Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Which city's rail system has the best Walk Score?

Last week, David Klion computed the Walk Score for all Washington Metro stops. How does Metro stack up to the other heavy rail systems in the United States? The answers may surprise you.

I analyzed the 11 heavy rail systems in the United States. Some of these cities also have light rail, commuter rail, or other transit systems, but I didn't count those. That means in Boston, I looked at stations on the Red, Blue, and Orange lines, but not Green. (Why?)

I also combined heavy rail stations from multiple operators in the same region. For example, the Philadelphia score counts both SEPTA and PATCO heavy rail stations. New York's includes PATH and the Staten Island Railway (SIRT).

And the winner is... Los Angeles?

I was surprised by the results. Los Angeles scored the highest! I certainly did not expect that. Though in hindsight, it makes a good deal of sense.

Los Angeles has only 2 heavy rail lines, the Red and Purple lines. Those lines are confined to a relatively small area in the LA Basin, with the exception of 2 stations on the Red Line in the San Fernando Valley. And while Southern California has a reputation for being sprawling, the LA Basin is actually fairly dense, especially where the Metro has been built. As a result, its score isn't dragged down by suburban park and ride stations.

In the same respect, I was surprised that BART scored better than WMATA. Large portions of the DC system serve areas that are urban or urbanizing. In contrast, BART's system is much more suburban-oriented and has very little in the way of urban circulation.

Also surprising is that New York is not an outlier. It does come in a close second to Los Angeles, but I really expected it to be off the charts compared to everyone else. The New York City Subway alone scores 90.47 without PATH and SIRT, still just below LA; SIRT averages 71.45 while PATH is higher, 92.23, but its relatively small size (13 stations) means it doesn't change the New York average even a tenth of a point.

What is not very surprising is that the sunbelt cities (except LA) score more poorly than the more urban older cities (except for Cleveland). Cleveland is at a disadvantage because of the structure of its transit system. The system only has one stop in the central business district, and that station's score isn't that impressive anyway, which harms the average.

Distribution matters

The chart above shows how Walk Scores for stations in each system are distributed. The green bars give the average score. The rectangle shows the 25th and 75th percentiles, and the lines with dots at each end show the highest and lowest Walk Scores for any station in that system.

At the high end, several cities had at least one station (sometimes several) with perfect 100-point scores. The lowest score for any station nationwide was 28 points. Two stations in the Washington regionArlington Cemetery and Morgan Boulevardand one station in San FranciscoNorth Concord/Martinezhad that score.

The distribution is important in understanding how well distributed the well-scoring stations are in the system.

In Washington, the distribution is weighted more toward good-scoring stations, but there are still a lot of poor-scoring stations, too.

Compare that to San Francisco's BART, where there are fewer poor-scoring stations. Instead, there are a large quantity of stations in the middle of the distribution.

New York and Cleveland offer contrast to each other. While most New York stations score very well, Cleveland's don't rank above medium.

Limitations

The Walk Score algorithm is not perfect. It works by calculating the quantities and distances of various amenties. There are other factors which it does not measure that help to define the walkability of an area.

For example, a street grid makes an area much more walkable than a sprawling network of superblocks and culs-de-sac. The quality and proliferation of sidewalks also influences walkability. But these factors aren't currently part of Walk Score; there's no good data file for Walk Score to use that shows where there are and aren't good sidewalks, for example.

Regardless, Walk Score gives us a standard and fairly good measure to compare transit stations (and systems) to each other.

Why I didn't count light rail or other transit

I'm sure this will prove to be controversial, and that's fine. I did not include the light rail elements of systems in cities like Boston for 3 primary reasons:

  1. Peer comparison: I wanted to create an apples-to-apples comparison, as best as possible. While the Washington Metro is easily comparable to BART, it doesn't make as much sense to compare a Metro stop to a Muni LRT stop on the west side of San Francsico that is just a sign on a telephone pole.
  2. To limit the scope: This project took a good amount of time as it was. I did not want to extend that time by trying to measure too much. Besides, I (or someone) can always do a follow-up with light rail.
  3. To avoid "mode creep": If we take Boston as an example, limiting the scope of the survey to heavy rail avoids the mode creep that can exacerbate the problems listed above. If I were to consider the Green Line, I would need to consider all of it. And if I'm considering the street-running portions of the Green Line, how can I not consider the full subway portions of the Silver Line in East Boston? And then would I not have to also include the Washington Avenue portion, that is essentially arterial bus?
This analysis is limited, as any analysis would be. I chose to try to keep it from expanding too far by limiting it to one mode. It would be interesting to look at the omitted lines, and perhaps that will happen in a future analysis.
Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

