Welcome to Curbed’s first-ever public transportation city challenge!
I’m Sally Kuchar—Cities Director here at Curbed. I love a good competition, so I’m pitting editors in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City against each other in a series of public transportation challenges.
Which city has the most beautiful commute? What about the worst? What’s the easiest way to get from the nearest major airport to the city’s most popular tourist destination? Every day will unveil a new challenge, and this is where you’ll find commentary on each city’s commute.
Each challenge will take the following into consideration: money spent, time spent, time lost, comfort level, stress level, and snafus—e.g., someone on the subway during rush hour unknowingly hits you in the face with their backpack. Editors will provide first-person accounts of their trips, and I’ll be judge and jury about which city had the best (or worst) experience.
A new challenge will be revealed each day, with the finale going live on Friday. Make sure to check back to keep tabs on the competition.
Most beautiful transit trip
Curbed NY’s Amy Plitt is convinced that the NYC Ferry is the best way to see New York City. The recently launched service costs $2.75 a ride, and Amy took the East River route from Wall Street to Midtown.
What’s more California than riding a beach cruiser adjacent to the ocean at sunset? Curbed LA’s Jenna Chandler’s 2.2-mile, 22-minute-long trip started at the Expo Line light-rail station in Downtown Santa Monica, where she paid $3.50 to rent a beach cruiser from the Metro bike-share hub.
As a San Francisco native I’m shocked—shocked!—that Curbed SF’s Brock Keeling chose the freakin’ bus for this challenge. The bus? While efficient, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an argument for the bus being a beautiful way to commute. I was wrong. While it’s true that you’re on the bus during the duration of your trip, what makes Muni’s 33 line special is the views it offers up.
Winner: Curbed LA’s Jenna Chandler riding Metro bike south from Santa Monica on the beach bike path
Worst rush hour
Is Curbed LA’s Jenna Chandler a glutton for punishment? I get that this is a competition, but her commute was brutal. It took her one hour to get 13.1 miles, and included sitting in deadlocked traffic while observing rage-inducing actions from her fellow commuters (who reads while driving???).
Lol. I think it’s clear from the above still from the GoPro Amy attached to her head that this commute is not going to win this challenge. That said, does losing this challenge actually make Amy the winner? Whoa.
San Francisco used to have a hellish rush hour via public transit, but Brock’s challenge proves that that may no longer be the case, at least for the city’s notoriously awful 38 bus route.
Winner: Curbed LA’s Jenna Chandler commuting from Hollywood to Santa Monica
Coolest way to get around
I’m sorry, you can take a freakin’ tram from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island? And it only takes three minutes? And you can use your MetroCard? This is the best mode of public transportation in the United States.
Creating safe spaces for the queer community is still of the utmost importance, and it warms my heart that Homobiles has been doing just that for San Franciscans since 2010. The nonprofit provides safe transit to San Francisco’s LGBTIQ community and is donation based, so no one will get turned down for a ride if they haven’t got the funds.
Right out the gate, Curbed LA’s Jenna Chandler admits that Angels Flight—a “steep little railroad that runs up and down Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles”—is not a practical mode of transportation for anyone looking to get around LA. It takes all of 45 seconds and is an alternative to the adjacent staircase. That said, it’s downright charming and uncharacteristically old for a city known for its midcentury modern gems.
Winner: Taking the tram from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island
Airport to major tourist destination
Despite having to transfer modes of transportation several times, Brock seemed to thoroughly enjoy the sights and sounds his journey provided. The best part, though, is the M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end.
Amy got from La Guardia to Times Square in one hour and all it cost her was one MetroCard swipe. Did this make her a public transit genius or has NYC perfected public transit? Maybe a bit of both. Either way, Amy’s adventure has me seriously reconsidering ever flying into JFK again.
Los Angeles is huge—you can fit all of NYC’s five boroughs and San Francisco into it, so it’s no surprise that getting from the airport to a major tourist destination was confusing for me as a reader (Jenna handled it like a pro). I think I’ll stick to taxis.
Winner: The best way to get to and from LaGuardia Airport is the bus
I’m a millennial, which means I’m of the generation where everyone gets a trophy just for participating. There are no winners or losers! Everyone’s great! Everyone did great!
Alas, this competition won’t have such an ending. I promised you a winner, so a winner will be picked.
All three cities opened my eyes to transit options I had never heard of before. Can you imagine commuting from Rosevelt Island to Manhattan via aerial tram? Or finding the comfort of getting around San Francisco at night care of a ride-hailing car service that caters to San Francisco's queer community? We always speak of buildings as a city’s identity, but what if the real crown jewel is the bright light beneath the street, the one that moves millions of New Yorkers, San Franciscans, and Angelenos each day? And bridges that dance across a city’s skyline like a celebratory welcome ribbon, a sight to see or a means of getting to and from work. Access to decent, efficient public transportation is the foundation of any great city, and this week proved that San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City are top of their class.
But let’s get real: Was it ever a competition? Everyone knows New York City is the winner when it comes to public transit in the United States.