Everything Within 20 Minutes: Travel Infrastructure & The 20-Minute Neighborhood

  Abigail Lindner
Regent University

The 20-minute neighborhood is an urban planning concept that has gained public policy attention in the last decade. The cities of Melbourne in Australia and Portland, Oregon in the United States have set multi-year action plans to transform most if not all of their neighborhoods to fit this model. In 2016 Detroit, Michigan proposed its own 20-minute neighborhood plan.

The idea is that every home will be within 20 minutes, by foot, bike, or public transport, of daily facilities and services like grocery stores, parks, and schools. The creators of Plan Melbourne, launched in 2017, anticipate that the 20-minute neighborhood will fulfill two of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: 1) good health and well-being and 2) sustainable cities and communities (Victoria State Government, 2012).

Three pieces must come together to create a 20-minute neighborhood: residential density to accommodate local retail, good local transport, and an adequate supply of expected facilities and services (Stanley & Stanley, 2014). Summarized another way, a neighborhood must answer the three D’s:

  • Density: How many houses are there per acre?
  • Distance: How far can people go in 20 minutes, and how?
  • Destination: What is in that 20-minute radius?

Each of these goals has its difficulties. This article will focus on the second: the ability of a city to build travel infrastructure for public and active transport.

For Melbourne, Stanley & Hansen (2020) calculate that achieving the 20-minute neighborhood will require local public transport services to run every 20 minutes or from 5 am to 11 pm, with “a minimum of 55 services per stop per day per direction.” In any urban planning scheme the various transportation modes must coordinate to provide a complete, quality system that brings citizens easily around the city. In a 20-minute neighborhood, the fine integration of this system is even more important. Moreover, to support more walking and cycling, city planners need to, among other measures, create distinct bike lanes on the road, widen footpaths, design bridges that accommodate vehicles and pedestrians, and make travel easier by adding appropriate light and shade along routes. The logistical demands of this model are considerable.

Stanley & Stanley (2014) identify local buses as the public transportation option best suited to meet the heavy, high-frequency travel demands of a 20-minute neighborhood, and echo the previous emphasis on trip frequency and duration, as well as speed of service, to make travel by bus convenient and attractive for passengers. According to Plan Melbourne 2017-2050, the city’s transport network will need to increase its services by over 80%, amounting to 10 million more trips per day, by 2050 to support this growth and integration (Wynne, 2017)! Stanley & Hansen (2020) estimate that increasing bus service to this scale would cost $250 million per year over sixteen years, or $4 billion total, which is a modest sum compared to Melbourne’s $30-40 billion budgetary commitment to rail.

Planners often use heat maps of residential density, area walkability, access to mixed-use centers (MUCs), also called neighborhood activity centers (NACs), and other topographical features to judge where transportation services should expand and where they are achieving or have achieved the 20-minute neighborhood. Data on existing travel patterns and community input will further help in determining infrastructure needs (Wung, 2014). Melbourne’s Principle Public Transport Network provides state and local governments and communities data of this ilk, outlining the presence of public transport services and candidates for future routes (Wynne, 2017).

A top priority is building a transportation network that grows `without gaps or circuitous routing', connecting newer developments with older ones and promoting land use initiatives that accord with the 20-minute goals (Stanley & Stanley, 2014). Tempe, Arizona, provides a good example of a transportation environment supporting this accessibility: Tempe boasts an average commute time of 20 minutes, border-to-border light rail, and an extensive neighborhood circulator, or bus system that has enabled it to develop with less reliance on private automobiles (Graves, 2017; Silva, King & Lemar, 2019).

The previous discussion concerns public transport. The active transport aspect of infrastructure planning focuses on the bikeability and walkability of neighborhoods. One consideration for making a city more bikeable and walkable is plain practicality: In an interview, Mark Mitchell, the recent mayor of Tempe, AZ, noted that the desert climate of the state added shade availability to the list of needs presented to urban planners (Graves, 2017).

