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Mapping Public Transportation

Urban mass transportation developed along with rail technology and the iron and steel industries that made this technology feasible on a large scale. Initially consisting of single cars pulled along rails by horses or cables, electrification in the 1890s made possible the development of fast and efficient streetcar networks in the major cities of Europe and North America, such as Pacific Electric Railway, which spanned nearly the entirety of urbanized land in the Los Angeles area. Until the mid-twentieth century, virtually all mass transportation lines were privately owned. In many cities had themselves contributed to that urbanization as residential developments followed or were developed in conjunction with transit lines. Similar metropolitan-scale streetcar systems developed across Europe and North America, in conurbations like Upper Silesia and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Of these, Chicago’s system was among the largest. Cartographers and illustrators have long experimented with how these networks should be most effectively represented for everyday use.

In Chicago the 1890s also saw the introduction of elevated trains, a concept pioneered in fits and starts in New York during the previous decades.  Elevated, streetcar, and later bus lines would extend to the edges of built-up areas in an interconnected system that demanded municipal and, eventually, regional management and planning, including the transition to public ownership. Yet public transportation did not always proceed progressively, in Chicago or in other cities.  The Pacific Electric Railway was shut down in its entirety in the 1950s, as were several of Chicago’s elevated lines and all of its streetcars. Burnham’s own highly aestheticized vision of Chicago had pushed mass transit aside or underground as an eyesore and that would detract from the planned city’s grand, stylized boulevards. Even in the Chicago region, which has one of the most extensive transit systems in the world today, many areas remain underserved and many potential or former corridors sit neglected, both due to the sparse and transit-unfriendly nature of some types of suburban development and to the lack of resources allocated to expanding public transit infrastructure.



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