Sunday Video: Metro Systems


City Beautiful explores why more American cities don’t have metro systems like New York City and Chicago.

While there are no one answer for this, there does appear to be some key factors that may holding American cities from a new metro renaissance.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.

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Um, because they are really expensive?

A better question to ask is why we aren’t building subway systems like Canada, most of which were built after the war. These aren’t really big systems (like New York) but tend to be fairly small, but cost effective. They also carry huge numbers of people per mile — way better than most American cities. Even in a very suburban city, and with compromises (like running down the surface downtown) the Calgary subway line does really well. With the exception of Washington DC — which built a very large system — our subway systems just aren’t very successful. We add miles and miles of track, but very few people ride them. That is because they often are built with that in mind — quantity over quality. My own theory is that the problem is politics. It is very easy to convince folks that a subway will work very much like a freeway. At first glance, this sounds great, because drivers hate having to go long distances while being stuck on the freeway. So a line from say, Dallas to Fort Worth sounds awesome, and well worth funding. It passes at the ballot box, which is important, because these types of programs *need* to pass at the ballot box. This makes them different than most Canadian systems, which tend to be approved by policy wonks, not politicians. In other words, to get a project off the ground in the U. S. requires a lot of cooperation with suburban areas, which in turn means building things that look good, but are worse for everyone.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I don’t have a lot of research to back it up.

Chris Mobley

Arguably, Seattle is now build a light-metro with most of the new expansions being grade separated.