Is a Half-Mile Circle the Right Standard for TODs?

Planners and researchers use transit catchment areas — the land around stations — as geographic units for predicting ridership, assessing the impacts of transit investments and, recently, for designing transit-oriented developments. In the US, a half-mile-radius circle has become the de facto standard for rail-transit catchment areas. There is surprisingly little evidence to justify any particular catchment area. Why a half mile? Why not a quarter mile or two-fifths of a mile? Is there anything special about a half mile or is this simply a convenient figure that has become an industry standard? A half mile roughly corresponds to the distance someone can walk in 10 minutes at 3 miles per hour and is a common estimate for the distance people will walk to get to a rail station. The half-mile ring is a little more than 500 acres in size.