Linking Modes Improves Them All

Guest Blog by Bike Denver

This blog was originally published on BikeDenver.org

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Often, we think of transportation planning in terms of modes. We plan the transit network, we plan the bicycle network, we plan the vehicle network, and we plan the pedestrian network. But in reality, people don’t use transportation in such distinct silos. Rather, they combine different modes into a single trip, creating a series of transportation that’s more than multi-modal—it’s intermodal.

Intermodal transportation choices are unique in that they represent multiple mode choices all stitched together into a single trip. We all do it without really thinking about it, but the reality is that we’re not great at planning for it—especially when bikes and transit are involved. And in failing to adequately plan for it, we limit ourselves to the implicit limits of each respective mode.

Bikes + Transit

By taking bikes and transit specifically, and assessing them through the lens of intermodal transportation, it’s easy to see how well suited the two are to pairing. Transit can move a lot of people very efficiently over long distances, but at the same time, it’s clunky. It requires lots of expensive infrastructure and equipment, and it struggles in adapting to changing environments (there’s a definite lag in transit serving all areas in a growing city like Denver).

And perhaps most importantly, for 99.9% of people, transit will never get them from their front door exactly to their destination. Those first- and last-mile connections are the bane of transportation planners because they keep people from using transit. Think about your own trips: if you have the option to drive or take transit—but the transit option requires you to link two buses together and then walk for an additional mile, and takes you twice as long as driving—what are you going to do? Be honest, you’ll probably drive.

Now we can make transit more frequent and more intuitive, but it really isn’t fair to demand individualized door-to-door service. That’s where biking comes in. People are typically willing to bike up to three miles (around 15 minutes)—a lot further than we’re willing to walk. Suddenly, that mile from your house to the train station isn’t as much of an obstacle. And if we can improve bike access to train stations and bus stops, and plan adequate amenities at the stations and on the trains and buses (think buses that can accommodate more than two bikes and trains where you don’t have to carry your bike up stairs and stand with it on a moving train) it’s even easier.

Modes Working Together

Instead of fighting for ridership between modes, comparing the respective number of riders on each, and making the case for investing more in either bikes or transit, we should be planning how the two modes can support one other. If people were able to safely and comfortably bike to transit, we would need fewer routes. Conversely, we’ll get a lot more people biking if transit can shrink their commute distance from ten or fifteen miles down to a more manageable one or two. And obviously, this extends to all modes, including walking and even driving. At the end of the day, our problem is less that of a singular nefarious mode, and more of a singular mindset.

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