A Placemaking Journal

Pub Shed: Mapping your five minute stumbling distance

Having worked in communities big and small across the continent, we’ve had ample opportunity to test ideas and find approaches that work best. Urban design details. Outreach tactics. Implementation tricks. Many of these lessons are transferable, which is why we’ve created “Back of the Envelope,” a weekly feature where we jot ’em down for your consideration.

Most folks with an interest in planning issues are no doubt familiar with the pedestrian shed or ped shed. The idea is simple. Experience has shown us that the average person will walk, without hesitation or undue kvetching, to destinations they can reach in under five minutes — in practical terms, about a quarter mile — beyond which they begin to consider other modes of travel.

Image credit: DPZ, Sprawl Repair Manual.

So, if you’re trying to make a place more walkable, the number of people within a quarter mile of meaningful destinations is an important measure, as it quantifies those folks who can realistically leave their cars behind for some portion of their daily needs. Planners visualize this assessment by drawing circles representing a quarter mile from center to edge, and then place them over centers of activity. The result is a quick read on which residences are within reasonable walking distance, together with an idea for where further density might make sense.

(It’s worth noting that the five minute walk is a pretty rough tool and there are plenty of exceptions. Planner Peter Calthorpe suggests a half mile/ten minute standard when assessing proximity to transit and, in walkable communities, children will often walk even further for school. Furthermore, people rarely walk a straight line to their destinations, taking more circuitous, on-the-ground routes instead that add a little extra distance. But you get the idea.)

I find ped sheds especially interesting as they relate to economic development and the social fabric of community. That is, if people are out and walking then where are they ending up and who are they crossing paths with along the way?

My town of Decatur, Georgia — already pretty walkable, especially by Sun Belt standards — has, for the past 15 years or so, been developing a thriving pub scene. In addition to some well-worn, long-time institutions, we now also have a growing number of new, neighborhood-friendly taverns spread around town.

These are where neighbors go, hang out, and get to know each other, and they’ve contributed to the fact that, here in Decatur, craft beer has pretty much become a de facto component of the city’s economic development strategy. So that got me thinking. Based on our existing establishments, what portion of our residents have a neighborhood pub in the truest sense of the term?

The result? The pub shed — a diagrammatic look at walkability and beer.

See it below (and click for a better view). Every circle is centered on one of our pubs and the results show homes within a quarter mile of each. Not too bad, especially for a small, southern town, but if it turns out that people are willing, like with transit, to walk ten minutes for suds rather than just five then, well, coverage improves dramatically.

The Decatur, Georgia, pub shed. Click for larger view.

The fun part (at least for geeks like me) is that you can do an exercise like this for any of your community’s shared amenities — coffee shops, convenience and service businesses, schools, parks, etc. I just find pubs especially relevant because, if ever there was a business you should be walking to (and from) rather than driving, it’s your bar.

Thankfully, my particular residence is well served. Cheers!

–Scott Doyon

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