Diagram of the A-2 Station's maximum "walking distance"

Every good transit planner knows that walking distances are always an important consideration when planning for high-capacity transit stations, especially rail.  For the most part, walk distances of up to a half-mile for rail and quarter-mile for bus are generally accepted (PDF) as baseline standards.  The application of these guidelines, however, are often botched and misused at a number of levels.

One wonky application can be found in the technical memorandum for the A-2 Station Concept Report of Bellevue’s B7R study.  Because the station includes a lengthy pedestrian walkway between the train platform and park-and-ride, Arup, the City’s consultant incorporated an evaluation of transit “walking distances” into their study.

Citing a 1989 report from the now defunct SNO-TRAN, the memorandum states:

The maximum walking distance from the north end of the parking garage to the rail platform would be 1,300 feet approximately – which is comparable to the longest walking distance from the Eastgate Park-and-Ride to the eastbound I-90 freeway bus station. Also, research has found that this walking distance aligns with average walking distances found for other high capacity transit commuter services such as LRT.

The research the memorandum refers to appears in SNO-TRAN’s ‘A Guide to Land Use and Public Transportation for Snohomish County, Washington’:

People can be expected to walk no more than 1,000 feet to a bus stop or a park-and-ride parking space. The walking distance increases slightly, to 1,320-1,758 feet (1/4 to 1/3 of a mile), for rail station access.

The issue with Arup’s use of SNO-TRAN’s guidelines is that it applies the standard for an origin-to-rail walk distance to the walk distance for an intermodal connecting trip— in the case of the A-2 Station, car-to-rail or rail-to-car.  When planners talk about walk distances, they generally refer to the first or last leg of a trip that connects them to their ultimate destination (i.e., someone walking from home, work, or some other place of activity to the rail station, or vice versa).

This standard is inaccurately contextualized with the A-2 Station because Arup’s study applies the same threshold to the intermodal pedestrian connection that has to be made to/from where the rider parked his/her car in the park-and-ride, not where the actual origin or destination truly is. What really is intended to be a modest addition of 5-7 minutes walk to the trip’s total travel time actually disguises a much lengthier trip under Arup’s application of the metric, depending on how long the passenger’s drive to the station is.

This misuse of the walk distance standard is unfortunate because the study’s literature implies that walk distances are only meaningful to riders who drive to the park-and-ride.  While I don’t doubt Arup’s efforts to enhance the station’s design elements for the benefit of pedestrian usability, only evaluating the walk distance for the car-rail connection will be of little use to riders who elect not to drive to transit.

*Disclaimer: The author is currently employed by Sound Transit as an intern in short-range service planning.  However, all opinions expressed in this article are completely his own and may not reflect the views of anyone else.

50 Replies to “Wonky Applications of Transit ‘Walk Distances’”

  1. Then again, it’s about 1,000 feet from the end of the family parking area at Ikea to the store enterance.

    One thing not mentioned is the quality of the walk. I think people would walk a much further distance through an interesting neighborhood or a store lined street than a parking lot. Or maybe it’s just me.

    1. Yeah, it’s pretty depressing when an airport rail connection requires one to thread one’s way through parking-garage parking floors. The message seems to be that rail access is a grudging afterthought for undesirables…

      Rail access done right is attractive to riders.

      [I like the Minato Mirai stop on the Minato Mirai line; although it’s a subway at the bottom of a fairly hefty set of escalators, the access route and the subway platform are open to the sky, interesting, and even rather dramatic…]

    2. I agree with the “quality of the walk” argument. When visiting the bay area my friend and I would commonly walk a whole mile from College Ave and Russell St all the way to the Rockridge BART station. Even now, I sometimes enjoy walking all the way from my house on 23rd and Prospect to my job at 10th and Pine.

    3. For that matter, the tunnel between the F line on 6th Avenue and the A/E line on 8th under Manhattan at 34th Street.

      Or the distance from the parking lot in Kent Station, when you park on the 2nd or 4th floors (and have to walk stairs to the escalator or street, cross the skybridge to get to the platform, and then walk to the empty part to get a car with a seat.

  2. This would explain why existing (Mt Baker) and under construction (Husky Stadium) stations are out in the middle of nowhere.

    1. Mount Baker is where it is because of the constraints of the Beacon Hill Tunnel and the MLK alignment. If you built that station in the at-grade section it’d be too close to Columbia City. Also, being at Mount Baker and Beacon Hill both have more on-offs than any other station in the RV suggests that the Mount Baker location isn’t that bad. The big problem with Mount Baker is the stupid transit center that’s 1/4 mile away; as discussed on some prior STB posts, there’s some potential good news in the pipeline there.

