He calls them subway maps, but of course that term suggests that the service is all underground, which few “subway” systems are. What matters is that they’re rapid transit. In this case, they’re specifically rail rapid transit, which is why Staten Island’s rail line in the lower left appears disconnected from the rest. In reality, it’s just connected by rapid transit of a different mode: the Staten Island Ferry.
(By “rapid transit” this blog always means transit services that run frequently all day in an exclusive right of way with widely spaced stations — linking centers to each other, for example, rather than providing coverage to every point on the line as local-stop services do.)
system extends over distances vaster than New York City, but with an
extremely sparse network.
The opposite extreme is the Paris Métro, where a thick network of interconnected subway lines really does cover the dense part of the city, to the point that most of the population can easily walk to a station.
Neil’s Paris map is a little misleading, because it doesn’t show the outer-suburban RER network — much of which does achieve rapid-transit levels of frequency. Yet it’s helpful to look at the Paris Métro in isolation, compared to these other maps, just to see how small Paris proper is, and how densely it’s covered with service.
It’s worth noticing that no rapid transit system with anything like Paris Métro’s function– complete coverage of the dense core city of a region — has been built in North America since World War II. What has been built since then are networks designed primarily to connect city and suburb. Why? These systems could be built only as a matter of regionwide consensus, and in most American urban regions, the core city is in the minority. So these new lines have rushed to get out of the core city and reach across many suburbs, resulting in networks like that of the San Francisco Bay Area above: enormous but thin, and not really covering the core city where transit demand is highest. Atlanta, for example:
As a result, the internal needs of dense cities — the places where transit needs per capita are highest — are often not met very well in late 20th century American rapid transit planning, except to the extent that they can be met on the way to a suburban market. Here’s Washington DC:
Of course, it helps that among the American rail transit systems created entirely in the late 20th century, Washington’s is the most extensive in terms of total miles of lines. Could this have something to do with the fact that Federal funding is administered by people who live there? No, couldn’t be …