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Impressive work! But I think places like DC are hurt by the sheer number of stops- especially places like Arlington cemetery - which could be removed from the data as it's a "destination" stop- an we're not really concerned with walkability there.

Also it would be interesting to look at some sort of density in these cities. Most of LA is NOT served by heavy rail, so this data would be very misleading to someone who is looking to move to city with good heavy rail and walkability scores.

by Tom A. on Feb 29, 2012 10:13 am • linkreport

"Most of LA is NOT served by heavy rail, so this data would be very misleading to someone who is looking to move to city with good heavy rail and walkability scores."

Not necessarily. These data demonstrate that the parts of LA that are covered by heavy rail are quite walkable. So you would just want to move to those areas. Though interestingly, the most well known walkable districts of LA (eg. West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice) are not served by rail..

by Phil on Feb 29, 2012 10:26 am • linkreport

I just noticed Baltimore is on here, with a higher score than DC? That's a joke- Baltimore's one metro line is used by just a few thousand people a day, and doesn't actually go to or from MOST of the places people go to in Baltimore.

It's generally used by suburbanites to get to jobs downtown. I guess because it had very few stops (around 10 I think), it has a higher walkability score. No one who actually lives in the city takes it on a regular basis. In fact I lived there for over a year- without a car- before I ever took it. I tool it exactly 2 times in the two years I lived there- and that was to get out to the burbs. I may be wrong, but the light rail in Baltimore is more used than the heavy rail- because it goes directly through the city, stops at the train station, and goes down to the airport.

by Tom A. on Feb 29, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

Matt this is fascinating analysis. Well done.

I lived in LA without a car for about four months last year. That rail system is impressive in that there really are not any stations that are underutilized. It's one of the few cities in the US where it would be extremely beneficial to invest more in heavy rail infrastructure.

I wonder what Washington looks like if you only take the stations in the city? Or what the stations in just Prince George's look like?

by Dave Murphy on Feb 29, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

it doesn't make as much sense to compare a Metro stop to a Muni LRT stop on the west side of San Francsico that is just a sign on a telephone pole.

No, it doesn't. But comparing it to a light rail stop in LA is perfectly valid. Muni in SF is the descendant of a streetcar system, while LA's Light Rail is much more modern, with exclusive ROWs and often extensive grade separation.

I wonder if there's a way to do the equivalent of 'weighted density' for this kind of analysis.

http://austinzoning.typepad.com/austincontrarian/2008/03/weighted-densit.html

by Alex B. on Feb 29, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

@Tom A...

I imagine Baltimore is higher because most of its (few) stops are in the city, and the downtown core of Baltimore with its skyscrapers and all is pretty darn dense.

by Dave Murphy on Feb 29, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

Cool! Do you have a footnote with the names of the stations for figure 3? (Washingtin freq. of walkscore). I.e., what station got that score of 100? I'm interested in the other stations' scores too.

by Tina on Feb 29, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

@Tom A:
I concur with Dav Murphy on this one. While the Baltimore Metro Subway only has 14 stations, most of them are located in denser areas.

As for ridership, you are wrong. The Baltimore Metro Subway carries more riders than the Baltimore Light Rail.

In 2010, the most recent year for which data was available, the Metro Subway carried 13,363,903 unlinked trips while the LRT carried 8,070,249 unlinked trips.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 29, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

Another thing that I think is interesting is that the turn-of-the-20th Century era systems (NYC, Philly, Boston, Chicago) are all firmly ahead of the 60's era systems (DC, SF, Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland) but the newest system (Los Angeles, which opened in the '90s) has the highest scores. They are grouped pretty neatly like that.

