Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/April 1892/Lessons from the Census VI

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WE have seen that the population of cities is rapidly gaining in proportion to the increase of population in the whole country, and also that this growth in cities is largely suburban in its character. The suburban growth is fed from without and from within. As business is extended, and the room and area formerly occupied by people are taken for great mercantile houses and for manufacturing, the population of such areas is sent out to the suburbs of necessity, while many seek suburban residences as a matter of choice. From without the suburban population is augmented by the rush to cities from the country. Owing to the improvement in methods of agriculture, by which production from the earth becomes in some sense a manufacture, a less number of persons is required for agricultural purposes than of old. The question is often asked why, if population increases, there is not an increasing necessity of supplying food products; and if there is such a necessity, why can great numbers be spared from the rural districts to engage in the business undertakings of the cities? Improved methods of production offer an answer to this question, the result being that the labor of the country not being in so great demand, even to supply the vast increase required in food products, seeks remunerative employment in centers of population. As the contraction of labor through invention goes on, the expansion of labor through invention grows to a greater extent; and it is probably true that through inventions, or through great industries which have come into being in recent years, a larger number of people are employed relatively than are deprived of employment through improved methods. The great industries associated with electrics, railroad enterprises, the building of new kinds of machinery, and the absorbing in various ways of laborers in occupations not known until within a few years, enables manufacturing centers to furnish gainful work to those coming from the country, where, relatively speaking, they are not needed. These people take up their residence in the suburbs, though they may find their occupations in the crowded areas of the cities themselves. The question of rapid transit in cities, therefore, becomes one not only of great interest in the study of the movement of population at the present time, but one of prime necessity for the consideration of municipal governments. It is something more than a question of economics or of business convenience; it is a social and an ethical question as well.

The bulletins of the census furnish, to some extent, the statistics relating to rapid transit in cities, and of the relative economy of different motive powers used on street railways. These bulletins have been prepared by Mr, Charles H. Cooley, special agent for rapid transit facilities in cities, under the immediate direction of that skillful statistician and economist, Mr. Henry C. Adams, special agent for transportation, and from them we learn the growth of rapid transit facilities during the ten years from 1880 to 1889, inclusive, in cities having over fifty thousand inhabitants. The special experts have selected cities on a basis of an estimate of population made at the time the compilation of the tables was begun.

The full reports of the statistics of the equipment of all roads furnishing rapid transit facilities, and of their operations for the single fiscal year ending 1890, are being collected, and the census authorities will present them in future exhibits.

Prof. Adams announces, and with truth, that street railways have never before been brought within the scope of the census statistics of transportation, and he points out the peculiar difficulties which were met with in collecting the facts already presented. Some of these difficulties arose from the ambiguity of designation, as "length of line," "length of single track," and "length of double track," when applied to street railways; and on account of such ambiguities the attempt has been made to fix upon some definite nomenclature by which careful returns can be secured. The conclusion is, that "length of line" means length of roadbed, or, in case of railways running entirely upon streets, the length of street occupied; that "length of single track" means the length of that portion of the road-bed or street laid with one track only; and that "length of double track" means the length of that portion of the road-bed or street laid with two tracks. In determining the total length of tracks, switches and sidings have been included, and thus double track has been reckoned as two tracks.

On December 31, 1889, 476 cities and towns in the United States possessed rapid transit facilities, the total number of railways in independent operation being 807. Many railroads, however (and the number is stated at 286, having a total length of 3,150·93 miles, and 13, having a total length of 135·75 miles), have as yet made no report; while in six the returns received were so imperfect that it was necessary to supplement them by approximations. This statement accounts for the bulletins not presenting statistics for a series of years for the whole number of railroads in the country, and m cities have been selected for which the reports are comparatively complete. Suburban lines tributary to large cities, but without their corporate limits, as well as those actually within the cities, are included in the statement; as, for instance, where cities situated close together have a common street-railway system, it has not been thought best by the experts to attempt a separation in the tables. Therefore, Pittsburg and Allegheny, in Pennsylvania, are treated as one city, as are also Newark and Elizabeth, in New Jersey. The street-railway lines comprehended in Boston traverse also Lynn, Cambridge, and other suburban places.