The suitability of a city to accommodate active transport, and the consequent evaluation of places in which a city can improve, may be assessed in a manner similar to Silva, King & Lemar (2019). They analyzed the performance of five network scenarios in relation to 12 non-work destinations and travel sheds and coverage at each destination. The scenarios were all-roads bicycle network, low-stress bicycle network, all-roads pedestrian network, sidewalk-only pedestrian network, and transit network. The metrics for network compliance to 20-minute city guidelines were the ``number of residential units that could reach at least one point of the destination groups and the number of destinations that each parcel could reach" (Silva, King & Lemar, 2019). In Tempe, all networks except the sidewalk-only pedestrian network accommodated an average of over 75% of residential units per the 20-minute neighborhood goal. Heat maps further indicated the exact areas where city planners could channel more attention and investment to improve accessibility.

In a 2017 study in Melbourne, Gunn et al. employed a different technique to determine the walkability of NACs: cluster analysis. Using data for 534 NACs, including adult travel patterns and activity center data like supermarket availability, the researchers identified walkability cluster types, finding only 9% of NACs in Melbourne had high walkability, 50% had medium walkability, and about 41% had low walkability. Comparison of the sociodemographic profiles, community designs, movement network, and lot layout could inform policy decisions to increase walkability and travel patterns in medium and low walkability areas.

Though urban planners have developed better methods to realize these concepts in cities like Melbourne and Tempe, understandable skepticism about the viability and impact of 20-minute cities has been voiced. The editor of a Melbourne-based consultancy, for instance, questions whether these urban plans are more ``good politics than good policy" or whether reduction of walking times will necessarily lead to reduction of car use (Davies, 2013).

Regardless, greater consciousness of sustainable transportation demands and growing appeal toward connected urban and suburban living will continue to place the 20-minute neighborhood on the policy and planning horizon of city design and network decision-makers.



Da Silva, D., King, D. & Lemar, S. (2019). Accessibility in practice: 20-minute city as a sustainability planning goal. Sustainability 12(129). http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/su12010129.

Davies, Alan. (2013). The “20 minute neighbourhood”: does it make sense? Retrieved from https://blogs.crikey.com.au/theurbanist/2013/12/11/the-20-minute-neighbourhood-does-it-make-sense/.

Graves, Bob. (2017). The shaping of a ‘20-minute city.’ Retrieved from https://www.governing.com/blogs/view/gov-tempe-arizona-efficient-sustainable-transportation-20-minute-city.html.

Gunn, L., Mavoa, S., Boulange, C., Hooper, P., Kavanagh, A. & Giles-Corti, B. (2017). Designing healthy communities: creating evidence on metrics for built environment features associated with walkable neighbourhood activity centres. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 14(164). https://dx.doi.org/10.1186%2Fs12966-017-0621-9.

Stanley, Janet & Stanley, John. (2014). Achieving the 20 minute city for Melbourne: turning our city upside down. Retrieved from https://www.busvic.asn.au/sites/default/files/uploaded-content/website-content/Resources/Reports_Articles/2014_20_achieving_the_20_minute_city_for_melbourne_-_turning_our_city_upside_down_13aug2014.pdf.

Stanley, John & Hansen, Roz. (2020). The 20-minute neighborhood: why isn’t it a key policy direction? Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2020-02-minute-neighborhood-isnt-key-policy.html.

Victoria State Government. (2012). 20-minute neighourhoods. Retrieved from https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/policy-and-strategy/planning-for-melbourne/plan-melbourne/20-minute-neighbourhoods.

Wung, Lihuang. (2014). Joint meeting with the Transportation Commission.Retrieved from https://cms.cityoftacoma.org/Planning/2015%20Annual%20Amendment/2015-06%20PC%20Review%20Packet%20(9-17-14).pdf.

Wynne, Richard. (2017). Plan Melbourne 2017-2050. Retrieved from https://s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/hdp.au.prod.app.vic-engage.files/7215/0424/1669/142._Folder_of_material_accompanying_Ashe_Morgan_Submissions_Part_3.pdf.