December 1, 2023

Jake Berman, Cartographer, historian, and lawyer. Author of The Lost Subways of North America


They Don't Build Them Like They Used To: Historical Patterns of Transit Construction and TOD


1:40pm - 3:00pm


1605 Tilia, Room 1103, West Village


Today, American cities pay more for transit construction than anywhere else in the world, and transit-oriented development is the exception. It wasn’t always like this. The first New York Subway line, 14 miles long, was built in four years. The Empire State Building was built in 13 1/2 months. Other countries are still capable of quick builds like this – between 1995 and 2015, Madrid spent $11.6 billion to build 123 miles of heavy rail and 23 miles of light rail. Overall, the cost was $79 million per mile, less than surface light rail in the US. Now, the US faces the double curse of underused public transit and a housing crisis. Jake Berman provides historical perspective on how American cities used to build transit and TOD quickly, what lessons can be learned from the past, and what reforms can be made to address these problems, like process streamlining, standardization, and creating institutional knowledge bases.

Biographical Sketch

Jake Berman is a cartographer, historian, and lawyer. His work has been featured in the New Yorker, the Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle, Atlas Obscura, and Vice. Jake’s debut book, The Lost Subways of North America, explores why North American public transit is so inadequate, how land use policies made things worse, and what can be done to put people near transit – and transit near people. Jake holds a BA in History from UC Berkeley and a JD from NYU Law School. Born in San Francisco, he lives in New York City, where he practices government contracts law.

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