radical cartography subways

The above image comes from the fantastic website Radical Cartography.  The project artists there create wonderful maps of everything from subway systems (including Boston) to North American rail to census data.  The above map is of North American Subways, and the creators explain thus:

At a glance, many metros seem to be comparable in scale, but what separates New York from Baltimore is density: station-to-station distance, line overlap, and linkages.

Most systems are organized as a hub with spokes; the two notable exceptions are New York and Mexico City, both of which are more like nets.

This particular map is telling because, as the creators point out most systems work to funnel workers toward city centers but do an abysmal job of getting people from one place to another on the periphery without going through and back out of the center of the core.

The map is fascinating as it is telling about how people not only get into respective cities but what life is like once they are there.  My bias is to believe that subways are a sign of an active downtown and that people potentially live in the urban core.  This clearly true of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago and an interesting sign about life in Houston or Cincinnati or Phoenix.

However, cities without transit will not improve their downtown areas just by building subway lines (though it certainly cannot hurt).  Cities like Phoenix and Vegas were built around highways and an automobile driven life, and do not have the urban density necessary to support a strong subway system.  It is no coincidence that New York and Mexico City lead the pack of urban transit systems, they are both incredibly dense cities.   In order to make subways or elevated lines or lightrail lines work again it must be part of a comprehensive urban planning project, where areas are rezoned to produce dense urban centers for both residential and commercial purposes and where people have incentive to live their lives relying on public transportation first and automobiles second.

(H/T to my partner at eartotheground for the link)