Also: Labor organizing in Silicon Valley, and militarization of police isn’t making anyone safer.

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What We’re Following

Too big to rail: One hundred years ago, the United States had a public transportation system that was the envy of the world. Private companies (with some municipal subsidies) built huge rapid transit and streetcar networks that spread out from cities across the country, spurring the development of suburbs. New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston all boasted formidable subway and elevated rail systems.

An illustration shows children and construction of the D.C. metro system.
(WMATA/Shutterstock/Madison McVeigh/CityLab)

Today, outside a few major urban centers, public transit is clinging to life support. The private automobile is usually blamed for this sharp decline in ridership, but, as Jonathan English argues, near-total collapse was not inevitable. Instead, the operators of these struggling U.S. systems have been ignoring one key lesson about what drove riders away: Service drives demand. Today on CityLab, here’s why America stopped building transit.

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

John McCain’s Unlikely Legacy Project in Phoenix

In his final year, the senator worked to revitalize a long-abandoned riverfront project in central Arizona.

Karim Doumar

Work Habits Are Changing: Cities Need to Keep Up

What does work sprawl mean for urban planning?

Filipa Pajević and Richard Shearmur

Workers Rights, Silicon Valley-Style

In the technology industry, labor organizing can get tricky.

Tanvi Misra and Sarah Holder

Weirdly, Canals and Trains Made Pre-Civil-War Americans Smaller

Why a transportation revolution had some unanticipated side effects.  

Laura Bliss

Militarization of Local Police Isn’t Making Anyone Safer

Recent research shows that not only are militarized squads used disproportionately in communities of color, but contrary to claims, they reduce neither crime nor police injury or death.

Tanvi Misra


What We’re Reading

Why counting everyone in the census is hard (Vox)

The undocumented workers who built Silicon Valley (Washington Post)

How much hotter is your hometown than when you were born? (New York Times)

Why we should organize sidewalks as neatly as our homes (Curbed)

What if Houston’s survival depends on giving in to the flood? (Slate)


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