The aggregate mileage of the fifty-six cities selected for each year from 1880 to 1889, with the increase and percentage of increase, is shown in the following table:

Year. Total mileage. Increase.
Miles. Per cent.
1880 1689·54 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1881 1,765·95 76·41 4·52
1882 1,875·10 109·15 6·18
1883 1,941·49 66·39 3·54
1884 2,031·84 90·35 4·65
1885 2,149·66 117·82 5·82
1886 2,289·91 140·25 6·52
1887 2,597·16 307·25 13·42
1888 2,854·94 257·78 9·93
1889 3,150·93 295·99 10·37
Total . . . . . . . 1,461·39 86·50

It is only fair to state that in order to make the foregoing statement, the statistics of some of the cities have been re-enforced by information from sources other than the census returns.

By the above table it will be seen that from 1,689·54, total mileage in the fifty-six cities selected in 1880, the growth has been to 3,150·93 miles in 1889. This is an increase of 1,461·39 miles, or 86·50 per cent. These figures show conclusively the rapidly increasing wants of cities.

The five leading cities of the country have a mileage assigned them as follows: Philadelphia, 283·47; Boston, 200·86; Chicago, 184·78; New York, 177·10; Brooklyn, 164·44. These are figures for 1889, and they show the total length of line; but the total length of all tracks, including sidings, for the same cities, is as follows: New York, 368·02; Chicago, 365·50; Boston, 329·47; Brooklyn, 324·03; Philadelphia, 324·21. From these figures we find that the position of Philadelphia in the last statement is reversed, and that New York steps from the fourth place in the five cities named to the first place; and this brings out a peculiarity of the Philadelphia roads and, to some extent, the roads of Boston, the tracks in these cities, to a large extent, occupying different streets in going to and from a terminus instead of being laid upon the same street.

The motive power used on the total mileage given is divided as follows:

Motive Power Miles. Per cent.
Animal power 2,351·10 74·62
Electricity 260·36 8·26
Cable 255·87 8·12
Steam (elevated roads) 61·79 1·96
Steam (surface roads) 221·81 7·04
Total 3,150·93 100·00

The relative economy of cable, electric, and animal motive power has been brought out by the census officers, but the superintendent remarks, in issuing the bulletins on this subject, that it is still too early to form a final judgment regarding the value of electric motive power for street railways; yet he feels that the statistics presented, being, as they are, a record of actual experience, throw considerable light upon the matter of economy. The lack of uniform accounts of railways prevents the use of the data already collected for the formation of a final judgment; while, again, the electric railways, being nearly all new, have not been in operation a sufficient length of time to afford final conclusions as to economy of service; and, as Prof. Adams points out, most electric railways are the successors of roads operated by horses, the horses being still retained on a part of the lines and the expense incurred for horse power being intermixed with that incurred for electric power. For these reasons a final judgment on the figures given must not be reached; yet the facts presented are indicative of what may be expected.

The bulletin relating to the relative economy of different motive powers embraces fifty lines of street railway, ten of which are operated by cable, ten by electricity, and thirty by animal power; and from the various tables presented, showing length, steepest grade, number of cars, car mileage, number of passengers carried, operating expenses, etc., a crystallized statement (which statement, it should be remembered, is not a complete and accurate one) is drawn, showing that the operating expense per car mile of cable railways is 14·13 cents; of electric railways, 13·21 cents; and of animal power, 18·16 cents; while the operating expense per passenger carried is, for cable railways, 3·22 cents; for electric railways, 3·82 cents; and for railways operated by animal power, 3·67 cents. It will surprise many to learn that in operation both cable and electric railways show a greater economy than railways operated by animal power; but in the full tables given in the bulletins it is noticeable that electric railways which have the least expense per car mile have the greatest expense per passenger carried. So the statement of the ratio between passengers carried and car mileage becomes essential, and from this it appears that electric railways show a less number of passengers per car mile than either of the other classes, the number of passengers carried per car mile being, for cable railways, 4·38; for electric railways, 3·46; and for railways operated by animal power, 4·95. Thus the electric railways carry a less number of passengers per car mile than either of those operated by cable or by animal power. The assumption is made in the census report that this variation is explained by the fact that electric roads, being new, occupy lines over which the passenger traffic has been but partly developed.

