When Through-Running Is Inappropriate

I support through-running of regional trains: as far as possible, trains should not terminate in major city centers, but instead run through to urban neighborhoods and suburbs on the other side of the CBD. My first blog posts made this point about New York, and over the years I’ve written about this in the contexts of New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, and Tel Aviv. However, in secondary cities, through-running is not always appropriate policy. If a city is near the edge and not at the center of its metro area, then quite often it’s preferable to run a separate service, which may overlap the primary city’s regional rail system. In some cases, through-running is actively harmful; unfortunately, this is currently done in San Jose and Providence.

Theory

Consider the following example city:

throughrunexample

The metro area lies on an east-west rail line, and consists of a central city several suburbs; higher-density areas are denoted by darker shades, with the primary CBD in the darkest shade. The city proper also has five secondary CBDs, two of which are on the rail line. On the west, one suburb, really a secondary city, is larger than the rest, and has its own CBD, as job-dense as one of the primary city’s secondary CBDs. With rough symmetry of suburban demand west and east, there is no good reason why trains should not through the primary CBD, and good reasons why they should:

  • People in the eastern suburbs may work in the secondary CBD just west of the primary one, and people in the western suburbs may work in the secondary CBD just east of the primary one.
  • The primary CBD may not have room to park trains at rush hour without a costly railyard expansion.
  • People within the central city may use the line as a rapid transit trunk, to get to either the primary CBD or the two secondary CBDs on the line, as well as to residential neighborhoods not depicted in the diagram.

This is relatively uncontroversial – urban transit is designed along the same guidelines. Also uncontroversial is the question of how far east the commuter line should run: the diagram shows a string of medium-size suburbs, so the line should run as far as the easternmost one, potentially with short-turn runs if the trains at the end are too empty.

The real controversy is how far west to run the service. On the one hand, the secondary city provides a natural outer anchor, with some reverse-peak ridership potential, so there’s an argument for terminating service there. I have criticized the Human Transit model of anchoring as a matter of urban planning, but as a matter of transit planning with fixed urban layout, it is sound; see explanations here and here. On the other hand, there are two smaller suburbs farther west, where people might want to commute to either the primary city or the secondary one, so perhaps service should run farther, with many trains short-turning at the secondary city to avoid running too many empty trains at the western end.

Which of the two options is better – terminating services at the secondary city or continuing onward – depends on the frequency the trunk rail line can support. The reason is that continuing onward requires a very large drop in capacity to avoid empty trains. In the depicted diagram, in relative units, 10% of the western suburbs’ built-up residential area is west of the secondary city; maybe another 10% is the western areas of the secondary city, which could host a station in addition to that at the city’s center. This means that nearly all trains should short-turn; only perhaps one in three or four should continue. If the demand is so intense that a quarter of the base frequency is enough, then trains should continue. But most likely, it isn’t. An individual commuter line with a train every 10 minutes off-peak would be stepped down to every half an hour at the western end, which is borderline; a train every 10 minutes off-peak almost never happens outside Paris, Tokyo, and other enormous systems, except when multiple branches interline to a single trunk.

The alternative is to terminate commuter trains at the secondary city, but then run supplemental service, centered at the secondary city. This supplemental service is not supposed to serve demand into the primary city, handling supercommuters from the western end via a timed transfer (with possible peak through-service), so it can run shorter trains at higher frequency. Sometimes, the secondary city’s CBD must be judged too auto-oriented to be served with commuter rail, and then the correct service pattern is no trains at all west of the secondary city.

Examples

In both Providence and San Jose, a situation akin to the above diagram occurs, except without any through-service beyond the primary CBD (respectively, Boston and San Francisco). Of course, San Jose has more residents than San Francisco, 1.03 million compared with 870,000, but it has only 360,000 jobs to San Francisco’s 610,000. Moreover, San Jose’s employment is more dispersed; according to OnTheMap, its CBD’s job density is about comparable to that of Providence’s CBD. Evidently, Caltrain ridership is 13,600 per weekday at San Francisco and 4,200 at San Jose Diridon (PDF-p. 6 here), with both stations located somewhat away from their respective cities’ CBDs. A proper comparison of Providence to Boston is harder to make, since South Station has multiple line and not just the Providence Line, but Providence’s secondary role within New England is well-understood.

