America's Best and Worst Cities for Public Transit

Washington D.C.'s Metro
Washington D.C.'s Metro
iStock.com/kickstand

Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, a new release from Island Press, is undoubtedly a book for transit nerds. But everyone else could learn a little something from it, too. In just a few quick visuals, it's able to distill why transit use is common in some big cities in the U.S., while in others, people are chained to their cars.

The density maps, which we first spotted over on CityLab, highlight where the most people live and are employed in major U.S. cities, overlaying information about how accessible frequent rail and/or bus service is in that area. The combined data show a realistic picture of how accessible certain parts of a city are, illuminating which U.S. cities, and which of their neighborhoods, are easiest to get around without a car.

A density map of D.C. showing where transit is within 0.5 miles
Washington D.C.
Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, Island Press

Sure, there are likely bus lines that run farther out beyond the bounds of downtown, but frequency is one of the most important predictors of whether people actually use transit or not. So is distance—you're not going to get many riders if people have to drive to your bus stop—and while some planners consider a quarter-mile to be the ideal maximum distance to be considered "walkable" distance to transit, others, including those running major transit agencies like the Washington D.C. Metro, use a half-mile as the standard. (The book's author, Rice University urban planner Christof Spieler, served on the board of directors for the Houston METRO from 2010 to 2018.)

A density map of New York City showing where transit is within 0.5 miles
New York City
Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, Island Press

The resulting infographics portray the reality of American transit options. Even in cities we imagine are great for public transportation (New York) there are wide swaths of densely populated geography that are virtually inaccessible. Other cities known for their over-dependency on the car (Los Angeles) actually might have far more transit options than you imagine.

A density map of Los Angeles showing where transit is within 0.5 miles
Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, Island Press

So what U.S. cities have the overall best transit coverage, according to Spieler? He names these cities as the five best: New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

And the most useless? As far as individual rail lines go, Nashville's $41 million Music City Star line carries fewer people than most bus routes. St. Clair County, Illinois, has a MetroLink line running from St. Louis eastward to serve "literal corn fields," Spieler writes. A Cleveland light-rail extension built in the 1990s serves a pathetic 400 people a day. Dallas's system, DART, is the biggest light-rail line in the country, but it "reaches remarkably few places," carrying half as many people per mile as transit in San Diego, Phoenix, or Houston.

In general, recent American transit projects cost taxpayers a ton of money and serve relatively few people—New York, despite having one of the best transit systems in the U.S., has paid $18.9 billion over the last 10 years on a mere three subway stations and one commuter-rail station.

Curious as to how your city measures up? Get the book on Amazon for $36.

[h/t CityLab]

12 Unique Sleeping Habits Around the World

iStock.com/YinYang
iStock.com/YinYang

Want to take naps at work without getting into trouble? Move to Japan. The practice of inemuri—which roughly translates to “sleeping on duty” or “sleeping while present”—is surprisingly well accepted.

It’s just one of the unique sleeping habits featured in a new infographic from Plank by Brooklyn Bedding. Created in recognition of National Sleep Awareness Month (which is happening right now), it includes information about sleeping patterns and behaviors around the world, from the healthy to the not-so-healthy.

Japan appears in the infographic a couple of times. In addition to sleeping on thin tatami mats, the habit of dozing off in public or at work is regarded as “a show of how tired a person is from working so hard,” according to the bedding company. While it’s certainly a symptom of an overworked culture, it’s also a luxury in some ways. Because of the country’s low crime rate, Japanese commuters can typically sleep on the subway without worrying about their belongings being stolen.

Beyond Asia, the practice of “al fresco naps” in Scandinavian countries are another cultural quirk. Many parents take their babies and toddlers outside to sleep in the winter—even in temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s because the fresh air is believed to keep them healthy and ward off illness. They also believe outdoor naps improve the quality and duration of their sleep.

In Australia, Aboriginal communities engage in “group sleep”—essentially large slumber parties, but with a more practical purpose. “Beds or mattresses are lined up in a row with the strongest people sleeping on the ends, protecting young children or elderly in the middle,” Brooklyn Bedding writes.

Check out the infographic below to learn more about sleep habits around the world, including the reason why 30 percent of people in the UK sleep naked.

A sleep habits infographic
Plank by Brooklyn Bedding

Here's How Daylight Saving Time Affects Your Part of the Country

Andy Woodruff
Andy Woodruff

Daylight saving time was created to benefit Americans, but not every part of the country is affected equally. Within the Eastern time zone, for instance, the sun rises a whole 40 minutes earlier in New York City than it does in Detroit. To illustrate how daylight saving time impacts sunrise and sunset times around the county, cartographer Andy Woodruff published a series of helpful maps on his website.

Below, the map on the left depicts how many days of reasonable sunrise time—defined as 7 a.m. or earlier—each part of the country is getting. The regions in the yellow sections have the most days with early sunrises and the darker parts have the fewest. On the right, the second map shows how many sunsets past 5 p.m. we’re getting each year, which appear to be a lot more abundant

Next, he visualized what these sunrise and sunset times would look like if daylight saving were abolished completely, something many people have been pushing for years. While our sunset times remain pretty much the same, the mornings start to look a lot sunnier for people all over the country, especially in places like West Texas.

And for those of you who were curious, here’s what America would look like if daylight saving time were in effect year-round. While mornings would look miserable pretty much everywhere, there’d at least be plenty of sunshine to enjoy once we got off work.

You can tinker with an interactive version of the daylight saving map on Woodruff’s blog.

All images courtesy of Andy Woodruff.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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