Missing Links How Social Paths Can Improve Pedestrian Accessibility to Light Rail

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

infrastructure - station, land use - planning, mode - bike, mode - pedestrian, mode - tram/light rail, place - north america


Pedestrian Accessibility, Light Rail, Social Paths


In the past several decades, planners and policy makers have focused on creating more balanced transportation systems that included better transit service as well as improved options for pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrian accessibility is vital to the success of this mode because transit users are likely to walk on at least one end of their trip. As a result, practitioners have focused on improving pedestrian environments in station areas. Pedestrian accessibility studies have focused on formal pedestrian links such as roads, sidewalks, and multiuse trails. However, a small but important body of literature suggests that the informal pedestrian environments play an important but often overlooked role in pedestrian accessibility. Social paths are informal routes that emerge in grassy areas because of footfall. Social paths have formed at numerous suburban transit stops and show deficiencies in the design of formal pedestrian networks. Because current travel behavior studies omit informal pedestrian networks, their results may be inaccurate and result in misguided policy. This study identified social paths at 12 light rail stations in Denver, Colorado, and Dallas, Texas. With two pedestrian accessibility metrics, the formal pedestrian environment was compared with a joint formal-informal pedestrian environment that includes social paths. This study makes the argument that social paths are important components of station-area pedestrian accessibility and should be incorporated into future travel behavior studies and pedestrian improvement projects.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.