Chart of the Day: US Rail Transit Ridership per Mile

Here’s a chart from a new book called Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit. It shows ridership per mile for every US metro area. (TC Metro Transit is highlighted):

Ridership Per Mile Chart Tc

Third highest LRT ridership density is not bad. Thanks Green Line!

Here’s a fun bit from the author’s critique of the Dallas LRT system:

But that hasn’t translated into particularly effective service. “It skips a dense concentration of jobs in Uptown, barely serves the city’s biggest medical district… and misses Love Field’s airport terminal by half a mile,” Spieler writes in a section that calls out the best and worst transit cities, including “Most Useless Rail-Transit Lines.” Dallas gets slapped with the kinder “Missed Opportunity” label, as “it carries half as many people per mile as San Diego, Phoenix, or Houston.”

(Hm… a light rail line that “skips dense concentration in Uptown” rings a bell.)

At any rate, the book seems like a great holiday gift for the transit nerd in your family!

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12 Responses to Chart of the Day: US Rail Transit Ridership per Mile

  1. Katie Emory November 29, 2018 at 3:37 pm #

    I saw Christof Spieler (the author) present on this at NACTO- he was a really engaging presenter, so I’m sure his charisma & knowledge make a great book as well.

  2. Matt Steele
    Matt November 29, 2018 at 4:19 pm #

    So it seems like we’re *by far* the highest ridership-per-mile system of any category without meaningful grade separation.

  3. Scott November 29, 2018 at 4:56 pm #

    Should we expect the ranking to go up or down once the Green Line extension gets built out to Eden Prairie? How about the Blue Line extension to Brooklyn Park?

    • Eric Ecklund November 29, 2018 at 9:25 pm #

      I don’t expect our ranking to get any higher. If ridership projections are met or exceeded then I assume we stay third. If projections aren’t met we might go down one or two.

      Keeping in mind I didn’t do any math, this is just a guess. If anyone wants to do the math feel free.

  4. David Markle
    David Markle November 30, 2018 at 1:09 pm #

    We would have higher ridership per mile if either (1) Green Line were a fast trunk line between the two cities and points along the way, or (2) Green Line were a streetcar line with better service service between points along the way.

    But also keep in mind that one way or another, the biggest chunk of Green Line ridership is University of Minnesota-related.

    • Brian November 30, 2018 at 3:55 pm #

      If the Green line were a street car with even more stops it would take 90 minutes one way versus the 45 to 50 minutes it takes now.

  5. David Markle
    David Markle November 30, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

    That’s true, Brian; best would be to have both the streetcar and the fast trunk line. But the initial study indicated that a faster line would have much higher ridership. What we have now is a non-optimal compromise of a train, a compromise decreed by St. Paul and Ramsey County officials who thought putting it on the street would promote the redevelopment of five intersections (which hasn’t much happened, so far).

    When we look at the chart above, we should remember other important numbers not shown, such as population per mile of track.

  6. David Markle
    David Markle December 1, 2018 at 8:57 am #

    And for further perspective, consider that the infrastructure costs of putting LRT on University Avenue were considerably higher than would have been the case with alignment along the freeway (say, largely along Milwaukee Road tracks, etc.). And the cost of putting a streetcar line on University Avenue might well have been about 1/3 the cost of LRT. It might have been possible to have both streetcar service and speedy LRT service at not a great deal more cost than the present arrangement!

    Our planning has been atrocious. We need a Met Council elected directly by voters, one not subservient to local planners and officials who care more about development schemes than dealing with actual transit needs.

    • Nick M December 2, 2018 at 4:10 pm #

      …because the rail lines in every other place that has a different structure performs better? Denver built “fast trunk lines” along I25 and Santa Fe Drive and they are pretty far down that list for performance. The Denver RTD board is directly elected. We often get told that we need to invest in transit like Denver, yet, controlling for “peer” cities and an elected government doesn’t seem to suggest that we’d be better off.

      I’m very skeptical that a Metropolitan Council directly elected with representation proportional to population would be more friendly to urban areas than that current structure. Last I checked, Minneapolis and St. Paul only comprise between 1/5 and 1/4 of the metro population [i]combined[/i]. And Minneapolis and St. Paul can’t even agree on most topics related to transportation infrastructure. An elected council would be a give-away to the suburbs. Urban planning schools across the country look at MSP and Portland, OR as the great experiments in regional governance that actually work. Sure, there is room for improvement. But throwing it away in favor of a directly elected entity seems like a path toward dysfunction, not progress.

      • Eric Ecklund December 2, 2018 at 7:56 pm #

        I agree with Nick. My concern is an elected Met Council would be like the rest of our government; politicians playing the blame game and making little to no progress, as well as caring more about getting votes for the next election than actually getting work done.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele December 6, 2018 at 9:13 am #

      Doesn’t this chart prove that what we’ve done so far – putting light rail in places where it can serve and strengthen existing nodes – is wildly successful, the complete opposite of your repeated narrative regarding the Green Line?

  7. John DeWitt December 7, 2018 at 12:58 am #

    Minneapolis has three designated growth centers: downtown CBD, U of M, and Midtown Phillips. Midtown Phillips, which includes Abbott-Northwestern, has roughly three times as many jobs as Uptown. Light rail service to Midtown Phillips is much more important than service to Uptown yet is rarely mentioned. It’s also the only designated growth center without rail transit. Today, Uptown has some of the best transit service and the highest ridership in the region. The dense bus network means that many people are close to a bus stop and unlikely to walk blocks out of their way to catch a train. This results in little new ridership which is what the FTA likes to see when it considers funding. Furthermore, most bus routes serving Uptown extend far beyond Uptown which means that there’s little opportunity for cost savings by eliminating routes.
    I did serve as the Midtown Greenway Coalition’s representative on the Citizens Advisory Committee for Metro Transit’s 2013 Midtown Corridor Alternatives Analysis. That analysis found that light rail in the Midtown Greenway along with enhanced bus service on Lake Street would be successful with about 10,000 riders a day on each mode. Rail in the Midtown Greenway would provide a 13-minute trip from the Lake Street/Midtown station to the West Lake Street Station. Enhanced bus on Lake Street would run from Minnehaha Avenue to the Uptown Transit Center with a 30-minute travel time. It was understood from the beginning that nothing on Lake Street could be considered rapid.
    This rail line would serve both Uptown and Midtown Phillips and provide convenient transfers to both Hiawatha and Southwest light rail lines. It would also pass through the South Minneapolis Regionally Concentrated Area of Poverty (RCAP). As it’s about 1/3 the length of Hiawatha with about 1/3 the ridership, its ridership per mile would be about the same as Hiawatha.
    Incidentally, the earliest plans had rail lines from both the airport and the southwestern suburbs entering the Greenway corridor and traveling to a point somewhere west of 35W where they’d enter a tunnel to downtown Minneapolis. When Hiawatha bypassed the Greenway it made it difficult for SW LRT alone to use the Greenway corridor with a tunnel to downtown Minneapolis.

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