Race in Transit

Cap’n Transit posted an interesting post on race in transit systems, and I’d like to explore the issue a bit more here. In discussing the effects of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, which eventually allowed blacks to sit wherever they’d like on buses, thanks to the work of Rosa Parks and others, he suggests that the ultimate consequence may have been losing the war for better transportation options:

“Looking at the transit system as a whole – including all the ways that people get from home to work, play, school and shopping – what did these leaders accomplish?”

In the years since desegregation, the Montgomery bus system has shrunk to a tiny fraction of its original size, and, as an article in The Nation argues, it is poorly funded and provides limited service. Like many small and medium transit systems around the country, Montgomery’s has become the domain of poor minorities, with few whites and few in the middle class choosing to ride buses. The bus boycotts may have ensured equality, but in the meantime, the service the Civil Rights Movement fought so hard to integrate has almost disappeared.

Who’s fault is this? Why have our transit systems become transportation of last resort and the ultimate anathema to middle class whites? One might argue that the rise of the automobile simply made the disuse of transit inevitable, but there’s another explanation: a lack of public investment. Indeed, in cities such as Portland, New York, and Washington that have continued to invest in their transit networks, ridership on trains and buses is mixed in both race and income. That’s because of a consistent public sector effort to ensure quality service, something that cities like Montgomery have not pushed.

Why not? Why should Montgomery be fated to an underused, ill-performing transit service?

In a July 2005 article in the Journal of Urban History, “The Politics of Race and Public Space,” Kevin Kruse argues that the increasing lack of public investment since the 1960s in Atlanta was a result of desegregation – whites pulled out of participation in the civic sphere once they recognized that blacks would have to be incorporated:

“Accordingly, in Atlanta and other cities across America, as public spaces desegregated, whites abandoned them, effectively resegregating these spaces almost immediately. As this article demonstrates, the desegregation of urban public spaces brought about not actual racial integration but instead a new division in which the public world was abandoned to blacks and a new private one was created for whites…

“Thus, white flight from cities like Atlanta was not simply physical, as white residents abandoned the central city for lily-white suburbs. Their withdrawal first unfolded in a less literal sense, as they withdrew their support—political, social, and financial—from a city and a society that they believed had already abandoned them.”

These lessons from Atlanta probably apply equally to cities like Montgomery. The middle class sections of society – in other words, the whites – simply abandoned their involvement in the public sphere when blacks voiced their natural right to equal access. Their abandonment made the use of their tax dollars for the funding of municipal services seem “unfair,” since they never rode the bus or used the public swimming pools, for instance. The result? The rise of modern conservatism, routed in the South, which suggests that the government should simply cease to provide public services and rely instead on the private market. The consequence? Little interest in or funding for transit and other government-funded resources.

I don’t mean to suggest that all white people decided that the public sphere should simply be abandoned. Nor do I mean to suggest that no black people have been complicit in the systematic de-funding of municipal and governmental services. But the unintended consequence of desegregation, unfortunately, was resegregation – where whites in general simply choose not to participate and use their political and economic power to campaign against a government that invests in such services. What a shame.


Google Maps – More Transit!

Google Maps Adds Transit Lines

Google has announced that its maps program, offered at, will now visualize transit lines, something it had not previously offered. The maps program has added “Transit” to the “More” tap located at the top right of the map window. The result is fantastic: geographic representations of transit lines in fifty cities around the world. Previously, Google had simply incorporated station sites into the maps – this addition provides a whole new interface and allows people to forgo official transit maps entirely as they plan their commutes.

Unfortunately, so far, the transit maps are only available in six U.S. and Canadian cities: Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Dallas, and Montréal. But the tool is likely to expand to a variety of other cities over time.

A few comments about using the program:

  • When one clicks on a station, the routes serving that station are highlighted, while other routes fade away. This is a useful way to easily see where one can go directly from each station.
  • Using the “Get Directions” system now makes a lot more sense, as the line being used to get around is highlighted, and the whole tool is more logical than it was before.
  • In some cities, such as Chicago, bus lines are included on the maps once you zoom in close enough. The problem is that there are simply too many routes, and it becomes impossible to see which routes go where, so in this aspect, the program fails. Bus lines should probably be placed in a separate, optional layer in the future.
  • While in the Europe and San Francisco, lines are tinted according to their official designations, in the other U.S. cities, all rail lines are colored the same, meaning that it’s difficult, once again, to differentiate between routes. Look at Dallas, Chicago, and Portland as examples.
  • Overall, however, this is a much better experience than before and a useful device for transit users.

Looking Forward to 2009: Openings and Construction Starts

2009 looks like it’s going to be a big year in transportation. Of course we’re all excited about the promise of the Obama administration, and we’re looking forward to California’s big HSR system getting going, but there are a lot of existing projects far further ahead in the planning process.

