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Metro seeking money to make sure the last mile isn’t the hardest mile

Metro wants to make it easier for riders to walk or bike to transit stops in Los Angeles county.
Metro wants to make it easier for riders to walk or bike to transit stops in Los Angeles county.
Keoni Cabral via Flickr Creative Commons

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Los Angeles County's transit agency is focusing on making it easier to walk and bike to transit stops, but critics say the plan lacks necessary funding.

The Active Transportation Strategic Plan adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board Thursday lays out a detailed strategy to improve connections to transit with projects like bike lanes, signage, crosswalks, light signals and curb-widening.

Improvements called for in the plan could cost between $737 million and $1.69 billion a year.

The plan is seen as a good way to help bridge the so-called first and last mile -- the gap between a person's home, workplace or destination and a transit stop. Bridging that mile is considered a crucial step in boosting ridership.

Metro surveys show more than 80 percent of bus riders and 65 percent of train riders access transit service on foot.

"For years these types of issues have never really had a real dollar sign," said Jessica Meaney, a transit activist who directs the nonprofit Investing In Place and who is enthusiastic about the plan. "Now we actually have specifics and we can say, 'Do we have the right investment levels to make this work?'"

Unfortunately, Meaney said, the plan stops short of identifying where the necessary funds will come from. "When it comes down to money we’re kind of not really being bold enough," she said.

While Metro is eyeing a November ballot measure to raise $120 billion over the next 40 years, the current draft devotes only about 4 percent of the projected revenues to the active transportation projects. That level of funding would pay for only a fraction of the improvements called for in the plan.

However, the agency is considering a change to the newly adopted active transportation plan that would require all future Metro transit projects to include first and last mile improvements in the total budget, rather than relying on the city where the stops are located to fund them.

The change would mean funding for the long list of projects Metro plans to include on the November ballot measure would have to cover active transportation improvements. Projects currently under construction, such as the Purple Line subway extension, would need to do the same.

The Metro staff is further researching how much this would cost the agency and will report back its findings to the board. The board will then vote on the issue next month.