I bet this is because older systems were designed around older density, and thus helped maintain that older density. The 60s and 70s era systems were designed at the height of suburbanization when Park and Rides were all the vogue. And the LA system was designed when projects like these started to cost a pretty penny and they had to get the absolute most bang for the buck out of it. Pretty sure the heavy rail portion of LA Metro has only one Park and Ride station if any.

by Dave Murphy on Feb 29, 2012 11:05 am • linkreport

2 Heavy rail yes,but they also have an extensive light rail network Blue, Green and Gold lines; also BRT in the Orange and Silver Lines. Plus they 6 Metrolink Metro Rail routes. LA is fairly well connected by transit.

by RJ on Feb 29, 2012 11:05 am • linkreport

Cleveland has a 1960's era heavy rail?

by charlie on Feb 29, 2012 11:09 am • linkreport

@charlie:
Cleveland's Red Line opened in 1955. It's heavy rail, though on the lighter end of the spectrum.

It kind of falls in the middle, between the older pedestrian-oriented systems and the newer auto-oriented systems.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 29, 2012 11:11 am • linkreport

Cleveland's Red (heavy rail) line opened in 1955... so it was not quite 60s or 70s, but I'd say it's the same era. And like a couple other cities of that era (Miami, Baltimore) it only has one heavy rail line and relies on other rail modes to connect the system (in Cleveland's case, light rail)

by Dave Murphy on Feb 29, 2012 11:12 am • linkreport

FWIW 10 of Cleveland's 18 stations have Park-and-Rides.

by Dave Murphy on Feb 29, 2012 11:16 am • linkreport

Tina: Metro Center got the 100. Dupont, both Farraguts, Foggy Bottom, and U Street get 98. There's a complete list on David Klion's post.

by David Alpert on Feb 29, 2012 11:16 am • linkreport

Very nice analysis and an interesting comparison.

As a daily Baltimore city resident and Metro rider, I have a few points to add. Yes, the heavy rail system is limited and consists of only 14 stops. While a significant portion of ridership comes from commuters traveling to employment centers at Charles Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital, many of the other ~58,000 avg weekday riders (according to APTA 3Q 2011) are city/county residents who use the service to access goods/services near metro stops.

The metro line serves a number of important regional destinations for city residents, particularly those without cars:
-Mondawmin Mall, home to the city's only Target and a grocery store;
-Lexington Market
-Owings Mills Mall

While these may not constitute the best urban examples of retail opportunities, limited retail options in many Baltimore neighborhoods leave much to be desired. A significant number of lower-income residents rely on this accessibility and walkability at destinations.

The metro line does not serve the more affluent and up-and-coming neighborhoods of Baltimore City, however the service provides huge benefits to lower-income residents who reside east and west of downtown.

by bmoreterp on Feb 29, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

Umm, the main cleveland system opened back in the 20s.

Nobody uses the red line to the airport.

by charlie on Feb 29, 2012 11:23 am • linkreport

Im pretty sure Baltimore metros first phase opened in the early 80s, and the second phase (all the way to owings mills) in the late 80s. They rushed the line to the northwest first (instead of east to JHU med which was done later) to tie in to the opening of the freeway (i795?) nw to Owings Mills.

LRT was done to take advantage of a rail line that made it possible to have grade seperated transit on the cheap, and to time into the construction on the JFX.

Baltimore tended to do things on the cheap, in response to short term crises or opportunities. A clever strategy for a stressed city, or Willie Don's impulsiveness - you be the judge.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 29, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

Just as I suspected... of the bottom 17 walk scores on David Klion's list, 11 of them are in PG County.

The top station in PG is Prince George's Plaza, which is tied for 26th.

Of the other three stations in the county, West Hyattsville got a 55, Largo is a 60, and Southern Avenue (!?) is a 60. How Southern Avenue broke 10 is beyond me. That station is in the middle of nowhere.

Seriously, those stations drag the rest of the system's walk score down significantly.

by Dave Murphy on Feb 29, 2012 11:25 am • linkreport

@charlie:
Be that as it may, the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit (the Blue and Green Lines) are light rail, not heavy rail.

And you're wrong about the "nobody uses the Red Line", too, since more people ride the Red Line than both the Blue and Green Lines put together.

