Los Angeles was once served by the Pacific Electric Railway, which boasted in its marketing that it was largest electric railway system in the world. The 1926 map here is based on original service guides I found in the Los Angeles Public Library, with assistance from the Los Angeles Metro’s archivists. It is popularly believed that the Pacific Electric fell victim to a nefarious conspiracy by General Motors, but the truth is simpler. The Pacific Electric was poorly run, and by the time of its collapse the public refused to spend money to save it, as happened in Chicago and New York.
My original sources are comprehensive but they’re also extremely hard on modern eyes. The most difficult task was to redraw the complex black and white original in full colour. As for the modern LA Metro, it’s not an accident that many of the lines are the same. Much of the modern LA Metro is simply a rebuilt Pacific Electric.
Buffalo 1910 v 2019
In 1910, Buffalo was a rapidly expanding city of over 400,000 people at the forefront of the second industrial revolution. It was served by three competing rapid railway companies powered by the hydroelectric dams at Niagara Falls. This map is sourced from contemporary railway timetables that the University of California has digitised. I’ve used period-correct typography.
Buffalo today is a half-empty city of 250,000. It has a single light rail line built in the 1980s. The rest of the network has been abandoned.
San Francisco 1940 v 2019
This pair of maps draws inspiration from the official 1940 service guide of the San Francisco Municipal Railway. San Francisco didn’t suffer nearly as much from the postwar highway boom, so the street grid remains largely the same. (The remaining pre-second world war sections of the streetcar system remain in place because the tunnels and trenches were too narrow to be converted for buses to use). Virtually uniquely among American cities, San Francisco built a rapid transit system in lieu of a freeway network, and so in many ways public transport today has better service than it did in 1940.
Toronto 1932 v 2019
Toronto, like San Francisco, kept a substantial portion of its prewar streetcar network. Canadian cities tend not to feature the extensive freeway networks of their American counterparts, and have correspondingly higher levels of mass transit use. In fact, after the second world war, Toronto took advantage when American cities shut their streetcar systems down, buying cheap decommissioned-but-still-functional trains. Stylistically, I’ve based this map on a mix of the Toronto Transportation Commission’s 1932 map, and its iconic tile letters.
Seattle 1997 monorail plan v 2019
Seattle’s residents voted to build a city-wide monorail system in the late 1990s and early 2000s, based on the monorail built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was a fiasco. The plan was originally sold to the public as 54 miles of privately funded monorail, but proponents oversold the benefits and underestimated the costs. After eight years of arguments the project was whittled down to 10.6 miles, funded solely by tax dollars. Then the mayor of Seattle killed the whole thing. Seattle ended up building aa conventional light rail and streetcar system instead.
Detroit 1918 subway plan v 2019
In 1918, Detroit was booming, and downtown traffic congestion was horrific. The city council approved the construction of a subway, but the plan was vetoed by the mayor and the council failed by a single vote to override it. I found the plans for the subway in the Columbia University Library in New York City, and I was inspired by the railway maps of the era. Today Detroit has a single privately funded streetcar line, which has been widely derided as a white elephant. Various rapid transit plans have been mooted since 1918 – all have fallen victim to political squabbling.
Philadelphia 1974 v 2019
I found a 1974 map in the collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and applied a modernist approach, combined with the colours of today’s Philadelphia transit map. Much of Philadelphia’s streetcar network survived the second world war only to suffer death by a thousand cuts in the following decades as white flight, declining ridership and a streetcar shortage took their toll.
Montreal 1923 v 2019
Montreal discarded its entire streetcar system as outdated after the second world war, only to build a full-blown, Parisian-influenced metro system. In this map, I’ve taken inspiration from the modern black Montreal Metro map, rotated the Island of Montreal to match the direction of the city’s street grid, and overlaid the past streetcar system on top. The 1923 service guide comes from the map collection of McGill University.
Dallas 1919 v 2019
This pair of maps is based on originals that I found in the Texas General Land Office and the map collection of the Library of Congress. The typography is Art Deco-inspired, combined with the bright colours that modern printing makes possible. I’ve treated the modern Dart light rail network as equivalent to the old interurban streetcar network, as the modern light rail system is meant to provide rapid regional transportation, rather than local in-city transportation.
Washington DC 1944 subway plan v 2019
Before there was a Washington Metro, there was a Washington streetcar system, and the traffic congestion during the second world war led the city’s engineers to devise a plan to put the downtown portions of the system underground. The Washington Subway trains were intended run on the surface until they reached the city core, at which point they would go into tunnels. The plan never came to fruition due to the highway boom that followed, but the plans were eventually revisited in the 1960s during the planning process for the modern metro.
I acquired a copy of the original plans from the DC Department of Transportation. I wanted the map to look as though it was produced by an engineering team rather than a professional design staff. The modern Washington Metro has far more extensive suburban service than its predecessor, at the expense of coverage within the District of Columbia itself.
New York City 1939 v 2019
The 1939 subway map was drafted based on a George J Nostrand original, cross-checked against the three companies’ original maps in the New York Public Library’s map collection. There are a few errors in the Nostrand original that I’ve endeavoured to fix; the modern version uses data drawn from the New York MTA for exact station locations, since the modern subway map isn’t geographically correct. I’ve also used the NYC subway’s modern colour scheme for the convenience of the reader.