      The UW station is where it is because that’s where the UW wanted it, and ST can’t override UW’s decision over its land, being a public entity. Arguably the best place would be been at the UW HUB, but UW didn’t want it. So that placement isn’t ST’s choice either.

      Walking analysis had very little to do with either.

      1. The UW hub may have been slightly better for those going specifically to the UW, but the geometry of the roads makes it very difficult to provide bus connections there. Would a north-south bus from Montlake have to meander up Stevens Way? Would the connection to a bus to the Eastside be any better than a 1 mile walk?

        The husky stadium location is also better accessible by bicycle because you can access it right off the flat Burke Gilman trail, or the trail across the yet-to-be-built new 520 bridge. Had the station been at the HUB, anyone riding a bike to the station would have to ride up the hill to get there.

      2. “The big problem with Mount Baker is the stupid transit center that’s 1/4 mile away”

        1/4 mile? It’s just across the street, isn’t it?

      3. Google Maps gives me 423 feet for that walk, though I guess it doesn’t include the walk down from the upper floor of the station. Still, nowhere near 1/4 mile.

      4. >> The UW station is where it is because that’s where the UW wanted it, and ST can’t override UW’s decision over its land, being a public entity. Arguably the best place would be been at the UW HUB, but UW didn’t want it. So that placement isn’t ST’s choice either.

        If only the UW were an incorporated city, like Bellevue. Then Sound Transit could do whatever it wanted to do.

  3. The comparisons to the SNO-TRANS study seem a little weird, but the comparison to Eastgate seems apropos if I’m reading it correctly. I wonder if a good study on distance from parking to good commuter transit has been performed — or even a regional survey. The distances in this plan look pretty close to what I’ve seen elsewhere in the area, but that’s not based on any hard numbers or close study.

    The question of how the long-ish pedestrian bridge walk will affect transferring users is an interesting one. Maybe a good place to watch with an eye towards this question is the Mountlake Terrace transit center, which recently added a freeway-median bus stop. It connects to much more frequent and regular north-south service along I-5 than it used to, but a transfer from a local bus now requires a bit of a walk. Do users like the change?

    1. I don’t know but that’s a good question. Mountlake Terrace is an example of a mediocre transfer situation, and it gives a preview of what the situation would be like if a Link station were built there or if similar Link stations are built elsewhere. We can’t quite judge by the number of people transferring because they have no other choice: they have to transfer wherever the buses meet. But how many “choice” riders are walking from downtown MT or driving to the P&R, and what is their attitude about the walk? (OK or barely tolerable?)

      The argument about people walking further to rail probably applies most to Sounder. Sounder riders see Sounder as a “big thing” worth walking to. Link riders probably see Link in an in-between way: worth walking a longer distance to than a bus, but not as worth walking a long distance to as Sounder.

    2. One of the obvious pain points I saw when I first looked at the Montlake Terrace station design was bicycle access. You have to walk your bike down a long pedestrian walkway (or ride it at a walking pace) AND ride up and down three levels of parking garage. A direct connection to 236 St. would have been nice, however, I guess they figured that with the walkshed being virtually non-existent, it would have been a waste of money.

      1. Eric,
        You could do what pedestrians do and walk up a short flight of stairs from the bus stops off of 236th St, then use the walkway around the garage to the pedestrian bridge.

  4. “For the most part, walk distances of up to a half-mile for rail and quarter-mile for bus are generally accepted (PDF) as baseline standards.”

    This is a completely false characterization of the information given in the source Sherwin references — the Quality of Service Manual. Here is an exact quote from page 3-9 of that document:

    “Walking Distance to Transit
    “The maximum distance that people will walk to transit varies depending on the situation. Exhibit 3-5 shows the results of several studies of walking distances to transit in North American cities. Although there is some variation between cities and income groups among the studies represented in the exhibit, it can be seen that most passengers (75 to 80% on average) walk one-quarter mile (400 meters) or less to bus stops. At an average walking speed of 3 mph (5 km/h), this is equivalent to a maximum walking time of 5 minutes. These times and distances can be doubled for rail transit.(R26) Bus service that emulates rail transit—frequent service throughout much of the day, relatively long stop spacing, passenger amenities at stops, etc.—is expected to have the same walking access characteristics as rail transit (e.g., a maximum walking time of 10 minutes). However, at the time of writing, no research had yet been conducted to confirm this expectation.”

