Official Map: MBTA Rapid Transit/Key Bus Routes Map – Boston, Massachusetts
I haven’t really looked at the Boston MBTA map since I was there for a few days in the middle of 2008, but I certainly don’t remember it looking as bad as this. I’ve always been mildly annoyed by the fact that not all the stations on the surface street sections of the Green Line are labelled, but my overall impression back then was of a solid, well-designed map.
Just a few short years later, well-meaning but poorly thought-out additions have reduced the map to the horrible mess we see here. And the word “addition” reveals the real cause of this map’s problems: new services have simply been slapped on top of the earlier map when it actually needed a full redesign to solve the problems that these additions created.
If you strip the map down, you can see how these problems multiply with the addition of each new service. The subway lines by themselves actually make a nice, well-designed diagram. Then the commuter rail routes were added: these still fit within the framework fairly well. Then the Silver Line - by now, the designer is struggling to make things fit, resulting in an incomprehensible maze of directional arrows to the west of South Station. Finally, the “key bus routes” have to be shoehorned into a map that was never originally designed to show them, resulting in the routes weaving uncertainly all over the map. Oh, and did I mention the ferry routes and the airport shuttle buses?
Have we been there? Yes, although I only used the “T” a couple of times, and only in the downtown area.
What we like: Ambitious scope to show different transit modes. Unfortunately, looks very amateur compared to some of the maps currently coming out of Europe. I don’t have a problem with the commuter rail lines not being shown along their entire length - they head a long way out and this is a map of Boston, not Massachusetts or New England!
What we don’t like: This is going to be a long list…
I really dislike the knobby, multi-armed Transfer Stations - South Station and Forest Hills look incredibly messy, while Haymarket’s angled bus stop circle clearly shows that the designer simply ran out of room and cheated to fit the station name in. Even worse are the transfer stations rotated to a random, non-45-degree angle (also cheating) to allow them to connect to a bus service (see Hynes, Coolidge Corner and Harvard Ave on the Green Line for examples).
The Silver Line is one hot mess. It’s not a subway line (it’s actually BRT), but is shown as one. It’s made up of four separate routes (SL 1 and 2 run to the east of South Station, SL 4 and 5 run to the west – with no direct interchange between the two sets of routes), but it’s almost impossible to decipher this on the map. As noted before, the directional arrows on the SL4/5 routes don’t really help at all. Lots of stops on SL1 and SL2 simply aren’t shown at all - not even a dot! But the bit I hate the most is where SL1 loops around the Logan Airport Terminals - the connecting line joins on against the directional flow of the arrows: hideously counterintuitive and ugly.
The less said about the presentation of the bus routes, the better. Cramped and ugly. The way the curve of the 32 doesn’t nestle into the curve of the commuter rail line to the south-west of Forest Hills catches my eye (in a bad way) every time.
My final major complaint is the representation of Boston’s geography - on a diagrammatic map like this, I’m almost never in favour of “realistic” representations of shorelines and rivers, seeing as they have to be seriously distorted to fit around the diagram anyway! I believe they should also be represented in a simplified form to add to the clarity of the map. Here, we have the seemingly farcical image of the F2 ferry passing over what looks like a spit of land to reach its destination in Quincy (it’s actually going under a bridge, but this map doesn’t draw that distinction at all).
Our rating: Well meaning, but seriously flawed. Needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. With the addition of the Silver Line, the centre of the city needs far more space given to it, while the edges can afford to be compressed a bit to compensate (look how much room the Braintree leg of the Red Line has, for example). One-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official MBTA website)