Over the last four months, I have been living the aspiring planner’s dream.
As the research assistant for the Safe Routes to Transit (SR2T) Program, I have visited thirteen different project sites, used five different transit systems, spoken with over eighty community members, and taken over a thousand photos of safe walking and biking accommodations near public transportation. My mission: to document the last-mile transit access improvement projects funded by Safe Routes to Transit throughout the Bay Area.
Now, as I wrap up my work, I am thinking about what I have learned from SR2T and how I can use that experience as I transition to the next step in my professional career.
Millions of dollars for crosswalks, bike parking, and more
SR2T’s main purpose is to replace car trips to transit stations into trips made on a bike or by foot. It also aims to help people leave their cars at home, and consider taking public transportation instead of driving in the first place. Since 2005, SR2T’s regional grants have awarded about twenty million dollars to local agencies for a range of projects that make it easier and safer for people to ride transit.
SR2T has helped agencies re-stripe crosswalks, add bike lanes and secure bike parking, create spaces for bikes on BART, start a regional bike sharing system, and many more improvements that make it easier for Bay Area residents to ditch their cars and get onto transit.
And it’s having a real impact. At the recent opening of the City of Oakland’s 19th Street BART Station, Director Robert Raburn expressed that the growth in BART’s ridership has been a direct result of SR2T funding. He went further to say that the success of the program has allowed Bay Area residents to take more trips on BART each day than cars that drive over the Bay Bridge.
The funding for these projects comes from Regional Measure 2, a ballot measure passed in 2004 that increased bridge tolls by one dollar, and is distributed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). SR2T is unique because it is led by two non-profit organizations, instead of one transit agency. Both TransForm and Bike East Bay oversee project selection and monitor them to completion. This unique structure has given TransForm a bigger role in Bay Area transportation planning and strengthened our relationships with local agencies.
Putting Safe Routes to Transit on the map (and web)
To highlight some of the bicycle and pedestrian improvements around the Bay Area, I created three new SR2T web pages and a Flickr account to showcase five cycles of projects:
I also visited project sites to create profiles of twelve projects. For each visit, I took pictures of the walking and biking conditions, especially within the facilities SR2T helped provide. Along with the photo documentation, I also interviewed community members about their experience accessing transit at the site, and how the improvement has changed their transit use or commute experiences. Each project profile features selected quotes and pictures to provide a better understanding of the project and its impact on people.
Taking it all with me
I have learned so much from traveling to different parts of the Bay Area and speaking with people from different backgrounds, as well as people who are very passionate about public transportation and its impacts on their community. Being around these passionate people has solidified my interest in planning and broadened my perspective about the complex nature of transportation issues. Not only have I learned a lot of new transportation terminology to use at the next cocktail party, but I have also learned a lot about the on-the-ground experiences of cyclists, pedestrians, and transit passengers that use transit every day. Their concerns and comments about the safety and ease of access to transit are definitely thoughts I will take with me to graduate school and my future career.
My own transportation choices have been impacted by this work, too. My current commute is a walk to MUNI and BART to get to the Oakland office. Meanwhile, my old college bike sits in my garage collecting dust. Since living in San Francisco, I have ridden it only once downtown - after losing control while riding next to old MUNI rail lines and falling over in traffic, I was discouraged from biking in San Francisco ever again. But after speaking with many avid bicyclists who still continue to ride in the city (some after being hit three times!), I have definitely become inspired by their resiliency and intend to try bicycling in the city again.