Tag Archives: Metro

On Transit: A comparison by Miles of Track

Back in December I started a series comparing North American Transit sytems, first by Fare Prices, then by Hours of Operation.  The third installment in the series has been sitting in a folder of drafts since then, half finished.

Miles of route is one of the hardest things to compare among transit systems because each transit system is so different. With subway, light rail, street car, and bus rapid transit (BRT) all being used to different extents in different cities, it’s hard to know what to include.  I’ve done my best here, with the information I could find from transit sources on the web.

For the purpose of the below chart, I included only rail-based transit, and excluded any commuter-rail line (such as GO Transit in Toronto or MBTA commuter rail in Boston).  This isn’t to say that this type of rail isn’t of supreme importance in the greater urban public transit picture, but only that perhaps it is best left to a second comparison.  It is for this reason that I did not include Philadelphia in the below chart.  As discussed previously, Philadelphia’s transit system is so complex in terms of types of routes and types of transit it was difficult to sort out what to include.

Well, New York really trumps any other North American system in terms of total amount of track, with Chicago and Washington basically tying for second.  Toronto comes in 4th, largely due to my inclusion of streetcar lines in the analysis.  If I were to eliminate streetcar lines, the miles of track would drop to 43 putting it below Boston.  Take that as you will, keeping in mind the fact that some Streetcars have designated tracks and some don’t.

What is not quantified here is the effectiveness of each line.  Which systems are built smartly?  Which serve the population most effectively and which encourage the most transit use?  Is it best to build outwards to serve a larger geographic area, or to build densely to serve the most densely populated areas?

These are all things I will explore in my final installment of this series.

**This is the third post in a series of posts on North American Public Transit systems**

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Ethnicity and City boundaries

Last year I stumbled upon this amazing set of maps of ethnicity and segregation in US cities by Eric Fischer.   Using  Bill Rankin’s map of Chicago’s racial and ethnic divides  as a starting point, Fischer mapped over 100 major US cities.  Using dot maps, he was able to illustrated racial and ethnic segregation in a dramatic way.  Just check out the below maps (first with 2000, then with 2010 data) of Detroit where white and black populations are strictly dividing along 8 Mile Rd.  In these maps “Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Gray is Other, and each dot is 25 people”

I highly recommend you check out the full sets: 2000 and 2010 on his Flickr site.  They are pretty mind boggling, and with the recent addition of the 2010 maps it’s interesting to see how, and if settlement has changed at all.   For the case of Detroit, Wikipedia asserts:

The 2010 U.S. Census showed a dramatic shift in demographic numbers as affluent and middle class African American, Asian, and Hispanic populations surge in Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties, negating the tradition of 8 Mile being the racial divide of the Metro Detroit area.

While a shift is definitely occurring in Detroit, the above illustrates the long road the city must take before it achieves racial and ethnic integration.

The New York Times has recently come out with an interactive version of this map, across the entire US.  You may find this map easier to maneuver and navigate, and it has the benefit of including smaller urban and rural areas as well.  Either way, I highly recommend you check out Eric Fischer’s Flickr for his other phenomenal map sets, which I am sure to discuss at some later point here.

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A Scale Comparison of North American Metros

From Radical Cartography via Visual Complexity

A post on RadicalCartography.net shows the relative sizes of different North American subway/metro systems.  The image is much bigger there and can be downloaded as a PDF.  Who knew that Dallas’ system was so extensive? But then, I guess that makes sense.

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On Transit, A Comparison: Hours of Operation

In preparation of this post, I learned several things this week.

Firstly, Philadelphia’s transit system is ridiculously confusing for someone who doesn’t live in the city.  Two  different transit systems operate within the city: The SEPTA, which operates mostly within the city, and the PATCO, which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey.  On top of that, SEPTA itself runs a variety of different services, incorporating basically every method of transit available today: —bus, subway and elevated rail, commuter rail, light rail, and electric trolley bus.  Holy crap, how do you keep track? And because commuter rail is integrated into the overall system, hours of operation vary wildly between lines, not to mention the PATCO line which is 24hrs.

So, all this being said, I have unfortunately abandoned Philadelphia for the time being.  If someone can give me a tutorial, I’m all ears, but for now I am overwhelmed.

Secondly, it is really hard to make any sort of attractive chart or infograph using only excel, paint, and word… especially when you have limited design skills to begin with.  So forgive me the rudimentary design elements, hopefully they will improve as these posts continue.


OK. So, this week I examined transit from an hours of operation perspective…and service varies widely.  From Chicago and New York who operate 24hr systems to the majority of other systems that only operate from around 5 am til midnight.  As much as every transit user craves a 24hr system, it’s good to keep it in perspective that it’s an outlier at this juncture in the US and Canada.

Though service hours vary in many cities based on specific transit line and day of the week (i.e. not included in the chart is the fact that Toronto’s subway doesn’t open until 9 am on Sundays), Washington is the only city who has extended weekend hours, staying open on Friday and Saturday nights until 3 am.

Am I missing any? Are there any systems in North America with extremely short hours, or other 24 hr systems or extended hours?  Did I misrepresent your city? Let me know!


This graph also doesn’t take into consideration 24hr or late night bus service.  As routes and times vary greatly, this chart only focuses on subway and rail hours.

**This is the second post in a series of posts on North American Public Transit systems**

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