In both cities, service runs beyond the secondary city, at reduced frequency. Between San Francisco and San Jose, Caltrain runs 5 trains per hour at the peak, and a train every hour off-peak; but Caltrain also runs three trains per day in each direction south to Gilroy, 47 km to the south (San Francisco-San Jose is 77 km). Between Boston and Providence, a distance of 70 km, the MBTA runs 3-4 trains per hour at the peak and a train every 1.5-2 hours off-peak, but one train per hour at the peak and one train every four hours off-peak continues another 31 km south to Wickford Junction.

Both tails, to Gilroy and to Wickford Junction, are significant drags on the ability of their respective cores to modernize. Ridership is very low: Tamien, just south of San Jose Diridon, has 1,100 weekday riders, but the sum total of all the stations to its south is 559; the two stations south of Providence have between them 454 weekday riders, compared with about 2,300 at Providence and 20,000 on the Providence Line overall (see PDF-pp. 74 and 77 of the 2014 MBTA Bluebook). In both cases, low ridership is a cause of poor service rather than a consequence: Clem Tillier tallied the population and job densities near each Caltrain station and found that, except in the southern neighborhoods of San Jose, there is no real ridership potential on the Gilroy extension; a similar analysis of the Providence Line’s tail has not been carried out, but one of its two stations is in a low-density suburb without many Boston-bound commuters, while Wickford Junction is surrounded by undeveloped land. Caltrain is currently planning to electrify south to Tamien, but there is no justification for continuing electrification further, which means that maintaining Gilroy service would require mixing diesel locomotive-hauled trains with lightweight EMUs; moreover, south of Tamien, the tracks are owned by Union Pacific rather than by Caltrain, and UP has little interest in allowing modern passenger trains on its tracks. In Rhode Island, an additional complication is that the line from Providence down to Wickford Junction is prime high-speed rail territory, and commuter rail ridership is frankly too low to justify complex scheduling with multiple overtakes, unlike the situation farther north in Massachusetts.

In the Bay Area, there is little that can be done, due to the low potential ridership south of Tamien, San Jose’s suburban layout and the distance of Diridon from the CBD, and UP ownership of the tracks. Perhaps a few diesel trains could run to San Jose Diridon with timed transfers to the electrified line from Tamien to San Francisco, but quite likely service could just be canceled. In Rhode Island, Wickford Junction should probably be closed due to low ridership, but Peter Brassard proposed an alternative, a Providence-focused line running short trains at medium frequency (perhaps once every 15 minutes), with very short interstations in order to serve Providence neighborhoods and not just the CBD. Such a line, running at the same average speed as a freight train due to the frequent stops, would interfere heavily with intercity trains, which means that four-tracking the line is a necessary precondition, as discussed here, but this may be worth it given potential local ridership. The most constrained part of the right-of-way is alongside the Route 10 expressway, which requires considerable repairs and is currently being overhauled at high cost.

52 comments

  1. kclo3

    Counterpoint: SEPTA’s Newark DE-bound trains extend another 20 km from WIlmington (43 km to Philadelphia), and 50% of trains continue to Newark (2x Wickford Jct service). Ridership of Newark and Churchman’s Crossing is almost 70% of Wilmington’s ridership (7% overall), and could possibly be more if a Newport infill station was built. Also, is there a maximum extra distance proportionate to route length such that satellite city through-running would be acceptable?

    • ckrueger99

      I believe the solution for Wilmington and Delaware is a local service: Newark – Bear/New Castle via Wilmington. Two trains, running half-hourly, passing at Wilmington, timed with the express to Philly. http://bit.ly/250M0aH

      • kclo3

        This is just creating an awkward C-shaped line without any reasonable justification for it (extremely low potential through-running ridership). Without significant NEC upgrades it would also create a large chokepoint at Wilmington. Wilmington is close enough to PHL and Newark ridership justified as mentioned to extend more or all WIL trains to Newark, or for DelDOT to provide their own trains for supplementary shuttle service NWK-WIL. A separate WIL-Dover train should terminate at Wilmington on its own two-track platform, and its approach could follow DE-9 elevated across the Christina, avoiding the NEC curved approach.

