Addressing the Challenges Transport Planners Face with 15-minute Neighbourhoods

4 May 2023

15-minute neighbourhoods are an idea that has been gaining popularity among urban planners and policymakers but to make the vision a reality, town and transport planners must overcome several challenges. In this blog we outline 6 and suggest how to tackle them…

What are 15-minute neighbourhoods?

Imagine living in a place where you can access most of your daily needs within a short walk or bike ride from your home. A place where you can find food shops, parks, GPs, gyms, schools, libraries, theatres and more within a 15-minute radius. A place where you can enjoy a more liveable, healthy and sustainable urban life. This is the vision of a 15-minute neighbourhood, an idea that has been gaining popularity among urban planners and policymakers around the world.

The 15-minute neighbourhood serves as an organising principle for urban development that makes life more liveable for residents by making neighbourhoods safer, quieter, more diverse, inclusive and economically vibrant. The 15-minute neighbourhood concept aims to create self-sufficient communities where residents can access all the amenities and services they need within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their homes. By doing so it aims to reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion by promoting active travel and public transport over car use.

However, to make this vision a reality, town and transport planners must overcome several challenges.

What challenges do transport planners face with 15-minute neighbourhoods?

1. Defining what a 15-minute neighbourhood actually means

Firstly, planners need to define what they really mean by a 15-minute neighbourhood. This includes defining which services should be included within the neighbourhood, but also which transport modes the neighbourhood will focus on. For example, should it be designed around 15-minute cycle times, 15-minute walking times, 15-minute bus times, or something else? Each of these options has its own implications, and planners must carefully consider which option works best for their area of interest.

2. Choosing which services to include within the 15-minute neighbourhood

The choices of which services to include are similarly complex. There is no definitive list of what amenities are essential or desirable for a 15-minute neighbourhood. For example, the services that individuals need can vary considerably - while some people may prioritise access to green spaces and community centres, others may prioritise access to grocery shopping or healthcare facilities. While it’s important to take a holistic approach and include a range of services to meet the diverse needs of the community, communities themselves vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

3. Consolidating accurate data

Once the key aspirations have been defined, planners then face the task of consolidating data to start understanding the opportunities for 15-minute neighbourhoods. Simply identifying, cleansing and validating the relevant data can be challenging and time-consuming and for many types of services, there are multiple sources of data. Open Street Map, for example, can provide great data availability but may contain errors or omissions that need to be corrected. On the other hand, OS data may need to be processed to match the desired categories. Accurate and up-to-date information is essential to ensure that informed decisions are being made.

4. Weighing up the different options for desired services

But accuracy isn’t the only complexity. Digging into the available data for different services can raise a number of further questions. For instance, if you want to include health services within a 15-minute neighbourhood metric, how should you weight hospitals compared to GP surgeries or dentists? If you want to include education, how should you weight access to Primary Schools compared to Secondary Schools or Universities or even more specialist types of educational facilities? Even with all the data to hand planners will then need to carefully consider the weighting of each service and how it affects the overall accessibility score of different 15-minute neighbourhoods.

5. Creating the accessibility metrics

A critical next step will be creating the accessibility metrics themselves. Here again, there are different ways of measuring how accessible an amenity is from a given location, such as crow-fly distance, network distance or travel time. Usually, isochrones that capture the travel time are the preferred method of analysis, but these also include network data and assumptions such as the travel speed of an "average person." Cycling isochrones may not include paths equally or may not account for hilliness and topology.

6. Presenting the data to the public and decision-makers

Finally, once planners have gathered and analysed the relevant data, it can be a further difficulty to present it in a way that is accessible to the public and decision-makers. Effective visualisation and mapping will ultimately be key to making findings understandable and actionable so that maximum benefit is realised from the 15-minute neighbourhood.

Overall, gaining a solid understanding of 15-minute neighbourhoods is challenging. Going through the process of thinking about the data for 15-minute neighbourhoods makes it clear that there is no one-size-fits-all definition. Therefore, what planners need is a dynamic system that removes the detailed data processing while allowing for the investigation of 15-minute neighbourhoods in a customised way.

How City Science has addressed these challenges of 15-minute neighbourhoods?

To address the data and analysis challenges, we have developed a dynamic 15-minute analysis tool that makes it easy to understand opportunities and constraints for 15-minute neighbourhoods within your region. Developed in partnership with the planning teams from the Plymouth and South Hams Joint Local Plan, our tool was built on our award-winning Cadence platform enabling all outputs to be presented in an interactive and easy-to-understand way.

The tool can quickly compare different neighbourhoods and prioritise improvements based on local needs. It can also identify gaps in service provision and inform infrastructure investment decisions. Furthermore, our tool can support public engagement by providing accessible information and visualisations that help people understand the potential of 15-minute neighbourhoods.

We believe that our tool can help planners create more sustainable and liveable communities. By making it easier to measure accessibility and understand neighbourhood-level data, we can promote a more equitable and sustainable future.

In short, if you're a planner looking to create sustainable, low-carbon neighbourhoods that support the health and wellbeing of residents, our dynamic 15-minute analysis tool is an essential investment.

We will also be presetning the tool at The Liverable Neighbourhoods Conference in May.

For a demonstration or more information, please contact us at: