Chart of the Day: Square-Meter-Minutes per Commute Mode

Here’s a fun chart [actually a graph] from the VTPI (via Planetizen) that combines speed with the amount of land required to support the different modes, resulting in the fun unit of measure “square-meter-minutes”:

square meter minutes commute


According to the author, the chart reveals that:

Since each car requires road space plus two to six parking spaces (at home, work and other destinations), a car uses more land than most urban residents’ homes. Walking, cycling and public transit require far less space.

Basically, transportation and land use are connected because of these disparate ratios. How we move has strong correlation with the kinds of spaces in which we live and work. A lot of this has to do with parking.

7 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Square-Meter-Minutes per Commute Mode

  1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

    Not arguing with the overall message, but seems like transit gets a little better treatment than it should, perhaps? Buses require garages for maintenance/storage, layover areas, etc. One could even include bus stops as opportunity costs of urban space not much different than an on-street parking spot – bus stops certainly provide value but they take up space where people could walk, bike, or even park if bus bulbs are used. Seems odd it came out ahead of walking, which requires exactly zero parking area…

    1. Joe D

      I came here to say the exact same thing. It’s easy to make a chart, especially if you already have a bias coming in.

  2. Froggie

    Also not sure about the first part of the quote. His chart numbers conflict with the housing vs. auto numbers he uses in the article itself. For example, he says each auto requires about 2,000-4,000 square feet of space (between parking and roads). Yet that figure does not add up in his chart.

    Bill: would have been useful to provide more of the paragraphs here, instead of having to fish them out of the article itself.

  3. Shawn

    I looked at his parking space source data and I’m not impressed. Three studies, one of which was only a model. One studied three whole states and another logged at just one rural county.

    Neither study differentiated between ramps and flat lots. Neither study explored differences in urban and rural parking trends.

    And all ignore the situation that all retail needs to handle a peak usage, not average usage.

    His point may be valid, but this wouldn’t be published in my fictional journal.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      “all retail needs to handle a peak usage, not average usage”

      I very much disagree with this. Manufacturing plants arent (mostly) built to handle potential 30-year peak order rates. Retail stores aren’t built to accommodate peak shopping capacity (else we’d never wait in long lines at cash registers). Stadiums aren’t built to accommodate the biggest game of the year’s attendance.

      This also assumes demand is all arriving by car. A faulty assumption for urbanized places.

      And, as we’ve seen thanks to the Strong Towns twitter #hashtags, we’re not particularly good at estimating peak demand. Many (certainly not all) parking lots sit half empty even on Black Friday.

      I’d be interested to see a note through analysis of parking space area-minutes. I doubt the order and relative magnitudes will change much, though.

  4. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Interesting, but the graph’s definitions (square meters and minutes) are vague. A really thorough graphing of good data might require a three dimensional graph.

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