Here’s a review of the transit lines that are going to open for service in the next year, followed by the projects expected to begin construction. Note that the latter list is subject to change; though all have at least some guaranteed funding, arbitrary decisions by the FTA, or state or municipal governments can go a long way in delaying or even cancelling theoretically “definite” projects. More information on projects both entering into service and planned can be found on their respective pages.

New Service



  • Austin Capital MetroRail opens (32-mile CR DMU), connecting Downtown with Leander, via North Austin. (March 30)


  • Edmonton South LRT Extension opens (2-mile LRT), connecting existing Health Sciences Station to a new South Campus Station. (April 26)


  • Seattle Link Central Line Phase I opens (13.9-mile LRT), connecting Downtown with Tukwila, via SODO, Columbia City, and Rainer Beach. (July 3)


  • Dallas DART Green Line Phase I opens (2.7-mile LRT), connecting existing Victory Station to MLK Station, via existing Downtown tracks and new southeast tracks. The rest of the line will open in December 2010.
  • Portland MAX Green Line opens (6.5-mile LRT), connecting Clackamas Town Center with Gateway Transit Center, and continuing on existing MAX Red and Blue Lines to Downtown Portland. New Portland Mall with tracks for MAX Green and Yellow Lines, running north-south on 5th and 6th Streets, from Union Station to Portland State University, also will open at this time. (Buses will return to the Mall in May.)


  • Vancouver Skytrain Canada Line opens (12-mile LRT), connecting Downtown with the Airport and Richmond, via Broadway and Bridgeport. (November 30)


  • Los Angeles MTA Gold Line Eastside Extension opens (6-mile LRT), connecting existing Pasadena-L.A. Gold Line to East L.A., via little Tokyo.
  • Minneapolis Northstar Commuter Rail opens (51-mile CR), connecting Downtown Minneapolis with Big Lake.
  • Seattle Link Central Line Phase II opens (1.7 mile LRT), extending line open in summer 2009 to SeaTac International Airport.

New Construction Starts

  • Calgary C-Train
  • Charlotte CATS
  • Dallas DART
  • Denver RTD
  • Honolulu
    • Main Line (20-mile LRT), connecting Kapolei with Ala Moana Center, via Salt Lake and Downtown.
  • Houston METRO
    • North Corridor (5.2 mile LRT), extending existing north-south MetroRail from Downtown Houston to Northline Transit Center.
    • Southeast Corridor (6.1-mile LRT), connecting Downtown with Palm Center Transit Station.
    • University Corridor (10-mile LRT), connecting University of Houston with Hillcroft Transit Center.
    • Uptown Corridor (4-mile LRT), connecting Northwest Transit Center with Richmond.
  • Miami
  • Montreal
  • New York (New Jersey Transit)
  • Portland Streetcar
  • Salt Lake City TRAX
    • Airport Line (6-mile LRT), connecting Downtown with the Airport.
  • San Francisco BART
  • Seattle Sound Transit
    • University Link (3.15-mile LRT), extending under construction Central Link LRT from Downtown to University of Washington, via Capitol Hill.
  • Tucson
    • Downtown Transit (3.9-mile Streetcar), connecting Downtown with University of Arizona.
  • Vancouver
  • Washington
    • Metro Dulles Silver Line (23-mile Metro), connecting West Falls Church with Loudon County, via Tysons Corner and Dulles Airport. (March 2 start date)
    • Downtown Circulators (4-mile streetcar), first line is along the Anacostia waterfront.

Updated «Under Construction» and «Planned» Pages

It’s a slow news day here in the transportation world, but we’ve been working hard to give you more information on transit expansion that you’ll be able to find at the tip of your fingers.

We’ve updated our Under Construction and Planned pages, links to which you can obviously also find above, with the most recent information we’ve been able to find about major mass transit projects being built or being considered around the nation. We hope you’ll find the information useful and take advantage of this resource when you need some quick facts or a link or two.

We’ll also try to keep the information updated as frequently as possible.

As always, thanks for reading.

» P.S.: The future will provide additional changes to these two pages; we’ll increase information on each project as we receive it and we’ll eventually divide each page into separate, modal categories.


Paul Weyrich Dies

One of the few Republicans we on this blog would have considered acceptable for the position as Secretary of the Department of Transportation has died.

Paul Weyrich was 66 when he passed away. Though Mr. Weyrich was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative – he was one of the founders of the Heritage Foundation – he was also a major supporter of rail transit, especially in pushing for it over BRTs.

We thank him for his continued and sometimes overlooked activism on behalf of public transportation. Rest in peace.