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Transport / Mass transit

Which US cities have good public transport?

The United States likes to think of itself as the land of the free. It’s also, though, the land of the car. While most European cities were built around public transport, many of the US’s biggest cities ballooned in the years after World War II, and are characterised by sprawling suburbs divided by six- or eight-lane freeways.

This isn’t SimCity, this is suburban Miami. Image: Getty.

A few cities, of course, do have decent public transport networks – and the chart below tells you which. It comes from the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s AllTransit website, and it shows the proportion of the population who live within walking distance of a bus or rail link in 28 of the largest cities.

What it shows is that – perhaps surprisingly – in every one of those cities, more than half the population is within walking distance of public transport. In 13 of them, it’s more than 90 per cent. Which sounds pretty impressive.

But there’s a “but”: in relatively few of those cities is that public transport actually any good.

Click to expand. Image: AllTransit/Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Look at Detroit. Basically everybody lives within walking distance of a bus. But the number within walking distance of the one high frequency service – the elevated People Mover, downtown – is more like 3 per cent.

The definition of “high-quality” transport here, incidentally, is a line that runs at least 672 times per week, or every 15 minutes on average.

The number of cities where more than half the population has access to such a link? Just six: four on the east coast (New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC), as well as Chicago and San Francisco.

All six of these were largely built-up by 1900. That’s probably not a coincidence.

(Hat tip: Transit Center.)


Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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