The expense per car mile and per passenger, the cost of road and equipment, and the volume of passenger traffic are essential for a full understanding of the financial side of the question. From the statistics reported it is seen that the total cost of road and equipment per mile of line (meaning thereby street length) is, for cable railways, $350,324.40; for electric railways, $46,697.59; and for railways operated by animal power, $71,387.38; and the number of passengers carried per mile per year is, for cable railways, 1,355,965; for electric railways, 222,648; and for railways operated by animal power, 596,563. From these figures it appears to be true that cable railways attain their greatest efficiency where an extremely heavy traffic is to be handled, and that electric railways and those operated by animal power are used where the traffic is not so heavy, or is more generally diffused.

The operating expense per car mile is: For cable railways, 14·12 cents; for electric railways, 13·2l cents; for railways operated by animal power, 18·16 cents; and the operating expense per passenger carried is, for the different powers as named, respectively, 3·22 cents, 3·82 cents, and 3·67 cents; but, including interest charge per car mile at assumed rate of six per cent, the sum of operating expense and interest per car mile is: For cable railways, 20*91 cents; for electric railways, 17·56 cents; and for railways operated by animal power, 21·71 cents. These charges, both actual and estimated, show a somewhat greater expense for cable roads per car mile than for electric roads; but when the interest charge is considered on the basis of passengers carried, and added to the operating expense, the sum of operating expense and interest per passenger is as follows: For cable railways, 4·77 cents; for electric railways, 5·08 cents; for railways operated by animal power, 4·39 cents, showing a less cost for operating expense and interest charge per passenger for cable railways than for electric railways. In the first instance, the greater charge for cable railways is on account of the much greater cost and equipment per mile; while the greater number of passengers carried by cable railways per mile reduces the ratio of expense on the passenger basis.

It is to be hoped that the complete statistics relating to rapid transit in cities will enable the public to determine, with reasonable accuracy, the relative economy of the different powers used. This is a question which is vital to the interests of city and suburban communities, and which leads to the ethical consideration of the problem of rapid transit. That power must eventually be used by which passengers can be transported from their homes to their places of business and return at the least possible expense, and the greatest possible safety commensurate with high speed.

The necessity of living in sanitary localities, in moral and well-regulated communities, where children can have all the advantages of church and school, of light and air, becomes more and more evident as municipal governments undertake to solve the problems that are pressing upon them. If it be desirable to distribute the population of congested districts through country districts, means must be provided for safe, rapid, and cheap transit to the country districts; or, inversely, if it be desirable to build up the suburban areas, the people must be supplied with cheap and convenient means of reaching the localities within which they earn their living.

The reduction of fares, through improved means of rapid transit, however desirable, is really a minor question. It is probably true that by a slight reduction from a five-cent fare the head of a family engaged in mechanical labor, earning perhaps five or six hundred dollars per annum, might save enough to pay taxes, or to offset church and society assessments, or to furnish his family with boots and shoes, in any event extending his power pro tanto for the elevation of his family; but he does more than this when speed is taken into consideration. By the old methods of transit from suburbs to the heart of a city a working-man going into the city of Boston was practically obliged, while working ten hours at his usual occupation, to spend an hour on the horse-railway, when now, on one line, by the use of the electric car, he can go to and return from his place of work in half that time, thereby actually adding to his own time half an hour each day, practically reducing his working time from eleven hours to ten and a half hours without reduction of wages and without increased expense for transportation. The question of rapid transit, therefore, as seen by this simple illustration, becomes an ethical consideration; for if there is anything to be gained by adding to the time which men have at their disposal for their own purposes, for intercourse with their families, for social improvement, for everything for which leisure is supposed to be used, then the question of rapid transit is one of far greater importance than that of saving money either to the man who uses transportation or to the company that secures dividends upon its stock. I believe, therefore, that all the efforts that are being made to secure convenient and cheap rapid transit in great cities are those which should bring to their support the help of all men who are seeking the improvement of the condition of the masses.

