pier cable-stayed bridge has two piers on land and two in the water. Cyclists and pedestrians have plenty of room to operate (14 feet of sidewalk on each side) and while transit buses and trains are also able to use the bridge, their maximum allotted speed is 25 miles per hour to ensure other riders’ safety.
San Francisco, CA
For riders in the Bay Area, MuniMobile is an app available for both iOS and Android that turns your phone into your fare. Much like the OC Bus app, users can purchase, store and use single or multiple Muni fares on one device, and pay for single-ride fares, cable car rides, or multi-day passports. The ease of these mobile ticketing systems is being noticed, as more cities, like Miami, are hopping on board with them.
Our multimodal tour ends in Chicago, one of the most alternative transportation-friendly cities in the country. Not only is the city adding 50 miles of bike lanes by 2018, it’s aiming to offer qualifying residents affordable transportation through its Divvy for Everyone program: a very reasonable one-time $5 annual membership, available to all Chicagoans aged 16 and older with an annual household income at or below 300% of the Federal Poverty Level. Low-income families are often unable to afford the costs of a car, or bikeshare for that matter, so it’s wonderful to see the city offering other options to increase mobility options for those who need it most.
Of course, these multimodal transit options provide their own unique set of challenges. As we still work out the kinks in our current and evolving systems, we’re already seeing a need to incorporate the newest technology, such as the addition of self-driving cars. Regardless, it’s an exciting time for multimodal transportation. I’m looking forward to seeing how these current systems and programs improve, and what our cities will come up with in the future to ensure they’re beneficial to everyone.
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.
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