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Rapid Transit in Great Cities (1891)

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By Lewis M. Haupt, December 1891.

The concentration of population in cities, as revealed by the present census, serves to impress more forcibly than ever the importance of the rapid transit problem. Unless provision be made for cheap, safe, speedy and comfortable transportation, it is evident that the moral and physical conditions required for the normal growth of large communities will soon become vitiated and stagnation or decay must ensue.

A system of unobstructed circulation is as vital for the body politic as for the body physical, and yet, in the designing of such centres, projectors are prone to regard only the one question of financial returns, at the expense of many vital elements which enter into the problem of life in a great city. It is only when too late, and the oversight has impressed itself by some fatal epidemic, that the then difficult and expensive work of providing relief is undertaken. The proper limits for good sanitary conditions have been fixed at from 80 to 100 persons to the acre, yet there are portions of our great cities where this limit is exceeded by over 400 per cent.

At this rate a population of 1,600,000 would require twenty-five square miles for their habitations-- an area five miles square, or a rectangle two by twelve and a half miles; and it is evident that any additions to such a community, over and above the deaths occurring in its midst, can only be provided for outside of these limits. In other words, this means that if a normal increase of population is to be maintained there should be added annually, for a city of 1,000,000 inhabitants, homes for 50,000 souls, or say 10,000 families, requiring an area of not less than 517 acres, or nearly a square mile. This additional tract should be made fully as accessible as other portions of the municipality, else the newcomers will be subjected to unnecessary restrictions and the expansion will be checked. At this rate the size of the lot, after deducting 33 per cent. of the area for streets, would be only 18 by 87.5 feet, which is certainly small enough for a family of five persons.

The sanitary aspects of the question are, therefore, of prime importance; but as financiers do not build railroads from philanthropic motives it will be apropos to look a little into the financial conditions surrounding the problem of intramural traffic and the effect upon it of an increase in velocity.

To double the speed is to halve the time, or practically to reduce the distance by the same amount. It is equivalent to transporting the entire community, with its personal and real property, to a point only half as remote as that which it formerly occupied.

To condense a city into half its original compass without reducing its sanitary requirements of space is indeed a benefaction, and yet this is the practical result of doubling the velocity of movement. Time is the most important factor in this problem, and hence velocity, a function of time, assumes an importance which cannot be ignored. The fundamental idea of rapid transit is to abridge time without increase of risk or cost. These conditions would debar from consideration any material increase of velocity on the surface, yet many of the so-called rapid transit systems consist merely of cable or electric lines whose cars remain on the street level. It is publicly stated that it is even now proposed to run a cable line on the most crowded thoroughfares of Philadelphia at a speed of fourteen miles per hour, but such a proposition, if executed, would result in great loss and injury to life and property. Even at the present legal rate of from six to eight miles an hour casualties are not infrequent.

But that any gain in velocity is eagerly accepted by the traveling public is shown by the statistics of the cable lines as contrasted with the horse-cars traversing the same routes before the substitution of the newer motor. Thus the Pittsburgh Traction company was carrying, in 1888, about 2,800,000 passengers, and had been gaining at the rate of nearly 250,000 passengers a year. The cable was started in January 1889, and the traffic in 1890 was reported at 8,171,000. Deducting the normal horse-car increment for the two years and the established patronage at the date of the change of power, there is left 4,871,000 for the increment due to velocity. This fully confirms the truth of the law that the patronage of municipal lines will increase as the square of the velocity.

From the hostility manifested by existing lines to the introduction of anything which may look like a division of business with new rapid transit projects, it would seem that even the astute managers of these lines do not appear to understand the paradox of urban travel, for it is a fact readily proven by statistics that facilities create traffic, and the surest way to increase the patronage of existing lines is to encourage the construction of additional facilities. This does not mean a division of business but an increase of population, and an inducement to ride more frequently and for shorter distances, so that all parties are benefited by the improvement. This has been abundantly illustrated by the elevated railways in New York, the Brooklyn bridge, the Metropolitan Underground railway of London and in many other instances.

