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.