Many of North America’s big cities are paralyzed by gridlocked traffic – and these maps illustrate part of the reason why.
They show the sprawling city transit systems of yesteryear compared to the often stunted versions of 2019. One is left wondering what life would be like in some of these metropolitan areas now if the lines had been kept open, or if the plans laid out had come to fruition.
They have been drawn by New York-based artist Jake Berman. The catalyst for the project, he explained, was being stuck in traffic in Los Angeles and finding himself feeling ‘frustrated at the lack of good mass transit’.
So Mr Berman, who was born in San Francisco, set about redrawing old transit system maps, using copies from university collections and public libraries, and modern equivalents using maps put out by each city’s respective mass transit authority.
The result is fascinating. Some systems have remained largely intact, while others have been decimated. He said: ‘This project is to map the lost subway and streetcar systems of North America. Unlike Western Europe and Japan, which rebuilt their mass transit after World War II, the U.S. and Canada spent three decades tearing out their mass transit and building enormous freeway systems.’
Here we present 22 of the maps Mr Berman has produced, from Los Angeles to Manhattan and Buffalo via Toronto. They are all available for purchase from his website.
Buffalo 1910 vs 2019
In 1910, Buffalo, New York, said Mr Berman, was the 10th-largest city in the United States. Now it’s the 81st, behind Chula Vista, California, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The old map is based on a 1910 book of timetables that he found in the collections of the library of the University of California
Los Angeles 1926 vs 2019
Mr Berman told MailOnline Travel: ‘This was the first historical map that I worked on. I was hit with a flash of inspiration while stuck in traffic on the Hollywood Freeway, frustrated with Los Angeles’ lack of good mass transit. I worked from source documents that are in the Los Angeles Public Library and the archives of the Los Angeles Metro.’ The 1926 system was demolished after World War II
Detroit 1918 plan vs 2019
The Detroit subway plan of 1918 shown here never came to fruition – it failed to pass by one vote, explained Mr Berman. He drew the map shown using an original copy of the plan held in the Columbia University Library in New York City. At the 1920 Census, Detroit had a population of nearly one million people, he pointed out, today it’s shrunk to 670,000. ‘The one streetcar line existing today is a privately-funded white elephant,’ he added
San Francisco 1940 vs 2019
Mr Berman said: ‘San Francisco is a bit of an outlier here, as it, virtually alone among American cities, revolted against urban freeways in the 1950s, instead opting to keep much of its prewar streetcar system and overlaying it with a regional subway. The San Francisco Municipal Railway provided me with a copy of their 1940 service guide’
Greater Philadelphia 1974 vs 2019
Mr Berman used the Philadelphia Free Library’s 1974 original service guide from its map collection for the historic map on the left. The artist said that the trolley system was dismantled in the 1980s due to ‘persistent streetcar shortages’
Manhattan 1939 vs 2019
Mr Berman said: ‘The original map I worked off was plotted by George J. Nostrand as an advertisement for the now-defunct Seaman’s Bank. At the time, there were three competing subway companies, none of which wanted to show the routes of their competitors’
Dallas 1919 vs 2019
‘This map is derived from a pair of period maps that I found in the collections of the (U.S.) Library of Congress, and the Texas General Land Office,’ said Mr Berman, ‘including routings, timetables and period-correct street names. Dallas is now a sprawling suburban behemoth 50 miles wide and 50 miles long’
Washington, DC 1944 plan vs 2019
This 1944 streetcar scheme never came to fruition. Mr Berman said: ‘The region decided to build freeways instead after the Second World War ended. The D.C. Department of Transportation provided me a copy of the plans.’ The modern metro system is actually more extensive
Seattle 1997 monorail plan vs 2019
‘Seattle built a short demonstration monorail for the 1962 World’s Fair, and its citizens voted to expand it to a city-wide mass transit system in 1997,’ explained Mr Berman. ‘But the Lyle Lanleys of Seattle overpromised and underdelivered. The system’s size progressively shrank from 54 miles to 11 miles as construction estimates spiraled, and the whole fiasco was eventually killed eight years later after burning through $120million of public money. The Seattle city archive kindly provided me with a copy of the 1997 plan’
Montreal 1923 vs 2019
The Montreal Tramway Co. was the operator of Montreal’s prewar streetcar system. Mr Berman said he found one of its 1923 service guides in McGill University’s library. He added: ‘In a nod to the modern Metro, both maps use the grey-on-black color scheme of today’s system.’ The old system was replaced by buses and the modern subway service was modelled on the Paris Metro
Toronto 1932 vs 2019
‘This colorful map is based on a 1932 Toronto Transportation Commission original,’ said Mr Berman. ‘Canadian cities never adopted the automobile as wholeheartedly as their American counterparts, and as such have correspondingly better mass transit systems’