In 2010, the most recent year for which data was available, there were 3,657,501 unlinked trips on heavy rail (the Red Line) and 2,315,662 unlinked trips on heavy rail (the Blue and Green Lines) in Cleveland.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 29, 2012 11:28 am • linkreport

BART isn't surprising at all. You betray a bias by listing it as San Francisco, when it really connects multiple urban hubs including Oakland (nearly 400K population) & Berkeley (110K population) WMATA's urban center of D.C. is only 620K people. Berkeley is actually more population dense than D.C. and has 3 BART stops and Oakland is a bit less dense, but its 5 BART stops are all in dense areas.

To anyone who's been around the system, the walk score numbers make sense. 23% of BART stations have walk scores below 70 while 42% of Metro stations have low walk scores.

On a more general note, in order to remove the system size bias that puts LA on top, perhaps you can scale the rankings by ridership / regional population. If you just use ridership or system size, the monster systems will always win, but, the current metric means the super focused systems make some cities seem better than they are.

by Dan H on Feb 29, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson:
Ah, caught an error there. The last sentence should read: In 2010, the most recent year for which data was available, there were 3,657,501 unlinked trips on heavy rail (the Red Line) and 2,315,662 unlinked trips on heavy light rail (the Blue and Green Lines) in Cleveland.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 29, 2012 11:30 am • linkreport

@Dan H:
I didn't call it "San Francisco" to betray a bias. I called it that to avoid confusion for people who do not refer to it as the Bay Area.

I identified all of the "cities" by their primary city. The only places where that naming is technically correct is New York and Los Angeles. In all the other "cities", the heavy rail lines do not remain in those boundaries.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 29, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

two comments on the metro station list

1. the weakness of walk score in quality of walk matters to this - van dorn certainly deserves a lower score and placementif you take account of the quality of the walk. Im not certain about wheaton, but maybe it too.

2. Vienna will improve significantly when the commercial portion of MetroWest is completed

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 29, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

Unlike a lot of the suburban WMATA park-and-rides, almost all of BART's parking lots are multi-level structures. In Greenbelt, to get to the nearest coffee shop, you have to walk 10 minutes across an enormous parking lot before you even get to a street (and even then you're still a 15 minute walk away from anything), but at the suburban terminus in Millbrae, you get out of the station, cross the kiss-and-ride, and you're on the main street across from an In-n-Out.

Maybe that speaks more for the land value in the Bay Area (evenly-distributed sprawl is worth more in the outlying areas than in places with more concentrated development) or maybe PG county is just really bad at developing metro stations.

by Albert on Feb 29, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson at 11:34: Actually, using the city name is not complete in New York either, because of PATH, which has stations in 4 different municipalities in New Jersey.

by David Alpert on Feb 29, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

@Matt; you're missing my point. The red line isn't a 1960's creation.

The airport link might be, but that is notorious for not being used.

And in this case, defining light/rail heavy rail is not a good distinction. When I rode the RTA, it was irrevleant. And I don't know how Tower City isn't impressive.

by charlie on Feb 29, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

Great analysis! At the risk of opening a can of worms and dropping more work in your lap, I think adding ***ONE*** LRT system, the Portland MAX-would be very interesting because of the significantly higher level of coordination of land use and transit that has occurred there for many years compared to other MSAs.

The question I'm hoping it would put on the table is as follows: if new subway construction is basically over in the USA outside of places that already have subways (NY, LA, Chicago, etc) then does highly intentional land use planning around LRT still enable communities to create land use patterns with WalkScore profiles like those you might find in old rail cities?

by CityBeautiful21 on Feb 29, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

Overall good analysis but Walk Score definitely has its quirks. For example, the Smithsonian station only merits a 77 even though The Mall is in some ways the most walkable place in DC. Certainly, to AWITC's point, it's the highest "quality" walk in DC.

by Falls Church on Feb 29, 2012 12:16 pm • linkreport

@Matt,
It's not just your listing SF instead of Bay Area is the bias, but your key sentence is"BART's system is much more suburban-oriented and has very little in the way of urban circulation." As is clear from the walk scores, the vast majority of the systems stops and ridership is in dense areas. The farthest BART stops are much farther from the urban cores than WMATA, but those stops are a fairly small fraction of the total system.

