Spring in Motion: Walking and the last mile problem

–> Walking is the most common form of physical activity.1 The majority of people can do it and there are no equipment costs. Walking is good for you. You should do it whether for recreation or transportation. In this third post for In Motion I’m going to be writing about walking and transportation. 

Walking is part of everyone’s transportation. If you drive, cycle or take public transportation, you inevitably walk the first and last sections of your trip. Depending on how far you have to walk you may love or hate what transportation people call the “last mile problem.” The last mile problem is the challenge of getting you from a transportation hub (parking, bus mall) to your final destination. For example, you may park your car at a lot 1 kilometer from your work and have to walk 10 minutes to get to your office. The last mile problem is challenging because walking is relatively slow, so increases in distance have a big impact on the total time it will take to arrive at your destination. 

Thinking about physical activity, the last mile problem is actually a good thing. If everyone had to walk 10 minutes during the first and last section of their trip they would almost get the recommended amount of physical activity per day.2  In fact, there is evidence to show that people who use public transportation get nearly enough physical activity walking too and from the transit stops.3 But overall most people aren’t thinking about physical activity when they are rushing to work. Solving the last mile problem is important for making trips shorter and more convenient. 

What are solutions to the last mile problem?

1.     Bicycle Share Programs: Because cycling is much faster than walking the last mile problem is reduced. Also, bicycle share programs encourage people to use multiple physically active modes of transportation.4
2.     Mixed land use: Locating housing and public transportation closer together mean the first mile problem is reduced and people are encouraged to use public transportation.
3.     Density: Increasing population and service density means you can get to work, restaurants, shopping and many other places without needing to make a long trip by car or public transportation.
4.     Shuttle buses: Shuttle buses from transportation hubs to destinations are faster and mean less time spent walking.
5.     Parking hubs: Large parking hubs with shuttle buses centralize parking and discourage congestion by reducing people driving slowly searching for parking.5

So what does it all mean for you moving around your city? 

Enjoy the walk. Parking further away from central areas is usually cheaper and means that you will get some physical activity during your transportation trip.

Diversify your transportation.Try out different modes of transportation to see how you can reduce your total trip time. You may be surprised how fast public transportation and cycling can be.

Daniel Fuller, PhD
Canadian Institutes of Health Research Post-Doctoral Fellow
Department of Community Health and Epidemiology
University of Saskatchewan

1. Warburton DER, Nicol CW, Bredin SSD. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2006;174(6):801–809.
2. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. http://www.csep.ca/english/view.asp?x=804
3. Lachalpelle U, Frank L, Saelens BE, Sallis JF, Conway TL. Commuting by Public Transit and Physical Activity: Where You Live, Where You Work, and How You Get There. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2011;8(Suppl 1):S72–S82.

4. Fuller D, Gauvin L, Kestens Y, Morency P, Drouin L. The potential modal shift and health benefits of implementing a public bicycle share program in Montreal, Canada. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2013;10(1):66.
5. Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking, Chicago: Planners Press, 2011.

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