Thus the horse-car era began in New York in 1834, with two lines carrying annually 6,835,548 passengers, which was only thirteen times the population (515,547). Two years later the number of lines was doubled and the ratio of traffic to population increased to thirty-one. Again, in 1860, when six lines were in operation, this ratio was still further augmented to forty-seven. Five years after, or in 1865, when the number of lines had again doubled to twelve, the passenger traffic had increased to over 82,000,000, which was eighty-three times the population. In the next decade (1875) the number of street-car lines had increased to nineteen, while the population had doubled and the ratio stood at 160.

The Manhattan Elevated Railway company began operations in 1878, a quarter of a century later than the horse cars, yet in 1880 the ratio of traffic was still ascending and had reached 175 times the population. In another five years it touched 213, with twenty-three lines in operation, and during the last five years the elevated traffic alone has increased by more than 76,500,000, bringing it up to 191,611,382, while the surface travel amounted to 213,978,931, a gain of only about 4,000,000 in five years. The total traffic on the elevated lines therefore has nearly overtaken that of the surface lines. From these figures it would appear that the surface lines have about reached the limit of their patronage in the territory which they cover, and that any increase in their aggregate capacity must be looked for in the direction of extensions into outlying districts, which more rapid means of communication are required to develop.

This was the condition of affairs prior to the construction of the elevated railroad, when the increment in population grew more rapidly than that in traffic, thus reducing the ratio from 160 in 1875 to about 140 in 1878, showing a relative falling off in patronage. Thus the actual passenger traffic in 1875 was in round numbers 167,000,000, while in 1877 it was only 164,000,000, but in the next year the recovery was immediate and the increase continuous. In 1878 the traffic was 170,000,000; the next year 18,000,000 more were added, followed in 1880 by 23,000,000, in 1881 by 10,000,000, in 1882 by 19,000,000, in 1883 by 16,000,000, and so on until it has now reached the incomprehensible figures, 405,590,313 passengers per annum. Thus the doubling of the velocity from six to twelve miles per hour has very nearly doubled the ratio of travel to population, raising it from about 140 to 270, while the actual traffic has been more than doubled. This is an apparent exception to the general law whereby the increase should have been fourfold, but the peculiar physical conditions of the site have operated to some extent adversely to check the normal lateral growth, and the statistics do not include the ferries, so that a large percentage of the local traffic is lost sight of. Moreover, the long distance to the upper end of Manhattan island has still further restricted the movement. These conditions serve to impress the importance of immediate relief, such as that proposed by the plan of the Rapid Transit commissioners, whereby the time limit may be extended by a material increase in velocity through the underground system. The sooner lateral rapid transit facilities are provided, whether by bridges or tunnels across or under the waterways, the better it will be for the commercial, financial and mercantile interests in this busy metropolis where concentration is so vital.

The various submarine-tunnel projects of Messrs. Greathead, Corbin, Clark, Stone, Winans and others are timely and practical suggestions for which there is an immediate demand. They may be rapidly and economically prosecuted with the appliances and under the improved methods of modern engineering, with every prospect of success.

From these figures it will be seen that while the elevated lines have a business of almost 200,000,000 passengers, they have also stimulated the drooping patronage of the surface lines to the extent of 50,000,000, a large portion of which they could never have obtained but for the increased facilities afforded by the greater speed of the "rival" system.

They also show that the growth of the city has again reached the limit of the traffic facilities afforded by existing lines, and that a new impetus must be provided by a further increase of velocity.

The London statistics of travel reveal similar results, but in a lesser degree. Thus the General Omnibus company was carrying 41,068,000 passengers in 1862, at seven-cent fares. The Metropolitan (Underground) railway was opened during that year; the District railway in 1870 and the tramway (surface) lines the same year. Yet the traffic of all of these competitive companies increased rapidly, and in 1884 the total number of passengers was 308,821,000, distributed among the four systems in the proportion of 75,113,000 to the Omnibus company; 75,926,000 to the Metropolitan; 38,521,000 to the District and 119,261,000 to the tramways. During the period from 1864 to 1884 the population increased only 36 per cent., while the traffic increased 470 per cent. Thus, while the total traffic of London in 1884 was nearly 12,000,000 more than that of New York, the ratio of riders was much less, being only about seventy-five times the population, revealing a great dearth of facilities in proportion to population. This has been partially met by the building of the London and Southwark subway, opened last year, and it is still further proposed to relieve the surface by an additional subway connecting the extreme points of the "inner circle" of the underground system.