@Albert, definitely because of the cost of land, even stops with surface parking are better designed. For example, here's the North Berkeley station:

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=berkeley,+ca&hl=en&ll=37.873117,-122.282885&spn=0.007377,0.014205&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=59.639182,116.367188&hnear=Berkeley,+Alameda,+California&t=h&z=17&source=gplus-ogsb

It has surface parking, but they put the station in the center of a large lot. This is normally considered poor urban design, but since this is a residential area and there's no main way people approach the station, it keeps the station approachable on foot from all directions and disperses the eye-sore of a single huge parking lot. Even for a station surrounded by a large parking lot in the middle of blocks of single-family houses, it's just a few blocks from a major retail road with many restaurants & a super market. If anything, I'd say the 71 given to this stop by Walkscore underestimates it's walkability.

I can't think of a single Metro stop anything like this in the D.C. area. Some are, obviously more urban & walkable, but the combination of free-standing homes very near retail & a heavy rail stop isn't anywhere in D.C. I've seen (noting I haven't visited all Metro stops)

by Dan H on Feb 29, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

@Tom A: The Baltimore subway is actually relatively well used and well loved by people who live in the corridor it serves -- the mostly urban axis leading between Owings Mills and downtown. Those people tend to be black and poor, and so maybe they're not noticed by many of the sort of transit advocates who haunt sites like these, but they do exist.

by jfruh on Feb 29, 2012 12:42 pm • linkreport

It's nice that you show distributions too, but I'm not sure I see the value in comparing means across systems with such widely varying numbers of stations. Probably a better strategy would be to consider stations within a given distance of the CBD--or at least give some metric of how far out stations are in each system. Or focus more on the median WalkScore, or the number of stations in each system above some desired threshold.

And maybe you shouldn't include the street-running branches of the Green line in Boston, but if you want to be consistent you should include the fully grade-separated D branch to Riverside. It seems perfectly reasonable to exclude bus systems, though, even those that are placed on maps as if they're rail lines (e.g. Silver line).

by Gray on Feb 29, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

"The Walk Score algorithm is not perfect."

Really? When LA tops the charts on any sort of mass transit/walkability comparison, it's fair to say there might be some flawed methods and testing at play.

by Moose on Feb 29, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

@charlie,

The Green and Blue (light rail) lines of Cleveland opened in 1913.

The Red Line (heavy rail, the only thing covered in this study) opened in March of 1955. The Airport link opened in 1968.

Here is the Wikipedia article on the Red Line
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Line_%28Cleveland%29

by Dave Murphy on Feb 29, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Virginia Square is higher than Rosslyn? That's weird.

by Vicente Fox on Feb 29, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

The Mall is in some ways the most walkable place in DC

Yeah, unless you want to do anything besides go to a museum.

by Marian Berry on Feb 29, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

Falls Church
Overall good analysis but Walk Score definitely has its quirks. For example, the Smithsonian station only merits a 77 even though The Mall is in some ways the most walkable place in DC. Certainly, to AWITC's point, it's the highest "quality" walk in DC.

Walkscore measures the amount of stuff you can walk to. There aren't exactly a ton of amenities to walk to around the station.

by MLD on Feb 29, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

I live near State Center and ride the baltimore subway most days to go to school near mondawmin and fairly frequently to meet friends, get dinner, see a movie etc. downtown. The cars are never close to empty. Tons of people ride it daily... and unlike SOME cities our subway hasn't killed anyone...

by baltimorean on Feb 29, 2012 2:46 pm • linkreport

I lived in downtown Los Angeles for 8 years without a car. Most of my needs were met on foot in the local neighborhoods. The rail system in LA compliments the bus system very well, and serves the central and adjacent areas of LA very well with service frequencies of 10 minutes or less. I've also lived downtown in both New York and Chicago (currently) and am unsurprised by the ranking, having experienced all these cities up close. They are all places where city life is at its best.

It's funny to me how many people do not have any knowledge of how dense, urban and diverse central Los Angeles is.

by Bert Green on Feb 29, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

"It's funny to me how many people do not have any knowledge of how dense, urban and diverse central Los Angeles is."

