High Style Subways

Business Week had a nice story about the latest trend in urban status symbol–subways. It seems like everyone’s just got to have one and a style war is emerging as cities compete to show off the latest in design and technology. The good thing about this trend is that mass transit systems, unlike stadiums have a very long global history as amazing long term investments since they unlock the value of urban property by enabling higher density land use, which in turn means more property tax dollars.

“The world’s three largest metro manufacturers, Montreal-based Bombardier (BBDB.TO), Alstom, and Munich-based Siemens (SI) report high demand for mass transit, including tramways and light-rail systems that run both under and above ground. The global subway market was worth $9.3 billion in 2005 and is projected to grow at a rate of 2.7% per year until 2015, according to a 2007 study by the European Railway Industry Assn. Subway lines are being built or extended in 20 European cities and five Middle Eastern ones, and dozens of towns are constructing light-rail systems, reports the Brussels-based International Association of Public Transport.”
New lines are being constructed or on the drawing board in cities like Algiers, Parma, Turin, Dublin, Almaty and Dubai and some of this stuff is pretty slick. It’s even a big trend in the oil rich Persian gulf!!

“In the Middle East, congestion caused by economic development spurred the current wave of subway and light-rail construction in cities like Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Algiers. “They were rich, they could buy big cars, and suddenly they realized they could no longer drive these cars because they were stuck in traffic,” says Hans Rat, secretary general of the International Association of Public Transport, which opened a Middle East and North Africa division four years ago. At the same time a new generation of internationally trained leaders emerged, who started to measure their urban development with that of world-class cities. “They became aware these cities poured a lot of money into public transport,”

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