This is really quite amazing

US public transportation is notoriously underdeveloped compared to most other wealthy countries. In fact, according to a recent study, the New York City subway is the only US rail system that ranks among the 10 busiest in the world.

Another report found that transit ridership fell in 31 of 35 major metropolitan areas last year, including in Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York City. However, 2018 has birthed some new transit projects, including a high-speed rail line from New Haven to Hartford, Connecticut, and the TEXRail, which will travel from downtown Fort Worth to DFW Airport.

Christof Spieler, a structural engineer and urban planner from Houston, has lots of opinions about public transit in America and elsewhere. In his new book, Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit, he maps out 47 metro areas that have rail transit or bus rapid transit, ranks the best and worst systems, and offers advice on how to build better networks. I recently spoke to him by phone about what cities are doing right and wrong in investing in public transit, and what they should focus on for future projects.

The bloke who works as an urban planner says that the cities doing well are those that employ lots of urban planners.

Remarkable that.

19 comments on “This is really quite amazing

  1. It’s been a while but the last time I had to get to and from the airport in Philly I was warned, by a guidebook I think, not to use the trains. They went through areas of the city where I would be taking too great a risk.

    When will something like that be true of London? Or is it already?

  2. North Philly is kinda Moss Side circa 1995, and the trains towards KOP, chestnut hill and so on go through there. But I am still alive after passing through several times. Just stay on the train.

    Japan does amazing public transport, partly because of the mix of private and public ownership. With the ability to through-ticket and use the same prepaid cards on all networks. Though the mix of public and private lines does some weird things to interchanges.

  3. Also alive after living in Moss Side for the best part of a decade, circa 1995, so don’t believe everything you read in the papers.

  4. I recall that in Dade and Broward counties in FL Metrorail offered to build stations in a couple of shopping malls and were politely refused, as the kind of people who use public transport are not the kind of customers they wanted..

  5. People will certainly use all sorts of justifications to rationalise avoiding public transport. Often it really is “I’m too wealthy to use public transport”. If people feel they lose status by taking trains they won’t, even if means spending longer travelling and costing more.

    Once that mentality is entrenched, no amount of urban planning will sell a system. You’re fighting an irrational enemy.

  6. @Chester

    Equally at the other end there are some who loathe cars/MCs so much the don’t have a license and only will only use “public transport” which oddly includes taxis – effectively a chauffeur driven car – which may use “bus” lanes.

  7. All you need to know about urban planners is that they brought us Milton Keynes and Stevenage.

  8. OT Anyone watching “The Apprentice” UK?

    Camilla Air-Head greets Sugar in her Unicorn Onesie with “Wowsa!”

    The “Final Five” are useless snowflake loons.

    Is the punchline in last episode going to be:

    . – “Invest £250,000 in you & your business idea? I’d rather eat a flying pig. You’re all fired”

    .
    Camilla Air-Head greets Sugar in her Unicorn Onesie with “Wowsa!” The Apprentice UK S14E10 05 Dec 2018

  9. The thing with rough places is that apart from getting mugged/burgled occasionally, unless you mess with the wrong people they are pretty safe.

    The local gangsters generally kill each other over who gets to supply drugs etc. Unless you annoy them, why would they come after you? If they mug you, just hand your stuff over (and wise men in these places only carry a few £ in cash and a cheap phone) and you’re pretty unlikely to get hurt.

  10. It’s a trade-off – cheap place to live vs getting mugged occasionally. I live in a nice place now, very unlikely to experience serious trouble, but obviously it’s a different trade off when one’s young and poor!

  11. “All you need to know about urban planners is that they brought us Milton Keynes and Stevenage.”

    Actually they didn’t. The planners had a fancifal idea based on monorails, local shops, mixed housing and so forth. Handed it to the development corporation who were working with house builders who said they didn’t want all that nonsense. They built a massive shopping centre that was a monster success. People get around by car instead of stupid rail.

    Milton Keynes is a great place. You want a genuinely good place to live, a place that will serve the 99% experience of your life: going to work, kids to school, a place to sleep, somewhere to go out for a steak, somewhere to watch Marvel movies, parks, a gym, some supermarkets, it’s great. And it’s even got an indoor skiing place too.

    In fact, the planners didn’t get their way in Milton Keynes.

  12. The thing with rough places is that apart from getting mugged/burgled occasionally, unless you mess with the wrong people they are pretty safe.

    20 year ago, I lived in a dodgy (now largely gentrified) bit of Hackney for a while and the above applied. Most of the street trouble came from quite young (under 16) kids who wouldn’t go for me as I’m a big lad – a smaller flatmate got mugged by half a dozen 13 years olds – so I never had trouble. You’d see some genuinely scary types about, but they weren’t interested in me.

    Didn’t even get burgled, although that might be because the nice Turkish lady who lived next door had some seriously dodgy sons….

  13. Equally at the other end there are some who loathe cars/MCs so much the don’t have a license and only will only use “public transport” which oddly includes taxis – effectively a chauffeur driven car – which may use “bus” lanes.

    Ditto “anti-gun” politicians and activists in the US who hire men with guns to protect them – their ‘argument’ is that they personally are not carrying the guns, so that’s OK.

  14. All you need to know about urban planners is that they brought us Milton Keynes and Stevenage.

    Never understood the animus towards Milton Keynes. As New Towns go it is probably one of the nicest. Seems peaceful.

    Stevenage is a bit of a dump though, although its network of cycle lanes is outstanding.

    There are two dozen ‘unplanned’ old towns that are ten times worse than either Milton Keynes or Stevenage.

  15. @ Rob
    Stevenage is within cycling distance of Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City, so they had two good models to imitate and they didn’t: the comparison is glaring! Yes, the cycle tracks are good, but they are almost unused except during the Stevenage Half-marathon once a year.
    Milton Keynes is better than the public image but the allegedly wonderful public transport can take hours (due to poorly co-ordinated timetables) to get from A to B: I was ecently quoted that it would take a lot longer for a not-so-young to travel by bus than some guys could run it. My strongest memory of MK is the town council’s junior staff ignoring (or not having been informed of) a commitment made by their senior staff.

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