I just returned from my first trip to LA. I went prepared to hate the place, but actually it is full of high density mixed use walkable districts. People tend to use cars to move between them, and the areas in between are still auto oriented hell, but a recognizably urban lifestyle is possible.

And the LA bus system is way better than Metrobus. John Catoe was the guy responsible for that - maybe WMATA shouldn't have fired him so hastily..

by Phil on Feb 29, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

"Really? When LA tops the charts on any sort of mass transit/walkability comparison, it's fair to say there might be some flawed methods and testing at play."

Lived in DC for 6 years, and have been in LA for the past 2 years- first in Downtown LA, and now in Koreatown. Both these neighborhoods are as walkable and rich in amenities as any neighborhood in DC. I would say that Downtown LA in particular stacks up to NYC neighborhoods in terms of density of amenities (but certainly has a ways to go in terms of gentrification..it feels like a combination of SoHo and Times Square in the 80s).

It's true that there are some parts of LA- especially on the westside and in the Valley that are much more suburban and auto-oriented, the heavy rail lines don't go to these areas yet, so there you go.

Jarret Walker clears up a lot of the misconceptions about density in LA in his blog Human Transit. Excellent reading.

http://www.humantransit.org/2010/03/los-angeles-the-transit-metropolis.html

http://www.humantransit.org/2009/07/how-paris-is-like-los-angeles.html

Hoping a lot of the transportation planner crowd gets an up close and personal look at LA at this year's APA, so they can see they can see for themselves that its actually not all sprawl and cars.

by Chris Loos on Feb 29, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

My take on Los Angeles: It's a city of something over 10 million containing what amounts to city of a million or so that's well served by transit. Still, a million people is a lot, and I could happily live among them and ignore the car-dependent hordes out in the sprawl.

by davidj on Feb 29, 2012 6:41 pm • linkreport

Matt - you probably don't have the data to do this, but it would be neat to see what happens if you also computed a weighted average based on boardings at stations. That would give a more accurate representation of the "experienced" walkability of a system (and likely METRO would do well on that scoring).

by egk on Feb 29, 2012 6:46 pm • linkreport

davidj, I think you summarized it nicely...I'm going to use that.

by Chris Loos on Feb 29, 2012 6:55 pm • linkreport

@Vicente Fox - Virginia Square is higher than Rosslyn? That's weird.

Not really. Rosslyn is a jobs hub, but not exactly the densest neighborhood in terms of actual livability. In addition to all the standard neighborhood amenities (grocery store/banks/dry cleaners/coffee shop/Peruvian chicken) about a block from the station, it's less than half a mile to either Ballston or Clarendon. Virginia Square probably gets a lot of its walk score from being right in the middle.

by worthing on Mar 1, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

Interesting. But.... Your exclusion of light rail ends up completely excluding a city like Houston (4th largest city in the US). Houston can only ever have light rail because annual flooding prevents building underground.

by Key on Mar 1, 2012 11:13 am • linkreport

Good lord people, the purpose of the article isn't "which city is the best for walking" it's "which city's heavy rail system scores best around its stations." If it doesn't do what you want, you could do your own.

@Key
Houston could have heavy rail - plenty of heavy rail is above ground. E.g. half of the NYC "subway," 80% of BART, 60% of WMATA, all of Miami, 80% of MARTA, etc. etc.

Actually, there is only one heavy rail system that is more than 2/3 underground (by track mileage) - Los Angeles is 96% subway. And it has the highest score on this list. Not a coincidence I think.

by MLD on Mar 1, 2012 11:30 am • linkreport

@Key:
No it does not. Miami's Metrorail is exclusively above ground. Houston could build a metro if it was willing to dedicate the funds to do so.

Of course, your statement misses the point of why I limited the scope. I was trying to compare like to like. Houston's system is significantly different that Washington's or BART, or New York's.

If we want to compare Houston, we should compare it to its peers - cities with light rail. Regardless of their water table.

by Matt Johnson on Mar 1, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport

I am curious of the Walk Score of the North Berkeley BART Station. My guess is that it's relatively low, situated in the middle of a housing area with shopping and stuff several/many blocks away.

