An opinionated atlas of transit

Trains, Buses, People is new book by Christof Spieler that analyses every rail transit and bus rapid transit system in the United States -- and shows how to make transit successful.

For all of their hardcore infrastructure, urban transit networks are essentially human creations, and understanding what makes them successful is essential for building successful cities. Supported by urban histories and incisively presented data, Christof Spieler sets the rules of engagement for effective transit and offers a roadmap for achieving it.
— Janette Sadik-Khan, Principal, Bloomberg Associates; former NYC Transportation Commissioner
Christof Spieler was the driving force behind Houston’s transit transformation, but he’s also one of America’s great transit travelers, a careful observer of history, technology, geometry, and politics. This book is an atlas of beautiful detail about 47 U.S. cities, but it’s also a call to action, demanding clearer and more effective transit planning and advocacy.
— Jarrett Walker, President and Principal Consultant, Jarrett Walker + Associates, author of "Human Transit"
This book is comprehensive enough to be a resource for transit professionals, but delivered in readable, straightforward language; an objective look at the state of transit by a passionate advocate.
— Annise Parker, former Mayor of Houston

Most of the time, transit discussions are about TRAINS or BUSES: what technology is best?

...but transit is really about PEOPLE. Riders care about walkability, connectivity, frequency, travel time, reliability, capacity, and legibility much more than they care about steel wheels or overhead wires.



Most of all, people care about whether transit goes where they want to go.  The most important decision in transit is what places to connect.

That's actually pretty easy:


Find where the densest places are

(The more dense the area around a transit station is, the more people can use it)


Identify centers. 

(Major employment centers, hospitals, universities)


Connect the dots.

(One center to another, passing through those dense areas)

Unfortunately, we in the United States are not very good at this. In city after city, major transit lines actually avoid dense areas — the places where the most people want to go.

pechakucha spieler.008.jpeg

“Trains, Buses, People” focuses on how these decisions get made, and why. Through maps, data, photos, diagrams, descriptions, and analysis, looks at 47 metro areas in the 50 states — the ones that have rail or bus rapid transit — and considers why they built the transit that they did and how well it is working. It lays out what makes transit successful — and the political issues, misconceptions, and policy limitations that hold it back. 


What Transit Does Well

The History of Transit


Hopes and Fears

Funding and Governance 


Transit in the United States exists in a very particular context that's different from Europe, Asia, Latin America, or even Canada. Our history (like the postwar suburban boom), our politics (like the complicated issues of race), and our legal structure (like the difference between Amtrak and commuter rail) shape what we build.  This section discusses the context of transit in the United States: its purpose, how it has developed over time, the common types of transit, the political discussions around it, and how transit is funded and built.









Travel Time




Good Ideas from Abroad


Regardless of politics, governance, and local context, the fundamental keys to making transit useful -- and thus attracting riders -- are universal. This section goes through what makes transit work well, with lots of examples, good and bad.



The Best and the Worst

The 47 Metro Areas

Conclusion: A Transit Agenda for the Future of our Cities


47 metropolitan areas in the 50 states have rail transit or bus rapid transit. This section profiles all of them, and the 130 individual systems within them.

For each metropolitan area the book shows 2 maps. The first shows the physical form of the transit, showing different modes and whether they are within a street, at grade, elevated, in a subway, or in a freeway. The second shows how well the systems serve people and jobs, with the area within walking distance of frequent transit overlaid on population and employment density (see samples here.) All 94 of these maps are at the same scale, making it easy to compare one city to another.

For each system, the book has a profile with key information: size, ridership, age, and level of service. Large, small, high performing, and low performing systems are specifically called out, making it easy to make comparisons and find good examples.

In addition to the data, each metro area has descriptions, photos, analysis, and diagrams pointing our what's unique about that city, whats working and what isn't, and why that city made the decisions it did. There are a lot of thing other cities should emulate, and some cautionary tales as well.

At the beginning of this section, there's a list of similar systems -- to help find good useful comparisons -- and best and worst systems. At the end there's a sample of projects that should be built around the United States.

Here’s a sample Metro Area section, for a city’s that’s not in the book, Munich Germany: pdf file.


"Trains, Buses, People" measures success not by how much transit a city has built, but by how useful the transit is.

And, in every city, it finds opportunities to improve transit.

If we have more intelligent conversations about transit we will build better transit, and we can make millions of people’s lives better every day.


upcoming events

talks, book signings, and conference presentations


more analysis of US transit