    This clearly states that, “Bus service that emulates rail transit—frequent service throughout much of the day, relatively long stop spacing, passenger amenities at stops, etc.—is expected to have the same walking access characteristics as rail transit (e.g., a maximum walking time of 10 minutes).”

    So, the difference in walking distance has nothing to do with the mode — there is not any difference in walking distance between express bus service (or brt-style bus service, like SWIFT or RapidRide) and rail. The difference in walking distance is between local and express service. I would assume, from this, that the S.L.U.T. would have a maximum walking distance of about 1/4 — the same as a local bus.

      1. Norman, you just quoted a manual which said:

        “Bus service that emulates rail transit—frequent service throughout much of the day… *is expected to* have the same walking access characteristics as rail… *no research had yet been conducted to confirm this expectation*.”

        Emphasis mine.

        In other words, here in reality, people will walk twice as far to get to rail (that part WAS subject to actual research), but in the planners’ fevered imaginations, they can make bus service which is as good as rail and which people will walk 10 minutes to get to.

        I agree that in the fevered imaginations of bus-mad planners, people will walk as far to get to buses as they will to get to rail. In reality, people won’t.

    1. Your argument is completely outside the point of Sherwin’s post. Did you even bother to read it? Or were you just hunting for something to criticize?

      1. I am pointing out that one of the first statements Sherwin made in his post — “For the most part, walk distances of up to a half-mile for rail and quarter-mile for bus are generally accepted (PDF) as baseline standards.” — is wrong.

        If that sentence is not relative to the rest of his post, why did he include it?

    2. BRT equivalent to light rail would have an exclusive lane or a grade-separated road. Only Swift approximates to this, and my impression (without having seen them) is that Swift is nothing compared to LA BRT or Curitiba. RapidRide may be better local bus service but it’s not in Swift’s class. Rail-equivalent BRT costs about as much as rail.

      Swift takes 11 minutes from 196th to Aurora Village (10am weekdays). Link is estimated to take 14 minutes from 196th to Northgate. One can imagine an elevated roadway for Swift that would make it as fast as Link, but the neighbors would probably scream far more about a narrow Alaskan Way Viaduct overhead than about a Link guideway overhead.

      1. It’s got nothing to do with trip times. It has mostly to do with stop spacing.

        The main point is that in most neighborhoods served by local buses, bus stops are only a few blocks apart. Therefore not many people walk over 1/4 mile to a bus stop, because THEY DON’T HAVE TO! There is a local bus stop within a quarter mile of almost everyone who wants to take transit.

        Express bus stops, or brt or SWIFT-style bus stops, and light rail stations are normally around one mile apart. Therefore, many people live more than 1/4 mile from the nearest light rail station, or SWIFT bus stop.

        It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? If light rail stations, or SWIFT bus stopes are one mile apart, a lot of people are going to have to walk more than 1/4 mile to a station, because THEY HAVE TO. If local bus stops are only 1/4 mile apart, not many people are going to walk more than 1/4 mile to a bus stop, are they, because THEY DON’T HAVE TO.

        Take the Rainier Valley as a great example. Before Link, there were bus stops probably about every 1/4 mile along MLK Jr Way. Most people who wanted to take transit into Seattle, didn’t have to walk more than 1/4 mile to the nearest bus stop. But Link stations are about one mile apart. So, for people who want to walk to a Link station, many of them have to walk more than 1/4 mile to get to the nearest Link station.

        And many people who want to walk to SWIFT stations have to walk over 1/4 mile, because, for many people, the nearest SWIFT station is over 1/4 mile away, because the SWIFT stations are about one mile apart.

        It’s no more complicated than that.

      2. Frequency of service is also an important variable, as well as stop spacing, because if the light rail or BRT comes every 10 minutes, and the local bus comes every 30 minutes, it will often be faster to walk 10 minutes to the light rail or brt station and wait up to 10 minutes for the train or brt, than to walk 5 minutes to the nearest local bus stop, then wait up to 30 minutes for the local bus.

      3. “It’s got nothing to do with trip times.” (sigh) Everything has to do with trip times.

        “THEY HAVE TO.” No they don’t. Most people on the bus are making a choice to ride the bus instead of driving. Make trip times long enough, and make people walk far enough, and they’ll drive.

      4. lol Matt you completely miss the point. I will try to simplify for you.

        The distance the average transit user lives from a local bus stop is much shorter than the distance the average transit user lives from a train or BRT station. Therefore, people who use trains or BRT, on average, will walk farther to those stations than local bus riders walk to local bus stops, because, on average, they live further away! It’s simple math.

        Simple enough for you?

      5. [Norman] But there will be fewer of them. Unless there’s a significant time savings.

