Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cities Where Pedestrians Rule

It’s difficult to escape cars. Unless you live in one of a handful of cities where public transit is widespread or you have the patience to take the bus/light rail in a city with a less than perfect network (most cities in the US fall into this category), a car is all but necessary for daily life. Even when traveling, tourists will eventually find their way into a taxi or a Hertz agency. But there are cities out there where it is possible to get by without getting into a car.
Imperfect weather doesn’t stop people in Copenhagen from pedaling to work or school every day. Cycle commuters number in the hundreds of thousands (the web site Copenhagenize puts the number of daily two-wheel commutes at 500,000). That’s about 25% of all commuters. That number puts America’s bicycling-est city, Portland (where 3% of commuters bike) to shame.
Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s iconic ferries still get their pictures on the front page of travel magazines and web sites. But it is the widespread train system (MRT) that makes this one of the easiest cities to get around. The ubiquitous Octupus Card, a stored value transit card, can be used for any form of public transit, from the ferry to the train to the minibuses.


Tokyo is a massive city with an equally massive (and perpetually crowded) network of trains. Stories about being stuffed into subway cars like sardines aside, this is the easiest city in the world to get around solely by train.
Aacticle about Havana has the requisite photo of an antique car rolling down an unkempt street. Many of these aged vehicles double as taxis, but they are not the only means of transportation in the city. Dirt cheap buses run everywhere, as do colorful bicycle taxis.
The Paris Metro is one of Europe’s oldest urban train systems, with the first line completed in 1900. Now 131 miles of track and 380 stations make the Metro one of the world’s most expansive subways. The architecture in some of the more iconic stations and the trains themselves are as much a part of the city’s personality as the Eiffel Tower.
Mumbai’s train network is super-efficient and notoriously crowded. Some visitors find a trip on the train to be the worst part of their visit to India, while for others, it is the highlight. Train is one of the cheapest ways to get around, for sure. There are plans to upgrade the system, doubling its reach over the next five years.
Singapore and Seoul
Most East Asian metropolises put US cities to shame when it comes to train and subway systems. Seoul and Singapore are two more to add to the list of cities with streamlined rail travel. Seoul’s massive subway system is one of the world’s largest, while Singapore’s is one of the most well-planned and cleanest. Both cities’ trains are far enough reaching that a car is completely unnecessary.
London’s Underground is both the oldest and longest urban rail network in the world. Despite being a bit notorious for its delays and overcrowding, 3.4 million riders rely on it for transportation on a daily basis.

The US lags woefully behind European and Asian cities when it comes to public transportation. Two of the exceptions to this trend are New York, with its storied, much-used subway system and San Francisco, with the BART and Muni.
Despite being a smaller metro area, Madrid’s Metro system is on of the most expansive in the world, covering 175 miles and set to expand further. Though it is most known for the tragic and bloody 2004 terrorist attack – the worst on European soil to date – ridership has remained high and as has public support for for further expansion.
Sao Paulo and Amsterdam
Amsterdam has long been known for its bicycle culture. 40% of all its traffic comes from bicycles. Despite the high numbers, biking in the city is quite safe, with traffic laws and roads developed with the goal of streamlining two-wheeled commutes.

Sao Paulo, on the other hand, is not an easy city to negotiate on a bicycle. In fact, the train is a prefered means of transport because it helps people avoid the insane crush of rush hour traffic that pollutes this large Brazilian city.


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