Fantasy Map: Airbus A380 Network as a Subway Map

Here’s a map that’s doing the social media rounds today — a subway map-style representation of Airbus A380 routes.

All I can say is: meh.

Remember when air travel was stylish and cool? Personally, I love airline route maps, with their arc-like routes branching out all across the globe: it helps keep a sense of wonder about the vast distances we travel, high above the earth.

Instead, here we are: on the subway. Under the city, running through dark, noisy tunnels, packed in like sardines (actually, that last part holds true for air travel as well these days!). It’s a miserable metaphor for what’s meant to be the future of air travel, and it doesn’t help that the map is terribly executed as well. The continents are reduced to shapeless grey blobs (South America isn’t even shown at all!), while, bizarrely, a river runs through the oceans. I guess it’s meant to make it look more “transit mappy”, but it’s just asinine. 

And then there’s the completely inconsistent application of station symbols — circles, rectangles and dots just plonked down anywhere. Why does Guangzhou have an interchange symbol when it doesn’t actually interchange with anything?

Our rating: A poor execution of an awful concept. You can’t tell me this wouldn’t look a hundred times more magnificent and exciting if it was a traditional air route map. Half a star.

Half a Star

(Source: Airbus’ Facebook page)

Submission - Official Map: Szeged, Hungary

Submitted by fuckyeahgmetro, who says:

Hi, this is the official map of SzKT, the company running trams and trolley buses in the Hungarian city Szeged. I think it is in a very good place to run for the worst transit map “designed” ever!


Transit Maps says:

I’ll certainly agree that this map is really quite atrocious. But it’s not even really close to the very worst transit maps out there.

It’s certainly a lazy, slipshod effort — looking like some bad Photoshop/MS Paint work superimposed on a fairly standard map of the city. The labelling is extremely poor, with type in many different sizes and at completely random angles to fit it all in. The symbols for stations are also pretty ugly, especially in the sections where three or more routes share the same track.

Despite all this, it’s still actually possible to work out what’s going on fairly easily — possibly only because it’s a small and basic system — and this is what saves it from joining the ranks of the absolute worst maps.

The other thing I note looking at this system is how well it would translate into a circular diagrammatic map, which seem to be all the rage these days. The orbital nature of the city’s streets and the “spokes” of the main routes would actually make this an appropriate design decision, instead of simply being a design affectation.

Our rating: Pretty darn bad, but not as bad as some. Half a star.

Half a Star

(Source: Official SzKT website)

Unofficial Map: Transit of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Submitted by Halid Karpović, who says:

Dear Cameron, I heard you also feature the worst transit maps on your blog - and by “worst”, I mean “worst of the worst”. If that’s right, I’d like to hear your opinion of this map by Emir Haračić. It shows the transit network of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and appears in Sarajevo Navigator, quite a popular tourist guide.

Basically, I say that such a beautiful city as Sarajevo and the first electric streetcar on the Balkans really don’t deserve such an ugly map. We’ve got amateurly drawn route lines, “mega-stations” with tons of linked circles (just look at the “Park” station), and text flying all around the canvas.

But wait! If you think that’s already bad, you might want to look at the official - yes, official - map given out by Sarajevo’s transit company. I think you might even consider a negative rating here…


Transit Maps says:

Judging by the official map (which is a next-to-useless abomination and would certainly deserve the lowest possible rating), this one seems to have been born out of desperation for something better. And while I can’t fault that desire, this map really does make navigation of Sarajevo’s transit system much harder than it should be.

If there was ever a map that needed route lines to collapse down or overlay each other when they share the same track or road, it’s this one. As this diagram from Wikipedia shows, the Sarajevo Tramway is basically one route with different service patterns running on it, and could be simplified a lot more that it is shown here. As it is, the central loop part of the map is almost incomprehensible.

My biggest problem with the depiction of the tram routes is the way they “step down” along the route instead of following the same path along their entire length. For an example, follow the “4” from right to left across the map. It goes for a few stops, and then drops down to the next line, because one of the routes underneath it in the “stack” of lines has ended. This makes following a particular route from one end to the other across the map incredibly difficult and could have been easily avoided with some careful planning.

The other really big problem with the map is the typography. All-capitals, condensed sans serif type set at multiple angles is not easy to read: all the letter forms look very similar, and it can be hard to work out which label belongs to which stop in crowded parts of the map. The resolution of the image as found online also does the type no favours: the image is only 1024px wide, so smaller type like the route numbers contained within each line becomes very indistinct.

Finally, there’s a fifth colour on the map (magenta) that’s not explained in the legend. It’s only used for the “31E” bus route, so there’s something different about it that that we’re not being told about…

Our rating: Trying to fill a void created by the lack of an viable official alternative, this map means well, but is gravely hampered by myriad problems. Really can’t give this one more than half a star.

Half a Star

Unofficial Map: “Barcelona Tourist Guide” Metro Map

As you should know, official transit maps are copyrighted materials. Commercial reproduction of the map by third parties normally requires permission and payment of a licence fee — often a hefty one.