      6. Unless they can take the bus to the train. Which in Seattle is often problematic because east/west connections are few and infrequent.

        Also, as for walk distances, Seattle is also UNlike most cities because it is so hilly. Walking a 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile or 1 mile is far less problematic in a place like Chicago that is so flat (ok, except when it’s -20F).

      7. How about we talk about trip time. I ride the swift about 60% of my trips up 99. The other 40% are on the 101. Why am I not taking Swift all the time? Because my total trip times are longer on the Swift almost half the time…. The maximum distance you should ever have to walk to a Swift stop is .5 miles getting on and .5 miles getting off. That’s about 20 minutes of walking. The trip from 156th street to EdCC takes 10 minutes but combined it’s a 30 minute trip on the Swift (going south) and a 15 minute trip on the 101. Going north the difference shinks but the 101 is still faster. There is an ideal stop spacing and I don’t think a mile is it. The swift stops are too far apart. Maybe 2/3 of a mile would be perfect.

  5. Sherwin, because you’re an intern, the ideas and habits of outlook you acquire are as important as the numerical knowledge. More important. So I’m not lecturing you, but honestly speaking as someone who has dragged suitcases to and from a lot of public transit over many years.

    A half mile walk through a parking garage is not an experience I deserve, and certainly would consider a perfectly lousy introduction to a city. If you don’t believe me, fly in here yourself, and ask how to get to LINK.

    You’ll likely be told to go upstairs into the garage and follow the signs. You could just as accurately be told to walk along the lower concourse, which includes several bathrooms and drinking fountains, magazine stands, and two espresso places- but ST and the Port don’t talk to each other about things like that.

    Parking garages at Factoria and Federal Way carry an atmosphere more appropriate to the Department of Corrections- but are just fine by the book.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. By the evidence, career planners hate people. Please stand up for the natural decency in you and when it’s your turn, design things human beings can love, and not just barely stand, to use.

    Mark Dublin

    1. It’s not the half mile walk to the station that’s the issue, it’s that the walk is through an open air concrete garage designed with the “brutal” style of concrete.

      If the walk was lined with cafes, stores, lounges, viewing platforms that would take your mind off the distance and the 5 minutes would seem very short.

      1. You know, I could have sworn the walk from baggage claim to the Link platform was more than a half-mile, but I checked on MapMyRun (with help from Port of Seattle maps and OpenStreetMap), and it looks like less than a half-mile from the far-south baggage claim. It must just seem long because of the ugly monotony of the walk (also, my baggage tends to be heavy and unwieldy).

      2. I wish the Port would step up and put a few bucks into making that walk more pleasant. It doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult to put in a solid partition between the parking lot and the walkway and turn that section into pleasant, climate-controlled, well-lit interior space. It would make a world of difference to the subjective experience.

        The actual length of the walk really doesn’t bug me too much. Phoenix’s light rail won’t even have decent connectivity to the airport until Sky Harbor puts in its Bombadier APM in 2013.

      3. [Bruce] I don’t know the specific issues, but I assume they’re afraid of the fire code. Walling off one side of their parking lot might create smoke dangers in a lot that size. I think you’d need a full computer simulation to know if there’s really an issue – it’s certainly possible one was done and their solution was the open wall.

        I also know that there isn’t the height required to put moving sidewalks in, which would be the best solution. It looks like we’re stuck with a walk through the garage until that garage has reached its useful life.

        (note: I was actually on a team that inspected those garages, but that effort was not specific to light rail. There were a few seismic issues and I do wonder if part of the point was to look for other reasons to tear a section down and rebuild it. But I believe there were cheaper and easier solutions to the seismic issues. Of course as a mechanical engineer this job was dead boring for me – all of the cool stuff is inside the buildings.)

      4. Right, we can’t improve the pedestrian experience for Airport Link users because we need to ventilate toxic fumes and potential smoke from vehicle fires through the pedestrian walkway area. And we can’t install a moving walkway there because there isn’t enough vertical clearance.

        The Airport Link station is a disappointingly long walk, but it is where it is because that location was easier to engineer, had fewer security issues and better served the Sea-Tac business/hotel area than one adjacent to the terminals. It also offers bus transfers for any routes on SR 99 that don’t loop through the airport.

        The long term vision for airport expansion includes some kind of potential development north of the existing parking garages — probably even more garages and a northern terminal extension. That development would be the big opportunity to improve Airport Link access. It needs weather protection, a moving walkway, and something to make it less monotonous, more welcoming and more representative of the region for the many visitors from all over the world who will directly or indirectly end up supporting Link through the economic activity they generate — many of whom are used to better transit infrastructure than we currently have.