It is a noteworthy fact that the operating expenses of the Metropolitan (Underground) railway in 1889 were only forty-two per cent. of the gross receipts, which was less than those of any other railway in Great Britain.

There are stages in municipal development when additional transit facilities must be provided or the growth be checked. This period can best be determined by assigning a time limit to travel, and in most cases the average distance will be found to be that which can be traversed in thirty minutes by the existing means of locomotion. If it be by walking, at the rate of one mile in fifteen minutes, the limits of the pedestrian city would be eight square miles, after which more rapid facilities must be provided. If it be by horse cars or cable at six miles per hour, the city may expand to eighteen square miles, if it can grow equally in all directions. After this, if a cable or electric motor be substituted, running at the rate of eight miles per hour, which is about the maximum safe limit for the surface, the area covered may reach thirty-two square miles. The next stage, in some cases, would be the elevated system at twelve miles per hour, covering seventy-two square miles; to be followed by the underground, with velocities ranging from twenty to forty, and areas of from 200 to 800 square miles. In short, the areas rendered accessible will increase as the square of the velocity of travel, other things being equal.

These theoretical values will, however, be materially modified by the physical conditions of the site, and it will be found that there are localities where it would be impracticable to attempt the introduction of some of these systems because of the expense. Thus, in portions of Paris the existence of the large intercepting sewers at a relatively low level would so greatly augment the cost as to render the elevated line more feasible. The same is true of Chicago, where the ground water lies so close to the surface. Here also very serious interruption occurs to both through and local travel in consequence of the large number of steam railroads concentrated at this point. To relieve this congested condition, which must become a serious obstacle during the Columbian Exposition, a commission of prominent engineers has been appointed to collect statistics and digest plans.

Chicago was one of the earliest American cities to introduce cable lines, and although she has long since needed greater facilities, and several concessions for elevated roads have been granted, no material progress has been made as yet in their construction.

The traction companies of some of the progressive western cities have made great improvements of late years in their equipment, and have also increased their speed where it could be done without danger. One of the most noted instances of this kind is to be found in the "Twin Cities" of the Northwest, which enjoy the unique distinction of having no street-car horses employed in the transportation of passengers, their places being entirely supplanted by electric and cable lines, which are operated with great regularity and to the entire satisfaction of the communities. On the inter-urban line the Thomson-Houston fifty horse-power electric motors are in use; the cars traversing heavy girder rails at a schedule speed of ten miles per hour, although capable of doubling it if required. The fare for this distance is ten cents, and the headway ten minutes. It has had the effect of greatly increasing the traffic between the cities as well as of causing the rapid settlement of the numerous suburban plots and additions which skirt the line, thus adding much to the interest and beauty of the ride. The cable also is operated with great smoothness, and even in the portion between the cities, where the speed is increased to twelve miles, the start and stop are made without the jolting so objectionable on some of the earlier roads in other cities.

Statistics of the aggregate traffic for St. Paul are not accessible, but that for Minneapolis is stated to be about 17,000,000, which is 103 times the population. Here there are no cable lines, but the entire system, covering 112 miles of single track, is operated by electricity with overhead wires. The total electric mileage of the two cities is 230 miles, or nearly equal to that in all other American cities united. The speed of the "trains" on the inter-urban line is, in some places, at the rate of twenty-one miles an hour. The longest ride that may be taken with transfers is from the St. Paul terminus to Lake Harriet, beyond Minneapolis, a distance of seventeen miles, for ten cents, which exceeds in cheapness even the celebrated West Side line of Denver. The schedule time for this run is one hour and forty minutes, including delays at transfer stations, or about twelve miles per hour.