And yet, it's a perfect station, situated in the homes with an extensive parking lot AND, a critical AND, at the base of the hill Berkeley sits on.

This means that I can walk downhill from my apartment to N. Berkeley BART in the morning, and I can walk downhill from Downtown Berkeley BART to my apartment in the evening.

Genius, especially when taking BART to SFO.

by Jerry on Mar 1, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

@Key:
Also, it's a bit disingenuous to use "city population" as a measure of regionalism or transit suitability.

Houston (the city) has a huge population because it has a huge area, largely a result of Texas annexation law. The "city" of Houston is 601.3 square miles and has a population of just over 2 million people.

Washington (the city) only has a population of 617,996, so it's clearly inferior to Houston. But then Washington has an area of only 68.3 miles, and is not able to annex land.

Fortunately, we can look at other parts of the region. Montgomery County is 507 square miles (population 971,777) and Arlington County is 26 square miles (population 207,627).

Even better, if we add the area of Montgomery, Arlington, and DC, we get a total of 601.3 square miles, exactly the same area as Houston (city).

Adding the population of those 3 jurisdictions, we get about 1.8 million, comparable to Houston's 2 million.

At any rate, for comparing cities (since "city" area varies greatly), we should use metropolitan area size.

Houston still leads Washington, but it's a much closer race. With 5.9M, Houston is in 6th place. With 5.4M, Washington is in 7th place.

Compare that to "city" population, where Houston is 4th in the nation and Washington is 24th.

Should we assume Washington, DC is a smaller city than El Paso, Texas? Well, it is. El Paso is 19th place. As a "city". But when most people talk about city size, they're thinking about the region the city anchors, not the political bounds of the city (which tend to be invisible to most people). For context, El Paso's metropolitan area ranking is 66th.

City limit population is a bad measure for comparing cities.

by Matt Johnson on Mar 1, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

@Jerry:
North Berkeley BART has a walkscore of 71.

by Matt Johnson on Mar 1, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

Google's MapMaker has the ability to add sidewalk and bike lane attributes to roadways. It's something that WalkScore could potentially utilize to determine whether an area is actually walkable. That said, most areas don't have that data entered. But the potential is there.

by aim on Mar 1, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

On the issue of proximity of services to metro stations, just what are the rules/practices of WMATA regarding commercial activity within station limits. Am I correct in believing that there is none allowed. If so, do you know why and how that might be changed?

by Sparkatus on Mar 1, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

Nice! Very interesting article and analysis Matt. Your contribs tend be very informative and a refreshing change from the anti-MoCo/DC posts that seem to make up half of the content here.

I'm also surprised that LA outscored NY, but I guess it makes sense when you think about it. Because they only have a couple lines in LA, they made them as cost-effective and practical as possible. Baltimore outscoring DC also caught me off-guard, but I imagine it's for the same reason.

It's no shocker that Cleveland is the lowest scoring since it's really a lame-duck system, but similar to the Baltimore, LA, and Boston systems it complements light rail lines. MARTA's (Atlanta) low score isn't that surprising either, being the sole representative from the South and it's universal low-density sprawl (I'm not counting Miami, since it and South FL at large are atypical for the region).

I strongly agree with you on excluding light rail, which is very different from heavy-rail/rapid transit in many ways (stop frequency, infrastructure requirements, flexibility, speed). Too many times the "mainstream" media mix up different transit modes and end up comparing apples to oranges.

by King Terrapin on Mar 1, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport

On BART, the outlier of North Concord/Martinez is temporary, since a large greenfield development is pending across the street at a recently closed Navy base.

It would be interesting to see the scores for the proposed BART extensions to Fremont and Livermore.

Our regional planners have done a fairly good job of promoting TOD around BART stations.

by David on Mar 1, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

As someone who lives at and uses North Berkeley BART, I'd say it's not pretty to look at but it easy to use as a pedestrian, and it usually feels safe from vehicles. I think 71 is about right as a walkscore, we're close to some services, not others, and we just lost our neighborhood grocery store, which followed directly on the company being bought by a private equity group. It's a pleasant walking area, though, which as we've said, Walkscore isn't trying to capture.