A lot of people don’t want to pay that fee, so they design their own version of the map instead. This can result in maps that are eerily similar to the official one, nicely designed but different maps, or horrendous monstrosities. Guess which category this map falls into?

Have we been there? Yes. And with the official map (October 2011, 4.5 stars), the Metro is super easy to use.

What we like: At least the lines are the right colours.

What we don’t like: Sooooo ugly. Call-out boxes for every station waste space and look terrible. The worst example is Trinitat Nova station, which has two call-out boxes, one for Lines 3 and 11 and a separate one for Line 4, because the designer couldn’t work out how to have the three different line colours in the background of one call-out box.

Which way is north? Barcelona is actually oriented about halfway between the cardinal points, so giving some sort of directional indication on the Metro map is very important. The official map includes major roads, the coastline and a north pointer to help out: this map gives you nothing at all. What appears to be north here is actually north-east.

The integrated tram system is missing entirely, as there’s simply no room for it to fit. There’s actually a second map on the website for this system, where the main Metro map is tinted back without labels and the tram system is slapped on over the top.

Our rating: Hideous and confusing. I thought long and hard about giving this a zero, but surely there’s still something worse than this out there.

Half a Star

(Source: Barcelona Tourist Guide)

Official Map: TRAX and FrontRunner Rail Map, Salt Lake City, Utah (December 2012)

Today, the FrontRunner commuter rail system opens for revenue service south of Salt Lake all the way down to Provo, and there’s a new version of the map to reflect this new service. I reviewed a previous version of this map back in July, and I didn’t have much positive to say about it then - and my opinion has not been changed with this new iteration. Quite a few people have submitted this new map to me, and they’ve all been extremely critical of it as well.

Have we been there? Yes, but I haven’t caught any trains.

What we like: To be honest: nothing.

What we don’t like: Almost all the flaws from the previous version of the map remain: the one thing that has improved is the removal of the huge labels explaining the concept of a transfer station. Downtown remains cramped and ugly, while the labelling of stations remains a sloppy, disorganised mess — possibly even worse than before — with some station names now a ridiculously long way from their related station marker (such as North Temple Bridge/Guadalupe).

Speaking of labels, the “FrontRunner” and “FrontRunner South” labels are inexcusably set in completely different fonts: the former in Swiss (a cheap Helvetica clone), the latter in Arial… look at the capital “R” and you’ll see they have completely different shapes.

And why does the South FrontRunner route line extend past Provo when it’s the end of the line?

Our rating: Simply terrible. One submitter of this map, Garrett Smith, sums it up very eloquently, I think:

"You know, it saddens me just a tad bit. Salt Lake City has made such an investment in its rail infrastructure, beginning with the initial 16-mile stretch of the Blue Line between downtown and Sandy in 1999. A mere fourteen years later, we’ve seen the construction of a 90-mile commuter rail line linking the entirety of the urban conglomeration in which Salt Lake lies, as well as massive light rail expansion. To show for it? We’ve got one of the worst transit maps around."

Another anonymous submitter simply calls this map “embarrassing”… and it is. With the new FrontRunner extension, there was an opportunity for a fresh look at this map, a chance to create something vibrant, modern and attractive that matched the obvious quality of the system itself. Instead, we get this. Half a star.

Half a Star

(Source: Official UTA FrontRunner schedule page)

Official Map: Suggested Bus Network of Wellington, New Zealand

When Brent Palmer submitted his own frequent service map of Wellington, he also sent along a link to a PDF of a diagram that the Greater Wellington Regional Council is using as a discussion piece to promote changes to the bus network.

I think Brent describes it best:

There are plans for a more comprehensive public transport network in Wellington. What a shame that the schematic depicting it is a monstrosity that looks like it was done by the work-experience kid. You’re gonna need eye-bleach.

Wow. This thing is simply terrible. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it had been thrown together in Word or PowerPoint with the limited drawing tools available in those applications. But no-one would ever do that… would they?

Metadata in the PDF reveals a document title of “Wellington Network Diagram for Advertorial”, so appallingly, it would seem that this is a map meant for public consumption, and is not just an internal planning document.

Right now, I finally think that the Buffalo light rail map has some serious competition as the worst map to ever grace this blog. Half a star.

Half a Star

(Link to PDF file - download at your own risk!)

Official Map: Buffalo, New York

Having showcased some excellent transit map design, it’s time to see what happens when it all goes horribly wrong. This monstrosity is the official map - available on the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s website - for the light rail system of Buffalo, New York. My eyes hurt.

Have we been there? No.

What we like: It tells us where the trains stop. That is all.

What we don’t like: Where to begin? The hilarious usage of a train symbol at each and every station, just so we don’t forget that trains might run on this light rail system. Uninspired and even downright ugly typography. Dark blue graphics on a dark green background are very hard to see, while red type on that same green background clashes horribly. Finally, the ridiculously over-the-top ornate compass rose puts the finishing touches on a complete disaster. Really, it’s just one line: things shouldn’t be this hard.

Our rating: Ughh. Half a star.

Half a Star

(Source: Official NFTA website)