  2. Aaron M. Renn

    The service south from Providence is on a single track freight siding with relatively low speeds. I’ve ridden from TF Green a few times. I’m not sure this can ever really be made viable. It’s certainly not where the bang for the buck would be on the Providence Line.

    • Alon Levy

      South to Wickford Junction, it’s on the mainline because there are no longer freight sidings. Speedups are possible with electrification, but Wickford Junction is largely empty; the potential ridership is elsewhere, requiring infill stops, which would muck up the intercity rail schedule.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Three and half hours Boston-New York, the intercity schedule is going to be two trains an hour for a long time.

        • Alon Levy

          North of Providence, the overtake requirement is driven by commuter trains, since there are more of them (right now 4 tph peak not including Stoughton). South of Providence it’s possible to schedule things to avoid overtakes, but it gets harder if the commuter train is the same one that runs from Providence to Boston and gets overtaken at Attleboro.

          (By the way, I should add that despite my not mentioning it in the post, the impetus for this thinking comes from what you’ve said about Trenton – that it’s hard to through-run NJ Transit and SEPTA services from New York to Philadelphia when NJ Transit trains are much longer than SEPTA trains.)

          • Adirondacker12800

            When there is an HSR system that stretches to Miami, San Antonio, Minneapolis and Montreal there’s going to be enough intercity traffic that the commuter trains need the outside tracks as far as the place where the high speed bypass leaves the Shoreline. The twice an hour commuter train can share track with the once an hour intercity train that toddles along the old Shoreline. Assuming they can scare up enough passengers to make it worthwhile to do that.

            There are approximately 5,000 Pennsylvanians a day that wend their way to Trenton or Hamilton to get to Manhattan. After Gateway opens SEPTA can run short trains that run local between Temple and Trenton that express to Newark and New York. And short trains from University City that run local to the station east of West Trenton and then express to Newark and New York. Every Pennsylvanian that is on a SEPTA train is a space a New Jerseyan can use on a NJTransit train.

  3. Matthew

    Cambridge (UK) offers another example, with changes afoot. Approximately 80 km north from London, current train service is largely intercity-style, although a few thousand people do use it to commute to London. Non-stop express trains to King’s Cross take 45-50 minutes, running twice an hour all day, every day (sometimes declining to 1/hour on Sundays/holidays). The express trains often come from King’s Lynn, another 75 km to the north. Other stopping patterns are mixed in as well (limited and local service), in addition to slower trains that go to Liverpool Street instead of King’s Cross. The Cambridge access study reported that in 2015 there was no significant reverse-commuting from London to Cambridge (although I know a few anecdotal cases): most likely because there were few jobs within walking distance of the railway station.

    What’s relevant is that next year there will be a Cambridge North station built adjacent to a secondary business district, and by 2020 it is highly likely that there will also be a Cambridge South station next to yet another secondary business district. In addition, there are villages and towns north of Cambridge that already have stations. Current plans, I believe, are to serve Cambridge North with only 2 London trains per hour. Anyway, with 3 city stations, and existing branches to the north and south, there could be the beginnings of a Cambridge-centric train service that is separate from London. Rail travel is very busy here in general, yet rail commuting into Cambridge (from anywhere) had a fairly low mode share. But now the station area is being redeveloped massively, and a brand new Dutch-style secure cycle park was installed that opens up train-to-bike trips (as well as bike-to-train). The situation is somewhat similar to your ‘western city’ in the above example except that the secondary stations are closer to more jobs than the main station. London to Cambridge will remain a major route for all types of trips, but perhaps it makes sense to separate the commute-focused service that would operate centred around Cambridge itself in the future.

  4. michael.r.james

    Perhaps you implied it, but surely a major reason for continuing a commuter train on to the next outer station, despite the initial low ridership, is to promote housing, development and densification around that station. And thereby reduce car-dependent development elsewhere. Even though it is promoting development further out it is still a anti-sprawl strategy. Isn’t this exactly what the London and NYC subways did historically?

    • Ian Mitchell

      Michael- There weren’t cars (accessible for the middle class) to depend on when your examples (NYC subway, London underground) were built out.

      • michael.r.james

        Yes, but we’ve come full circle. The roads are so congested and so stressful to use for the tedious chore of commuting that living within walking distance of a train station is of increasing value. And surely the millenials and genY (who are driving less and fewer are even bothering to get their license) would prefer to “ride (the rails) until you qualify (for a mortgage)” rather than “drive until you qualify”? Cities should be planning for this demographic shift.