The Los Angeles subway was supposed to head out towards the Westside, but NIMBY politics combined with (probably unfounded) fear of damage due to methane gas explosions, bent it north through Hollywood. As a result, the subway almost tracks the "ridgeline" of density and walk access within Los Angeles.

The idea of the "city within" is definitely appropriate for Los Angeles. I think though, it's more than 1 million in that "city," a lot of which is served by light rail and rapid bus but not heavy rail. I'd describe that area as being roughly bounded by the Hollywood Hills and the 134 freeway on the north, the 105 Century Freeway on the south, the 710 freeway on the east, and La Cienega Blvd. on the west. That takes in central LA, East LA, the inner parts of South LA, and parts of Pasadena and Glendale. I'd guess it's about 2 million people out of LA County's 11 million.

by Nathan Landau on Mar 1, 2012 3:00 pm • linkreport

One other note on walkscores is that they are overly sensitive to location. Continuing on the examination of the N Berkeley BART station here are some scores from that area:

Walking north a few blocks to the BART station:
NW corner of University & Sacramento 80
NW corner of Berkeley Way & Sacramento 80
NW corner of Hearst & Sacramento 75
NW corner of Delaware & Sacramento 68 (SW corner of the BART parking lot)
Entrance to N Berkeley BART: 71
The distance from University Ave (80) to Delaware (68) is an easy 0.2 mi, <4 min walk.

My current Silver Spring residence has a 62 walk score and is immensely less walkable than pretty much anywhere in the entire city of Berkeley except the residences in the hills.

I know walkscore is a useful, but imperfect mechanism, but it's worth always keeping that in mind.

by Dan H on Mar 1, 2012 3:19 pm • linkreport

No surprise to anyone who actually knows Los Angeles. It was the first city to develop around a rail system (1,200 miles of Pacific Electric Interurban lines). The City of Los Angeles and it's inner suburbs are dense and very walkable from Metro Stations.

L.A. also has suburban sprawl like any other city. People who've lived in the urban centers of NYC, Chicago, Boston or S.F. move to the suburbs of L.A. and then compare apples with oranges. Not an accurate comparison.

by Transit Planner on Mar 1, 2012 5:51 pm • linkreport

Just to add to the Baltimore discussion:

737,000 riders/106.3 mi = 6,933 daily riders per mile
58,000 riders/15.4 mi = 3,766 daily riders per mile

Sure Baltimore is used less frequently than DC, but for being just one line serving one portion of the city, it's pretty heavily used.

by bmore on Mar 2, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

The areas of LA served by "heavy rail" lines are very dense. There are only two park-and-ride lots (at the Valley stations). Moreover, there are numerous areas of Los Angeles that are very dense and walkable but do not have rail lines yet, so there is plenty of potential for expansion. In fact, LA is planning to extend one of its heavy rail lines along a very dense high-rise corridor, where current bus ridership exceeds that of most heavy rail lines in the country. Finally, the 4% track mileage that is not underground is to the service yard: 100% of the track mileage for passengers is underground.

That being said, perhaps a more accurate picture would be to compare grade-separated rail systems, rather than making an artificial distinction between third rail and overhead wire technologies. That would still remove streetcars and hybrid systems like San Francisco Muni and the Boston Green Line, as well as at-grade light rail like the LA Blue and Gold Lines, but would include the LA Green Line, which would win, hands down, as the grade-separated line with the lowest walkable score in the country. There are active efforts to develop TOD around it, but as a freeway-median line that's pretty much inherent in the design. It is the LRT line with the fastest average speeds in the country, though that doesn't really make up for the lack of ridership potential.

by LA on Mar 2, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

LA's comment led me to calculate the LA Green Line's Walkscore, which is an unimpressive 59, just squeaking in ahead of Cleveland. The lowest scoring station--Avalon--has a 35 walkscore, though it's an outlier. Douglas station in El Segundo has an 88 walkscore, on the strength of a nearby shopping center. The line does provide near-airport access to LAX and some of the western stations are near employment centers. It also doesn't help that the city of Norwalk refused to allow the line to be extend to connect to the Norwalk Amtrak/ Metrolink commuter rail station.

by Nathan Landau on Mar 2, 2012 2:56 pm • linkreport

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