Business extension in cities is crowding the street area. This area is precisely the same in old cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, etc., for the present population and business operations that existed a century ago. The crowding of streets with the transportation essential for the movement of goods increases with great rapidity, but when the crowding is augmented, perhaps doubled, by the presence of the means of transporting passengers, the difficulties involved are almost appalling. With every increase of population the companies having in charge transportation facilities must, in order to accommodate the public, add more cars and more animals—if animals are the motive power—and so rapidly add to the already crowded condition of streets. This process is one which attacks the health and the safety of the people. The presence of so many horses constantly moving through the streets is a very serious matter. The vitiation of the air by the presence of so many animals is alone a sufficient reason for their removal, while the clogged condition of the streets impedes business, whether carried on with teams or on foot, and involves the safety of life and limb. It is a positive necessity, therefore, from this point of view alone, that the problems connected with rapid transit should be speedily solved, and this feature demands the efforts and the support of sanitarians. With the removal of tracks from the surface, and with tunnels built in such a manner as to be free from the dampness of the old form of tunnel, as has been done in London, and to secure light and air and be easy of access, all the unsanitary conditions of street-railway traffic will be at once and forever removed; and if private capital can not be interested to a sufficient extent to undertake such measures, then municipal governments must see to it that the health of the community is not endangered by surface traffic. When this question is allied to the ethical one, and when one considers the advantages to be gained, first, through securing rapid transit from the crowded portions of cities to the suburbs, and, second, by removing rapid transit traffic from the surface to underground viaducts, the importance of the whole problem becomes clearly apparent, and not only the importance of the problem but the necessity of its solution.

The statistics given by the census officers seem to indicate that as a matter of economy the very best equipment can be used without increasing the tax upon individual passengers. If underground roads can be used without at first increasing such tax, and still offer a reasonable compensation for capital invested, the gains to the people at large offer an inducement to capital, while the many considerations of health and morals offer men who desire to use their means for the benefit of their kind an opportunity that has not existed in the past. From my knowledge of some of the men who have been foremost in projecting lines of rapid transit, but who have been accused of doing it for entirely selfish motives, I learn that public benevolence has influenced them to a sufficient extent to induce them to take the great risks which are apparently involved. I believe that could the real, underlying patriotism of such men be known, and the confidence of the public in their willingness to do work for the public benefit gained, the solution of the rapid transit problem would be much easier.

Capital is securing less and less margin of profit through its investments, whether in manufacturing or in other enterprises. The capitalist is satisfied with a safe and sure return of from three to five per cent, and the spirit of altruism, which seems to be growing more and more rapidly among our millionaires, and which is leading them to the establishment of great institutions for public good, will lead them ultimately to such operations as those essential to secure the best results of rapid transit. Private capital, encouraged and protected by public sentiment and municipal enactments, may be capable of solving this problem. If it is not, then public sentiment, interested in the welfare of the people at large, not only from an economic point of view, but from sanitary and ethical considerations, will insist uj3on a public solution of the question. It is an important study, and the officers of the eleventh census are entitled to great credit for their efforts to bring out the partial results they have published, and, later, to give to the country the full data relative to rapid transit in cities.

In a paper on the Meteorological Results of the Challenger Expedition in relation to Physical Geography, Mr. Alexander Buchan expresses the conclusion that the isobaric maps show in the clearest and most conclusive manner that the distribution of the pressure of the earth's atmosphere is determined by the geographical distribution of land and water, in their varying relation to the heat of the sun through the months of the year; and since the relative pressure determines the direction and force of the prevailing winds, and these, in their turn, the temperature, moisture, and rainfall, and in a very great degree the surface currents of the ocean, it is evident that there is here a principle applicable, not merely to the present state of the earth, but also to different distributions of land and water in past times. In truth, it is only by the aid of this principle that any rational attempt, based on causes having a purely terrestrial origin, can be made toward the explanation of those glacial and warm geological epochs through which the climates of northern countries have passed. Hence the geologist must familiarize himself with the nature of these climatic changes, which necessarily result from different distributions of land and water, especially those changes which influence most powerfully the life of the globe.