        • Adirondacker12800

          It can get cars out of the existing dense downtown. Put the park-n-ride out on the beltway.

    • Alon Levy

      Well, you can promote housing, development, and densification around any of these stations. Judging by what goes on in New England, with its tight suburban zoning, the best place for such development is the center of the secondary city: in the case of Providence, and many other cities of that size class in the US, the history is that of a deindustrialized medium-size city, with plenty of city-center space that can be used for residential development for commuters to the primary city. There’s been a bit of recent development around Providence Station, even as Providence as a whole has problems with abandonment (its tallest building is empty).

      It’s unlikely that equivalent development could happen one station beyond. The next actual station on the Providence Line, T. F. Green Airport, is unusually bad for this, first because it’s an airport and second because the trains crawl south of Providence, but even a more reasonable next-station location, like Olneyville or somewhere in Cranston, isn’t likely to produce this development. For that matter, the likely previous-station location, Pawtucket, isn’t going to produce this development either – it’s just much cheaper to serve because it’s on the way. The secondary city has a big advantage not only for access to the jobs in the primary city, but also for access to intercity rail (true also in San Jose and other possible examples like New Haven and Trenton), and for preexisting urban amenities. I was quite happy with the neighborhood amenities when I lived in Providence, 20 minutes on foot from the train station; I probably would not have been happy living in downtown Pawtucket.

      EDIT: I forgot to say – historically, the New York subway lines did in fact terminate at a preexisting secondary town, when such a town existed – namely, Flushing, and Jamaica. While some of the areas near the Flushing and Queens Boulevard Lines were empty when those lines opened, the termini were preexisting small towns that New York had annexed in 1898. Today there’s good reason to extend the subway beyond those anchors, but only because of decades of extensive residential development farther east, and growing demand to those neighborhoods as job centers (and a commercial center, for Flushing) and not just as bedroom communities.

      • Adirondacker12800

        East West Trenton or whatever they are going to call the station at the Mercer County Airport, if I remember correctly, was projected to have 2,500 passengers a day. The airport is south of the tracks and a hospital and lots of new office buildings are north of it. So much office space that they run shuttle buses to Hamilton. Get those people onto the West Trenton line and that frees up space on the Trenton line. It frees up space on the road bridges across the Delaware if it entices Pennsylvanians to take the train.

        Adding stations to already overcrowded subway lines is not a good idea.
        One of the many plans for the 60s, Queens super expresses running along the LIRR ROWs to Valley Stream, would relieve overcrowding on the existing Queens Blvd. express trains. Less people would be taking the bus to Jamaica and changing to the subway. Again, if I remember correctly, only two stops west of Jamaica. If you are in Springfield Gardens and want to go to Rego Park, change to the local. There were lots of other proposals.
        The Flushing Line doesn’t have the capacity to carry all of the Port Washington branch riders. Port Washington Branch riders don’t have overpowering urges to shop in East Elmhurst. If they do they can change in Flushing. They can change in Woodside for Long Island City. Rumor has it that the Port Washington branch will be Penn-Station-only when East Side Access opens. They can change in Woodside for Grand Central. Without stopping in Corona.

        • Ian Mitchell

          Adding stations to already overcrowded subway lines is not a good idea.

          Depends. Generally speaking there’s overcrowding at the peak of the peak, not all day. Adding stations makes the subway useful for more trips.

          • Adirondacker12800

            When the people at the close in-station can’t get on a train during rush hour it makes it less useful. Right when it’s needed most.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            As the man who actually did a little thinking instead before typing said: “Depends. Generally speaking there’s overcrowding at the peak of the peak, not all day. Adding stations makes the subway useful for more trips.”

          • Adirondacker12800

            Ah yes there are hordes of retirees out in Rosedale that are just dying to get on the subway so they can shop in the Kew Gardens Rite Aid instead of the CVS they pass to get to the train. And even more housespouses who want to use the subway to get to the KeyFood four stops down the line when they could have just gone to the C-Town three blocks away. Instead of having Fresh Direct deliver.