      5. “we need to ventilate toxic fumes and potential smoke from vehicle fires through the pedestrian walkway area” Well it sounds depressing when you put it like that!

      6. [Jonathan] Perhaps a people mover ala SFO or ORD could be built?

        [Matt] I know fire and safety codes vary from place to place, but I’ve seen a number of garages with mostly solid exterior walls. Just requires more powered ventilation. In Sea-Tac’s case, having a mostly solid wall on the Link walkway side, would probably not pose a risk because so much open area along the other 75% of it’s exterior space. (arm chair amateur speculation of course)

      7. [Charles] The issue is likely the size of the garage. That’s a very long wall, and smoke from a location right near the center of the wall would have a long distance to travel to be cleared. And using mechanical ventilation would be difficult due to the height of the ceiling. Even if they made a chase adjacent to the wall, ducts would have to cross the walking path at some point – and they’d be big ducts. Maybe run a duct along the wall, then core through the level above, to a fan room? Possible, but difficult. And that’s assuming the computer models say that’s good enough.

      8. I’m sure it comes down to money. The port doesn’t want to spend money enhancing the walkway, so it did the minimum necessary to give pedestrians a car-free path. The good news is that the potential for enhancement is still there, if a future port commission wants to.

    2. Actually, it does sound like you’re lecturing him. And worse, you’re lecturing him about something that was a) planned long before he worked for the agency, b) probably nothing he had anything to do with, and c) is much more the PoS’s fault than ST’s.

      Further, using this as evidence that “planners hate people” is pretty silly. Are you going to give props to the people-lovin’ planners who got it right at PDX? You’d be far better off calling out the Port, which obviously hated transit riders at the time, and probably still does–mostly because they don’t make the revenue on transit riders that they do on people who park in their parking garage.

      1. Or rent a car := But they do make money on every take-off and landing so there is some interest in making the travel experience less onerous. The Port doesn’t make any money on the cars clogging the airport drive either which is something transit helps mitigate. If they have to expand parking it takes many years to recover the capital costs. ST is the agency collecting the fares though so I think it’s up to them to provide the funds to plan and build amenities that serve the train station.

      2. I’ve always wished they’d charge automobiles (including taxis) a toll (like US$5) on the highway ramps approaching the Departures area. Use the initial money to tart up the walkway to/from Link.

      3. They make “Passenger Facility Charges” on every person who arrives and departs on an aircraft. They make money on “landing fees” for each aircraft. They make money on every taxi that operates at the airport. They make hefty fees for every rental car that is rented by any arriving passenger using airport based agencies. They even make money on people who choose to park there and take Link to a sporting event.

  6. The open-air “bridge” part of the airport walkway could be made a lot more pleasant and comfortable by screening the open space on the north side of it with small potted evergreens and hanging baskets with other plants.

    If I were giving official directions to arriving passengers, I would direct them along the lower concourse past the baggage carousels- which also takes them, comfortably indoors, past phones, restrooms, food, coffee, and magazines. From the north end of the terminal building, walk across the bridge is 5 minutes or so.

    Official directions seem to steer them up into the parking garage immediately, forcing them to spend more of their walk there than necessary, especially in cold weather. By the tape measure, it’s faster to dash through the garage itself, tempting for a close call on a departing flight.

    Following the garage walkway is also somewhat faster- again, I’d do it rather than miss a plane. But for arrivals, the indoor walk seems nicer. Remember- concourse contains somebody’s last toilet with a seat on it for at least forty minutes.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’m just glad they were able to spare the parking spaces to build the walkway at all. If they wanted to, they could have turned the 5 minute walk into a 10 minute wait, plus a 10 minute shuttle ride, which would have been a tremendous waste of everyone’s time.

      While, I agree, there are things they could do to make it more pleasant, just the fact makes me grateful enough that I’m not complaining.

      1. It is always useful to be reminded of how important transit riders are to the powers that be. But rarely is it so clearly written in concrete, as it is at Sea-Tac, that drivers are more important than transit riders.

  7. The irony is that, at times, extremely close stop spacing has increased my walking distance. The reason: when the bus is stopping every hundred feet, it moves at such a glacial pace that the time penalty of getting off the bus before your stop and walking the rest of the way becomes less. Several times, I’ve gotten off the 71/72/73 buses at least 1/2 mile before the closest stop, rather than endure their slow crawl along the Ave. It may not actually be any faster, but if the weather is remotely decent, it is certainly much more pleasant.

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