As Bay Area commuters once again brace for the possibility of a prolonged BART strike and look to alternative transportation means, it seems apropos to feature this innovative multimedia piece: a collection of some of the region’s major public transit lines and the dramatic income disparities that exist among the communities living along those routes.

Created by designers Dan Grover and Michael Belfrage, the interactive project presents a striking landscape of wealth and poverty in the Bay Area, the two extremes often co-existing within a stone’s throw of one another. To show this, they gathered 2010 U.S. Census data on median household incomes and used the value from the specific census tract that each transit stop is located within. One important thing to note when looking at the graphic is that population density is not taken into account, although census tracts typically encompass a population between 2,500 to 8,000 people. Also, because the income data is only for the specific census tract that the stop is located in, it does not represent the median income of an entire city. For instance, the median household income for the Union City BART station is close to $140,00, almost double the median income of that city as a whole. That figure, though, only reflects the small census tract where the station is located (you can see that census tract on this map).

The endeavor was inspired by a similar project published recently on the The New Yorker’s website that juxtaposes New York subway stops with corresponding household income data, showing similarly wide wealth gaps in geographically concentrated areas.

Some interesting takeaways the Bay Area graphic:

  • Of BART’s five lines, the Pittsburgh/Bay Point route runs through the widest income gap: in Lafayette, median household income is $153,488, while five stops and 14 miles west, at Oakland’s 12th Street station, it’s a mere $17,349, a disparity of roughly $136,000.
  • Of the 19 Muni lines surveyed, the biggest gap in median household income lies along the 1-California bus route, where the difference between highest (California and 30th Ave.) and lowest (Sacramento and Battery) median income stops is nearly $140,000.
  • The lowest median income tracts in the Bay Area are generally located near the civic centers of San Francisco and Oakland, in addition to some downtown locales, where the residential population is significantly smaller, homelessness is prevalent and the concentration of single room occupancy housing is often higher.
  • On CalTrain, the biggest income gap falls between two neighboring stations less than three miles apart: Redwood City, where median income is just above $30,000, and Atherton, where it’s more than $193,000.

Choose a transit line and then mouse over the different stops on the chart for income data.

(To view the interactive in its native habitat, click here)

  • Shelly

    Ha, the Caltrain “Local” chart is the best!

  • KPV

    We might be falling a bit too hard for the ability to graph stuff. What exactly makes these findings “key”? On a related note:

  • John

    Does this take population density into account? I’m guessing not, as that 1 – California data appears misleading. Sacramento and Battery (the lowest point on the graph) is in the Financial District, where practically nobody lives.

    • Hi John,

      You make a good point, and it’s something I’ll add to the post. The chart doesn’t take population density into account, so yes, the data is inherently a bit skewed in this regard. However, since we are talking about median – as opposed to average – income, it does show what the middle earner in each tract makes, regardless of the population size. So while there may be only, say, 5,000 people living in one area, and 50,000 in another, the median income figure for both areas presents a roughly accurate point of comparison. That said, I’m no statistician, so if you have a more accurate way to present this information, please let me know,


  • Dubious

    Union City median income of $140,000?

    • Hi Dubious,

      I had the same reaction when I first looked at this. The median household income for Union City as a whole is certainly not that high (I believe it’s in the high $70k range). But this is a measure of just the census tract that the BART station is located in, and probably includes fewer than 10,000 households (for a good explanation of census tracts, go here: I will continue to double-check this figure (although it’s difficult to do right now because the Census site is still down), but my assumption is this small area has notably higher income levels than most of the rest of Union City. I also located the specific tract referenced on a Google map – a screenshot is attached below.).

  • Skeetrahawk

    Might have been good to use the TOD Database, which accounts for density and considers median incomes across every census tract falling within 1/2 mile of every one of the 4,000+ rail stations in the country: It could have resolved some of the issues with this analysis and captured a broader swath of folks accessing the system. Nonetheless it’s interesting to see this laid out graphically.


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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