      • michael.r.james

        Alon Levy wrote:

        Well, you can promote housing, development, and densification around any of these stations. …. the best place for such development is the center of the secondary city:

        I think that misses the “planning” point. Those existing centres of course will further develop and densify, and it won’t need much encouragement because everything is in place. But for those exact reasons they become expensive, or at least more expensive than younger demographic can afford (and space becomes even more expensive). By providing the good transport link to the further-out point, the city is actively encouraging and enabling its development and densification maybe a decade or two before the natural processes work (ie. existing highly desirable places become built out and too expensive). The problem with urban planning throughout the anglosphere is that it is way too reactive instead of pro-active; in other words it is hardly planning at all but a laissez-faire and “maybe we’ll provide good transport links” only when it is justified, which of course means when it is too late to guide the process; which means more ex-urban sprawl (if there is no rail link then why not have the quarter-acre block and triple-garage etc etc). Developers are not going to build TOD when there is merely a vague promise of future T. The whole raison d’etre of TOD is that fixed rail (nothing else, not bus not even tram really) will encourage all the rest. The earlier point about London and NYC subways being built before the car era is only partly true; today NYC still has 54% of households which don’t own a car; 77% on Manhattan where 82% of commutes are by PT, walking or cycling. Maybe it has remained far less car-dependent than anywhere else, even as it is the biggest city in the US, because it allowed its residents to avoid ever needing to own a car; whereas our other anglosphere models appears to be to first allow the developer lobby to build totally car-dependent “communities” then decades later think about solving all the problems they cause (welcome Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas etc). Finally, the cost of this remedial action vastly outweighs the short-term cost of running some sub-optimally utilized trains.

        Adirondaker wrote:

        Adding stations to already overcrowded subway lines is not a good idea.

        I may be misinterpreting this (because I am not familiar with the particular cases) but sure I agree. But that really means that it is better to have major stations well spaced apart so that train service doesn’t get bogged down in too many stops at small stations etc. Again this requires determined planning–for major TOD not pissant little developer “villages” as they are prone to in the pretence everyone can live in ruritania and still have mainline rail service.

        • Adirondacker12800

          The Long Island Rail Road made it as far east as the village of Jamaica in 1834. Queens has been suburbanizing since.

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 wrote:

            The Long Island Rail Road made it as far east as the village of Jamaica in 1834. Queens has been suburbanizing since.

            Right. Good model which we have abandoned everywhere else?
            I am assuming that Jamaica with its population of >200k has always been moderately dense (or quite dense in US terms). Though perhaps this bit from Wiki suggests the densification could have been done earlier and better (28 storey hi-rise is not my concept of “good” densification):

            Efforts have been made to follow the examples of major redevelopment occurring in Long Island City, Flushing, and Downtown Brooklyn. In 2005, the New York City Department of City Planning drafted a plan that would rezone 368 blocks of Jamaica in order to stimulate new development, relieve traffic congestion, and shift upscale amenities away from low-density residential neighborhoods. The plan includes up-zoning the immediate areas around Jamaica Station to accommodate passengers traveling through the area. To improve infrastructure the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has agreed to create more greenery and open spaces to allow pedestrians to enjoy the scenery. At the same time, the city has reserved the right to protect the suburban/residential charm of neighboring areas. Several blocks will be down-zoned to keep up with the existing neighborhood character. On September 10, 2007, the City Council overwhelmingly approved the plan, providing for structures of up to 28 stories to be built around the main transit hub as well as residential buildings of up to 7 stories to be built on Hillside Avenue.[22]

          • Adirondacker12800

            The densifiction happened before World War II. Compared to Manhattan it’s leafy green suburb. Compared to the rest of North America it’s already densely populated. If New York City de-consolidated itself Los Angeles would become the biggest city in the country. Brooklyn would be third, Queens fourth, Manhattan sixth and the Bronx tenth. It’s more densely populated than San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia or Washington D.C.
            If they are going to change the zoning to allow more density, it makes sense to allow it near existing rail. If for any other reason, to discourage automobile use.

          • michael.r.james

            Reply to Adirondacker12800 2016/09/14 – 23:42

            Right. Though I would have rephrased that as “if LA County were to consolidate into a single city (instead of its current 88 cities)” it would be the most populous US city (10m versus NYC’s 8.5m).
            Also, we’re really interested in density in this discussion and LA is one tenth that of Queens (and less than one 30th of Manhattan). NYC leaves all other north American cities in the shade w.r.t. density and the subway has both shaped and maintained that high density.