Among the most recently and elaborately equipped electric lines in the country should be mentioned the new one just opened on the West Side, in Denver, which starts from a point on the Sixteenth street cable line, thence extending westerly to Elitch's Zoological Garden and the Power House opposite, with a branch north to Berkley lake, thence southerly, passing Sloan's lake and connecting with the end of the Larimer street cable line, making a route of five miles of unsurpassed beauty over hills and dales. This circuit is completed by the two cable lines with which it is connected, constituting a ride of ten and a quarter miles, for which the fare is only ten cents, or, if the return trip be made, it gives twenty and a half miles, which are covered in two hours, at a rate of fare of one cent per mile. This, however, is a small part of the admirable facilities afforded in this active and enterprising city. There are about fifty miles operated by each of the three forms of motors, horse, cable and electricity, making in all very nearly 150 miles of steel road which permeates all portions of the city, bringing almost every suburb within the thirty-minute limit.

The cars of the West End Electric company are of the most improved modern patterns. They are thirty-six feet in length, divided into three compartments, the middle one being fitted up as a saloon with seats along the sides. The windows are of bevelled plate glass, the seats richly upholstered and the tout ensemble suggestive of the luxury of the drawing room. The car may be stopped by merely pressing an electric button in the window frame, thus notifying the conductor to halt at the next crossing. The car weighs 20,000 pounds and the rails 50 pounds per yard, giving great stability and smoothness to the motion.

This line is the embodiment of an ideal plant and represents the most improved appliances available in the direction of all electric equipment. It may be expected to aid in the rapid development of the beautiful suburban district which it traverses.

But Denver, St. Paul and Minneapolis are not the only cities which have made great advances in the direction of electric traction. In fact, they have merely improved to some extent upon the earlier efforts and experiences, of others. The plants which were devised to meet the difficult requirements of such intricate topographic features as exist in Boston, Massachusetts; Richmond, Virginia; or Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, have been distinguished successes and are prominent examples of the great progress which has been made in the domain of applied electricity.

The younger cities of the West, realizing the importance of rapid transit, have made early provision for the introduction or extension of such facilities, while some of the older cities of the East are lamentably deficient in these matters.

Although something has been accomplished in New York the provision is far from adequate to meet the demand; but the plans of the Rapid Transit commission give promise of speedy relief. In Philadelphia the commission appointed several years ago does not appear to have reached any conclusion, and although the city needs facilities greatly there appears to be no immediate prospect of relief.

There can be no question as to the expediency of such a project, for a glance at the statistics of urban travel will show that the time has fully matured for the successful introduction of a rapid transit system. Thus horse cars were introduced in 1858 and during the year six lines were put in operation. At this date the population numbered about 500,000, and the built-up area of the city covered seven square miles, giving a density of population of 112 per acre and showing the necessity for the relief which was thus provided. These lines soon became very popular notwithstanding the great opposition to them, and now there are very few streets that have no tramway, while the traffic has increased in a rapid ratio. For a few years prior to the introduction of the cable in 1886 the annual increment was about $5,000,000, but immediately afterward it increased to over $11,000,000, while the total traffic expanded from 128,185,698 in 1886 to 168,254,000 in 1890. Thus the ratio of traffic to population is now considerably in excess of 160, while the average width of the area tributary to the street car lines is only 316 feet, with a resident population of 3476 persons per mile. At the present ratio of travel this would give a patronage, on an underground line having only double the existing velocity, of 2,000,000 passengers per mile, or a revenue at five per cent. on a capital of $2,000,000, which is considerably more than the estimated cost of such a structure. As the physical features are favorable it is believed that Philadelphia offers one of the best opportunities in the United States for the safe investment of capital in a subterranean rapid transit project. This patronage is not equal to that which even now exists on the ninety miles of elevated lines of New York, where the average traffic for 1890 was 2,126,652 passengers per mile, or 126 times the population. The maximum number of daily trains is 3000, while the headway ranges from one minute during the busy hours of the day to fifteen minutes during the night.

