Skip to content

MapLab: How Car-Centric Street Networks Make Buses Less Efficient

An intersection map of New Orleans, La.
An intersection map of New Orleans, La.Photographer: Map courtesy of DW Rowlands

If, as Rebecca Solnit once wrote, "home is everything you can walk to," those who live in highly connected cities — with lots of tightly packed, four-way intersections — have a lot more home to roam. Such grids provide an inherent efficiency in time, distance and navigability for people on foot, creating "clearer and more direct pedestrian routes," states one recent academic paper on this subject. In contrast, the cul-de-sacs and looping roads of suburbia may help reduce vehicle traffic jams, but "their discontinuity inhibits pedestrian access to facilities and amenities, while their curvilinearity lengthens and confuses walking trips."

For the same reasons, gridded street networks are also more efficient for public transit. It's with that mode in mind that DW Rowlands, a graduate student in human geography at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has been taking a quantitative approach to the study of urban connectivity. As part of her thesis research, she has mapped the street intersections in eight U.S. cities to reveal how some have inherent disadvantages that planners seeking to provide high quality transit service can't always overcome with more buses alone.