Crowded subway platform in New York City. Source: Flickr user romankphoto
I often travel to New York and, like many urbanists, find myself in unreserved awe at how busy the subway system is and how truly integral the subway is to daily life. While my city’s system (the Washington Metro) is the second busiest heavy rail (aka “subway”) system in the country, the number of people it carries isn’t even close to New York’s: the NY subway transports between 10-11 times more people per year than DC’s metro. Indeed, the NY subway carries 70% of all heavy rail trips in the US!
However, I always had an inkling that on a per-station basis, the stats are a bit closer. New York has an incredible number of stations: 422. While this is undeniably a strength of the system, it also means many stations are small and lightly used.
If recent population growth trends hold steady (see table), the fast growing Washington-Baltimore Combined Statistical Area (CSA), is on track to become the US’s third most populous, passing the Chicago area CSA in 2018.
If this comes to pass, as seems likely, it would be noteworthy and reflective of the shift in relative fortunes of the two regions.
Chicago suffers from two ‘curses’, its location in the midwest where most major cities are struggling to grow, and the overall slow growth of large established cities (e.g. New York is also growing slowly – about half as fast as Washington). This could have impacts on Chicago’s psyche: the area has long been the second or third most populous in the country. It is incumbent upon the region’s leaders to take a hard look at what’s working and what isn’t and to explore growth strategies that are inclusive and provide broad-based opportunities far from the shining lights of Chicago’s downtown loop.
On the other hand, the Washington region has a unique opportunity to capitalize on this growth by forging regional strategies that can help sustain it. The CSA continues to diversify and is strong in many attributes that are key to many knowledge economy sectors (e.g. biotech, high-value added professional services, etc.) but stronger links are needed within the two metropolitan areas (Washington and Baltimore) as well as between them to ensure that growth strategies are harmonized. Continue reading