Walt Disney struggled with Tomorrowland. He worried that “right when we do Tomorrowland, it will be outdated” while striving to offer “an opportunity to participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future.”
Perhaps no other attraction than the Disneyland Monorail System, which opened in 1959 (four years after the original 1955 opening) better illustrated this complex challenge of keeping up with change. On the one hand, the basic concept was hardly inherently futuristic. The London Underground, the oldest metro system in the world opened in 1890 followed by systems in Glasgow and Budapest in 1896, Chicago in 1897, Berlin in 1902, the New York City subway in 1904, and Hamburg in 1912.
Nevertheless, the Disneyland Monorail looked marvelously space-age, and when it expanded two years later to include a station for the Disneyland Hotel enabling hotel guests to either overview or access Disneyland directly, it sparked a renewed interest in the possibilities for urban trains despite the industrialized world’s passion for the automobile.
On the other hand as a ‘living blueprint’, an intended workable solution for urban transit generally, …while it remains in daily passenger service in Disneyland, monorail systems are not much in use elsewhere today. But metro systems around the world are increasingly realizing the ‘futuristic’ vision of an urban electrified train system connecting passengers directly with their places of work, the shopping and entertainment centres they prefer, the hotels and sightseeing attractions on offer, and, increasingly, other vitally important transportation hubs like international airports and interurban rail and bus stations.
Lower mainland residents fully appreciate that electrified rapid transit train systems (variously referred to as metro systems, subways, U-Bahns or undergrounds) involve complicated planning processes, lots of expense, and extensive, up-heaving construction projects. But we are also increasingly incorporating their countless benefits into our daily personal planning and budgeting—the traffic congestion relief, the convenience and savings in accessing YVR, the reliability of commute times to name only a few examples.
The extent to which cities all over the world are also experiencing the realization of this once profoundly futuristic vision is perhaps less known making Wikipedia’s “List of Metro Systems” article a good starting point. It notes that “As of October 2014, 157 cities in 55 countries around the world host the approximately 160 metro systems that are listed here.” (Of course, three years later more of the then ongoing projects have moved to the operational list.)
To get a true appreciation of the exponential growth of mass transit systems we may look at what is unfolding globally particularly in China and India. The speed of development, the quality of the service, the affordability and convenience of the ticketing systems, the degree to which the station planning has integrated the stations with ground level destinations and attractions is astonishing.
Two final thoughts: The urban ‘metro systems’ are a key component of any serious sustainability as the roadways become impassible with far more motor vehicles than the system can cope with. And, perhaps the 21st century will be, if it is not already, the century of the metro system.