            If they are going to change the zoning to allow more density, it makes sense to allow it near existing rail. If for any other reason, to discourage automobile use.

            That’s what I was trying to convey by my discussion of TODs around train/Metro stations. And specifically to do it before a district develops too much, thus before there is high ridership. If the MTA waits then chances are that it will have low density and be car-dependent, habits very difficult to change.

      • threestationsquare

        “historically, the New York subway lines did in fact terminate at a preexisting secondary town, when such a town existed – namely, Flushing, and Jamaica.”
        Actually the New York rapid transit lines often terminated short of the pre-existing secondary towns and were only extended to them as suburbia was starting to swallow them. 1917-1928 the 7 ended at Corona (which pre-existed in some form but less so than Flushing) and if you wanted to get to Flushing you took a streetcar or LIRR. 1893-1917 the J ended at Cypress Hills and if you wanted to get to Jamaica you took a streetcar or LIRR. Rapid transit never made it to Yonkers or Mount Vernon, you still have to take a bus or commuter train if you want to get to the pre-existing secondary town centre. (Though it did reach the secondary centres at Coney Island and Newark pretty quickly, by taking over pre-existing mainline track.)

        • Alon Levy

          I was thinking more about the Queens Boulevard Line than about the Jamaica Line.

          As for the 7, it indeed opened to Corona first, but even in the 1910s there were plans to extend it farther out: the Dual Contracts report said, “Eventually this line probably will be extended to Flushing and points beyond, a matter now engaging the attention of the Public Service Commission.”

        • Adirondacker12800

          Jamaica had service from downtown Brooklyn since 1836. Newark had service to what is now Exchange Place in 1838.

  5. Adirondacker12800

    In nice round numbers the city of Los Angeles itself is as densely populated as Staten Island. The county’s density is about a quarter of that. The same as leafy green suburbs of New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia… New York City is already densely populated.
    The Times Square station on the NYC subway has as much ridership as Los Angeles’s whole subway system. Grand Central has almost as much. The suburban commuter systems, in nice round numbers, each carry twice as many. If we want to put more people into metro New York it makes sense to put their apartments near train stations. Los Angeles needs train stations.

    • Alon Levy

      LA includes some pretty suburb-y parts, plus barely-populated mountains (I mean the Santa Monica Mountains, with their enormous movie star mansions). South of the mountains, it’s pretty dense – near-tie with SF for second highest weighted density in the US and for densest neighborhood outside New York (Koreatown in LA, inner Geary in SF).

      LA also has huge pent-up demand all over. Rents in Santa Monica are higher than in equivalent New York neighborhoods (in terms of income and perceived niceness, not density of course), like the Upper West Side. The Westside housing market is burning hot, and the Expo Line, Red Line, and Purple Line all need the extra riders.

        • mcw63

          I’m a longtime reader, but rarely comment. However, I live in Washington DC and just want to give some context to this point. It might be true that Friendship Heights as defined by the special taxing district is the densest in the U.S., but that is only because of the way the boundaries are drawn. There are large single-family homes a stone’s throw from all of those apartment buildings. Basically, they are an island in a sea of streetcar suburbs. I doubt Friendship Heights would crack any Washingtonian’s top-5 in a list of densest places in the metro area, but the places most people would think of, like Columbia Heights, don’t show up in the stats because figures are reported for the District of Columbia as a whole, which is brought down by the outlying suburban neighborhoods. On a larger level, I think this whole discussion demonstrates how density as reported by official boundaries rarely lines up with density as experienced by residents.

          • Adirondacker12800

            All of Montgomery Coutny Maryland is as dense as all of Los Angeles County. If we can pick and choose which census tracts to look at in LA county we can pick and choose which ones to look at in Montgomery County. A quick glance at the density of those streetcar suburbs just across the border from DC is that they are three times as dense as LA County. As dense as Burbank or Glendale.

          • sonamib

            That’s why population-weighted density is so useful (Alon mentioned it a few comments up). It’s pointless to take arbitrarily drawn political entities of wildly different sizes, divide the population of each by their area, and try to make sense of the resulting numbers.

