Walking the walk : an assessment of the 5-minute rule in transit planning

Moran, Maarit Marita
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Public transportation and other alternatives to the private automobile are receiving increased attention for their potential to decrease congestion, reduce environmental damage and support healthier lifestyles. In particular, bus transit increases mobility and provides an opportunity for increased physical activity. In light of a scarcity of research on the subject, this report investigates a common rule of thumb used in transit planning that suggests riders will only walk five minutes to access a bus stop. A review of existing research shows that many transit riders walk longer than five minutes to reach a bus and that transit-access walking behavior is far more varied than implied by the 5-minute assumption. An effort was undertaken to estimate walking distances of bus riders in Austin, Texas using data from a 2010 survey administered to riders on local buses. The analysis estimated transit walks of unreasonable distances for some respondents, suggesting that the starting location address or access mode responses were inaccurately reported. Flaws in the data collection process interfered with a clear analysis of the relationship of walking distances to rider behavior, but the data showed that many riders walked considerably farther than 1/4 mile. The Austin data and reports from others summarized in the literature review of this report indicate that the 5-minute walk is not an accurate representation of transit access behavior and that further evaluation of the 5-minute assumption should be undertaken. Moreover, innovative approaches should be developed to more accurately predict bus commuter behavior to design a more effective transit system. Analysis of the survey data suggests that implementation of improved data collection methods in future studies could provide more useful and accurate data on walking behavior associated with transit use.