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Why a 10-minute walk to a park?


With the announcement on Tuesday of San Francisco becoming the first US city to achieve a 10-minute walk to a park for all citizens, we thought we’d provide the background on how we arrived to the 10-minute walk standard.  This research is also available on our ParkScore website under the methodology section.

And we’ll be talking about this a lot more beginning next Wednesday, May 24th, when we unveil the 2017 edition of Parkscore.

Why a 10-minute walk to a park?

We have identified a half-mile, or 10-minute, walk to a park as a common national standard.

As cities vie to attract talented college graduates and sustain population growth, they are focusing attention on parks to increase livability and support a strong economy. Since parks must be convenient if they are to provide their benefits, many places have set goals for the maximum distance any resident should be from the nearest park. Although individual cities’ goals vary with population density, from a remarkable eighth of a mile in Chicago to two miles in Atlanta, our data supports a standard of no more than a half-mile as a reasonable distance to walk to a park.

Among the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 70 have explicit distance goals, with 43 (61 percent) using a half-mile standard. Of the remaining 27 cities, 12 have a standard of less than a half-mile (many using a quarter-mile), and 15 have a standard greater than a half-mile.

We identified several studies suggesting that most people are willing to walk half a mile to a park. The largest, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2012 National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior, surveyed almost 10,000 people about their general walking habits.[1] The average trip length was 1.3 miles—roughly equivalent to the round-trip walk to a park located a half-mile from home. Of the walking trips reported in that study, 61 percent were for exercise, recreation, or walking the dog, with the remainder of trips split between commuting and errands.

A study of the Bay Area transit system found that 80 percent of transit riders who walked to the station lived within a ten-minute walk, or approximately a half-mile.[2]

Walking preferences are variable, with people willing to walk further for greater amenities in commuting, and even further for recreation. A planning study for a Seattle suburb found that people would walk nearly double the distance to a commuter rail station (1,700 feet) as they would to a bus stop (1,000 feet).[3] Looking beyond commuting, a study from Austin, Texas found that “utilitarian and recreational walk activities have been found to have distinct structural characteristics…Walk distance and duration for commuting, shopping, and reaching transportation are shorter, and recreational walks for exercise, walking the dog, and socializing are longer (71).”[4]

Some lower density cities have longer goal distances to a park, on the theory that suburbanites are more likely to drive to a park. However, the same Austin, Texas, study suggests that spatial and environmental factors are more important than individual factors” in determining walk length and duration (71).[5] That study found that people in modern suburban neighborhoods walked twice as long with their dogs and one-and-a-half times as long for exercise as those in more traditional urban neighborhoods.

Converting these distance standards to time standards hinges on how fast different people walk. The National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior assumes an average walking speed of 0.53 miles in 10 minutes. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices guidelines, which are calculated to ensure that slow walkers can safely cross streets, uses an average walking speed of 0.45 miles in 10 minutes.[6] By any of these estimates, a 10-minute walk is a half-mile or close to it.

[1] U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors (2012).
[2] California DOT, BART’s First Five Years; Transportation and Travel Impacts (DOT-P-30-79-8), (1979).
[3]The Snohomish County Transportation Authority, A Guide to Land Use and Public Transportation for Snohomish County, Washington (1989), http://ntl.bts.gov/DOCS/GL.html.
[4] Shriver, K., “Influence of Environmental Design on Pedestrian Travel Behavior in Four Austin Neighborhoods.” Transportation Research Record (1997), 64-75.
[5] Shriver, K., “Influence of Environmental Design on Pedestrian Travel Behavior in Four Austin Neighborhoods.” Transportation Research Record (1997), 64-75.
[6] LaPlante, J. and T. Kaiser, “A history of pedestrian signal walking speed assumptions,” 3rd Urban Street Symposium (Seattle, WA), (2007).


City park facts: Parks per 10,000 residents by city

If you are familiar with the work for the Trust for Public Land and the Center for City Park Excellence, you know that we focus a lot on the percentage of a city’s population that is within a 10-minute walk to a park.  We highlight this in Parkscore, the 2017 results will be announced on May 24th.

Prior to the introduction of Parkscore five years ago, we focused instead on parks per 1,000 residents by city or parks acreage per 10,000 residents by city, as well as variations with daytime occupants. We’ll share these in the next few posts, but you can find all of the information by downloading the 2017 edition of City Park Facts.

Here are the top 25 cities with the most parks per 10,000 residents by city:

  1. Madison: 282 parks or 11.6 parks per 10,000 residents.
  2. Arlington, VA: 210 parks or 9.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  3. Cincinnati: 272 parks or 8.9 parks per 10,000 residents.
  4. Atlanta: 405 parks or 8.9 parks per 10,000 residents.
  5. St. Petersburg: 218 parks or 8.6 parks per 10,000 residents.
  6. Las Vegas: 512 parks or 8.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  7. Buffalo: 208 parks or 8.0 parks per 10,000 residents.
  8. St. Paul: 223 parks or 7.5 parks per 10,000 residents.
  9. Anchorage: 228 parks or 7.5 parks per 10,000 residents.
  10. Pittsburgh: 214 parks or 6.9 parks per 10,000 residents.
  11. Norfolk: 168 parks or 6.8 parks per 10,000 residents.
  12. Seattle: 457 parks or 6.8 parks per 10,000 residents.
  13. Lincoln: 188 parks or 6.8 parks per 10,000 residents.
  14. Baltimore: 421 parks or 6.8 parks per 10,000 residents.
  15. Virgina Beach: 298 parks or 6.6 parks per 10,000 residents.
  16. Boston: 419 parks or 6.5 parks per 10,000 residents.
  17. Greensboro: 178 parks or 6.3 parks per 10,000 residents.
  18. Corpus Christi: 203 parks or 6.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  19. Washington, DC: 409 parks or 6.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  20. New Orleans: 239 parks or 6.2 parks per 10,000 residents.
  21. Boise: 133 parks or 6.0 parks per 10,000 residents.
  22. Denver: 384 parks or 5.7 parks per 10,000 residents.
  23. Omaha: 248 parks or 5.6 parks per 10,000 residents.
  24. Portland, OR: 334 parks or 5.4 parks per 10,000 residents.
  25. Tampa: 192 parks or 5.3 parks per 10,000 residents.

Questions, comments? email us at ccpe@tpl.org