The total length of street car lines in New York is 129.84 miles of single track which, with the 90.1 miles of elevated, gives an aggregate of 210 miles, covering an area of 22 square miles or 14,000 acres. This is nearly ten miles of track to the square mile.

In Philadelphia the mileage of tramways reaches to 340 miles, which extend in some cases seven miles into the suburbs. In Brooklyn, which ranks fourth in population (806,343), the Kings County and Manhattan elevated railroads have recently added to the traffic facilities, and during the past year carried 45,007,410 passengers. This, added to the surface travel, gives for Brooklyn 147,050,943, which is 183 times the population. There are twenty-six horse car lines, covering 142.5 miles, capitalized at $13,772,480.

The number of horses employed in Brooklyn is only 8620 as compared with the 15,111 required in New York, giving 7.23 horses to the car instead of 8.99 for the latter city. Of the twenty-six lines in these two cities only fourteen paid a dividend last year.

The cost of roadway and equipment for electric roads is so much less than for the other modes of surface traction, that notwithstanding the fact that these lines generally traverse suburban and sparsely-settled districts they give promise of greater returns than their competitors. Thus the average cost of one mile of road and equipment for the cable motor is $350,326, for the electric motor it is $46,697, and for the horse car $71,387. The operating expenses per passenger are 3.22, 3.82, 3.67 cents respectively, but the number of passengers per car mile is only 3.46 for the electric as contrasted with 4.38 for the cable and 4.95 for the horse car. As the density of the districts bordering the electric lines increases, the exhibit for them will become much more favorable.

The serious objections to rapid surface travel and the unsightly appearance of the iron superstructures in vogue have led to various propositions for the construction of masonry arcades which shall eliminate these defects. Among the completed lines of this class may be mentioned the grand arcades in Paris and Berlin. These, however, are not used exclusively for local traffic, but also to connect lines of railways with each other.

The great need of increased velocity has led to numerous projects for providing it by elevating the roadway. Among these may be mentioned the plan of M. Haag, engineer of the Metropolitan Railway company, who contemplates opening an avenue fifty-two metres (171.5 feet) wide through the heart of Paris, upon which shall be constructed a four-track arcade, fifty feet wide in the centre, with lateral streets each over sixty feet wide. The route forms an inner belt covering both banks of the Seine, with occasional loops and branches so disposed as to connect the various stations of the railroads. The net cost of acquiring the right of way is put down at $55,000,000, or about $4,500,000 per mile. Of this amount the various railways are expected to guarantee the interest at four per cent. on $50,000,000 in tolls.

The construction and auxiliary works will cost about $20,000,000, or $1,666,000 per mile. The annual receipts are estimated at the minimum figures to reach $3,280,000, from which is to be deducted $2,000,000 in annuities to the city, leaving $1,280,000 for distribution.

The total cost, including legal and engineering expenses, is estimated at about $80,000,00, or over $6,500,000 per mile. The actual cost of the Metropolitan railway of Berlin, including right of way, was $15,942,000 for a length of seven miles and a half, giving a total per mile of $2,115,000, of which forty-seven per cent. was for property. These figures suffice to show that elevated lines which require the purchase of properties or indemnification for damages are more expensive than the Underground systems, and lead to the conclusion that the most effective, rapid and economical system is that which is placed below the surface.

Professor Lewis M. Haupt was born at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, March 21, 1844. At nineteen he was appointed a cadet at West Point by President Lincoln, and was graduated in the corps of engineers in 1867. He was employed on lake survey duty and as engineer officer for two years, when he resigned. He was topographer of Fairmount Park (Philadelphia) until 1872, when he became Professor of Civil Engineering in the University of Pennsylvania, which position he still holds. He has also been the engineer of the Fourth Lighthouse district, and assistant of the United States Coast and Geodetic survey. He is a member of many scientific societies and the author of a large number of papers and books upon transportation and municipal works, but especially upon improvements of rivers and harbors, for his inventions in which the American Philosophical Society in 1887 awarded him the rare and valuable Magellanic Premium.

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