    • michael.r.james

      In reply to: Adirondacker12800 2016/09/15 – 13:52

      In nice round numbers the city of Los Angeles itself is as densely populated as Staten Island.

      I agree with Alon, citing “city of LA” is very tricky to get to grips with. But LA County has 10.2m (est. 2015) at 800/km2; this is based on 10,510 km2 land area (minus any water) but not dense even if you doubled it. Staten Island is 3,151/km2 which is almost 4 times LA county. Santa Monica is 4,100/km2 so ahead of Staten Island but none of the other NYC boroughs. (Reminder: Manhattan and Paris-intramuros are about 26-27,000/km2. The only denser cities are when you define somewhat artificial districts such as the narrow strip of northern Hong Kong Island + Kowloon representing the core urban area of HK with combined area 88 km2 and combined population ca. 3,156,500, for a population density of 35,700/km². But note HK island itself is “only” 16,390/km because of its hilly terrain.)

      Of course LA’s Metro is only getting started. This coming decade (or two?) should see it turn the corner, ie. as it creates a functioning network, and as there is densification at major stations along its routes. Not realistic to compare to NYC since that has had a century headstart. It is inevitable that LA will become more similar to all its peers in the top ten world cities/economic entities. Hasn’t it got a $200bn plan to do it? And it’s that or it chokes on itself.

      As for Friendship Village, hah! Silly of course. (For context it is 31,657/km² which is not much denser than Manhattan at 27,812/km2 (counting only 59.1 km2 of its total 87 km2 area). On the same basis you could find a single student residential building that probably exceeds that. Or come to think of it, my 18 sqm studio on Ile St Louis was by itself hyper-dense at >55,500/km2 and the building would have been at least 6 times that: the 6 floor vertical slice more than 333,000/km2! When I or my neighbours had an overnight visitor it skyrocketed to half a million per km2! I get PTSD just thinking about it! I made a rough calc of the density of Ile St Louis and it works out to 44,530/km2 (4,453 residents on ≈10 hectares) which actually is very high (the densest arrondissement is the 11th at 41,600/km2, because–like the island–it is all residential with no big parks or non-rez buildings). Another comparison is Barcelona’s Eixample district at 36,000/km2 (I do think it is a bit too dense mostly because it is quite extensive (7.5 km2 about double Central Park) and has very little relief within its bounds (there are current moves to pedestrianize and green-up some of its streets to improve this).These figures are probably ten times Mumbai’s Dharavi slum. Incidentally if you want to join one of these oppressed “slum dwellers” in the heart of Paris you’ll need about €1m.
      For interest, I once did these calculations for Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village NYC: 11,0250 apartments for (official) 25,000 residents, on 32 hectare (≈78,000/km2). It is probably higher because of undeclared residents. Most buildings are 15 storeys.

      Anyway, back on topic, it is true that LA overall is a bit low-density to support a full Metro. But Tokyo (to take a city with extensive Metro) is not especially dense: Tokyo Metropolis: 13.19m at 6,000/km2 or Tokyo Metro Area: 35.7m at 2,600/km2. However, as Santa Monica shows there are parts of LA that are a lot denser and that would include the big urban strips (where they Metro is going) and these will continue to densify. Maybe it will build some Friendship Villages too. Next to the Metro station (or directly above).

        • michael.r.james

          Yeah, yeah. I didn’t say you did, but I’m interested in the meaning of those numbers not if they are in the Guinness Book of Records. And of course Friendship Village is some kind of gated-community set up as a special tax zone, so a lousy model for the real world. I’ve been infected by the socialist virus from my years in France! Hmm, that reminds me of Monaco: 2.02 km2 with 36,371 residents for 49,217/km2. But it was only allowed to exist after agreeing (in 1861) to very strict rules by France. French citizens are excluded from its tax status (ie. they can live there but they’ll still be paying French taxes to France).

          • Adirondacker12800

            The Census Bureau doesn’t randomly create Census Designated Places. It has a Metro stop and department stores. The kind of place where hordes of non residents are flitting about.

      • Alon Levy

        Not really the topic of the comment, but, you had visitors in an 18 m^2 studio?

        At any rate, the “densest neighborhood in the US outside New York” comment is on the census tract level, so, slices of a couple thousand people each.

        • michael.r.james

          Alon Levy wrote:

          you had visitors in an 18 m^2 studio?

