Chart of the Day: Perceived Walking Distance by Land Use Type

Here’s a chart from a 2007 University of Minnesota study all about how people perceive walking distance in various ways, depending on where they live and how they get around.



I’ve long been fascinated by this topic, and the results of the study show that it’s a very complex issue. Some walks can feel very long, while others can feel very short. Everything depends on your individual perception. And, really, from this study, it’s difficult to come up with any conclusions. Here are some of the results…

This analysis shows that individuals’ perception of distance and travel time is fraught with error; only about one-third of respondents correctly estimated the amount of time it would take to walk from their home to the nearest retail destinations.


According to all of the logistic regressions run for this study, placing businesses within a five minute walk of as many homes as possible is the most reliable means of increasing awareness about the destination. Of course, due to consumer choice, this approach will not necessarily reduce the amount that residents travel because they may choose to travel farther to a different store despite the fact that they are aware of the nearer opportunity and the travel time there, however that is an issue beyond the scope of this paper. The important finding is that holding distance to a destination constant, this analysis found that specific elements of urban form such as trails, parks, and intersections do not have a consistent impact on perceived accessibility.

Not all half-mile walks are made equal. [See also: Perceived comfort of varying bicycle facilities.]

7 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Perceived Walking Distance by Land Use Type

  1. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Little doubt that perceptions vary–and could the weather be a factor, too? The same is true for driving. I used to make a round trip driving between Minneapolis and Anoka once or twice a week, not during rush hour. It seemed that University Avenue was the shortest and most efficient, River Road the most pleasant, until I actually timed the two routes and River Road easily won. Can’t remember the measured difference in miles.

  2. David MarkleDavid Markle

    A personal walking example also comes to mind: when toting a heavy backpack in the wilderness, thoughts of distance and fatigue fade considerably when the scenery grows enticing. Another example of psychology vs. measurement: the minor controversy in this electronic publication when I pointed out that the No. 50 limited stop bus ran only slightly faster than the No. 16; several readers disputed it, despite Met Transit’s figures and schedules.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      I still question that, mostly because I’m still confused as to which years those were published in. I know I used to be passed on the 16 by two 50 buses when headed to StP Central Library during my time in Jr High pretty consistently (6 times straight until I figured out it was a 50 bus and started passing 16s myself), however I have no doubt that during construction especially, the times were almost identical. I also did some investigations into the matter with a University class’s data, and found the 50 seemed to have a better on-time performance, meaning it adhered to its schedule, while the 16 may have taken longer in real-time.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      MetroTransit’s blog post on the issue says it’s about at 10 minute time saver over the length of the route. I don’t know what you’d consider significant, but 16.7% of my time is usually enough for me.

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