          I got more visitors than any other place I have ever lived! Being in the heart of Paris, within a few minutes stroll of Notre Dame, the Left Bank, Jardin du Luxembourg, the Marais and Louvre etc, accounts for this I concede, rather than my scintillating personality! (Though as a resident it is not the icons that make the place so excellent but the local dense detail in a walkable environment sans pareil in the world.) Lots of my English friends used it for weekends when I was travelling. I had two mattresses on the double bed so one could go on the floor (it wasn’t really big enough for a sofa bed in addition). I was decades ahead of AirBnB!

          I cannot begin to describe how much I wish I owned that little studio today.
          Ok, not to be a hypocrite: not as my primary residence.

          Adirondacker12800 2016/09/16 – 13:44

          It (Friendship Village) has a Metro stop and department stores. The kind of place where hordes of non residents are flitting about.

          Sure, but presumably it is like a shopping mall, private property with its own bylaws and probably its own security police? Mall cops with guns and tasers? Wall to wall chain stores, fast food brands and corporatised coffee joints. No thanks.

          mcw63’s point is correct. It is not a matter of picking and choosing but a question of what makes sense to make comparisons. For example it is informative to compare Santa Monica’s higher density with other comparable urbanised areas, but no sense in comparing to a few buildings spanning 0.14 hectares.

          • Adirondacker12800

            2016/09/16 – 13:44
            Adirondacker12800

            The Census Bureau doesn’t randomly create Census Designated Places.

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2016/09/18 – 12:44 wrote:

            The Census Bureau doesn’t randomly create Census Designated Places.

            Obviously. It was left up to quasi-arbitrary groups of people/buildings and the curious granting of special tax zones. Which is why it is meaningless to use those units in comparisons … the point of my first post on this.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It not arbitrary. If it was people would be suing the Commerce Department, I’m sorry you don’t like it but the Census Bureau has a bit more authority than you do.

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2016/09/19 – 02:15 wrote:

            It not arbitrary. If it was people would be suing the Commerce Department, I’m sorry you don’t like it but the Census Bureau has a bit more authority than you do.

            I was agreeing with your earlier statement that the Census Bureau doesn’t create the designated census units. It seems they inherit these from actions of other government departments, in the case of Freedom Villages, the granting of a tiny enclave of some special tax entity over a century ago. I think the Census Bureau should have the power to designate their own units as I am sure it would make more sense, and give more meaning to any analysis of such units. Isn’t this the reason for this discussion about density of American urban areas?

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2016/09/19 – 12:58 wrote:

            The Census Bureau decides what they are.

            Is that really true? Doesn’t the Bureau simply passively accept those entities that are approved by the Dept of Commerce and IRS? Turns out there are 39,000 of those Special Tax Districts though perhaps many of them are not census Designated Places.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Yes it’s true unless you think the Census Bureau is lying in the document they have posted on their website.

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2016/09/20 – 01:29 wrote:

            Yes it’s true unless you think the Census Bureau is lying in the document they have posted on their website.

            Not at all. The Census Bureau are fulfilling their remit as described in the first sentence:

            Incorporated Places are those reported to the Census Bureau as legally in existence as of January 1, 2010, as reported in the latest Boundary and Annexation Survey (BAS), under the laws of their respective states.

            I have highlighted “reported to” because to me that means something pretty clear and whose intent is exactly what I implied in my previous post. Also, it appears to be conferred by the states rather than the Federal Bureau. And then “reported to” the CB.

            We have strayed way off-topic and ended up in a cul-de-sac. Time to back up out of here.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Census Designated Places, by definition, are places that are NOT incorporated.

  6. blogdaritagil

    Could you tell me what’s the theme of your blog. It’s very beautiful. Thank you.

    • Fbfree

      No, but why should Alon waste his time answering a question that would take you 2 seconds to find yourself. Open the source code for this page. Line 10 gives you the theme: Blaskan. Alon has probably also made various modifications and add-ons to it, but if you’re unable to read html, I don’t think that he’d be able to help you with those.

  7. Taupe Avenger

    There is one good option for Caltrain south of Tamien. The Capitol Corridor service from Sacramento to San Jose is planned to be extended to Salinas via Gilroy and the The trains could be timed to take over the southern portion of Caltrain

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