Official Map: Southeastern Rail Network, England

Southeastern’s website contains the following blurb: “Our network covers London, Kent and parts of East Sussex. With 179 stations and over 1000 miles of track, we operate one of the busiest networks in the country. We also run the UK’s only high speed trains.”

They should really add: “We also have a network map that makes it almost impossible to work out where our trains actually go.” I mean, what is actually going on here? Leaving out the networks of connecting rail companies, there are two main Southeastern networks – the magenta Metro routes (London and surrounds) and the lime green mainline routes that extend out into Kent and East Sussex – but that’s about as much as this map really tells you.

You could probably assume that most Metro services start at one of the four London terminus stations shown, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. If I get on at Victoria, where can I actually go? What happens at the apparent Y-junctions east of Barnehurst and Slade Green? Which way do trains go and could they actually loop all the way back to London? Nothing here tells me otherwise, so that’s an assumption that could be made by a user unfamiliar with the system.

Do the mainline trains start in London as well, or do I have to catch a Metro train out to, say, Sevenoaks and change trains there? The lime green routes are only shown outside London’s perimeter, after all.

It’s all just horribly ambiguous and unclear. It’s only after poking around on the Southeastern website that I found an alternate “lines of route” interactive map that makes some sense of things. There are actually six Metro routes and five mainline routes, four of which originate from London. The fifth – the Medway Valley line – runs from Tonbridge to Strood. Try working that out from the map.

Our rating: A prime example of style over substance. The map looks cool and all, but it doesn’t actually help a user plan a trip at all. Eleven routes isn’t that many: show them all from end to end so that people can easily determine where to get on a train, where to most efficiently interchange with other services and where they can get off. It’s really not that hard, people. One star.

1 Star

Source: Southeastern Rail website

Official Map: TRANSPO Bus System, South Bend, Indiana

Suggested by Jeff Bridgman.

This is probably a good example of how not to make a black-and-white map. They only get away with it at all because the system is so simple – there’s only 17 or 18 routes, and they have hardly any overlap because of the radial “hub and spoke” nature of the network.

Yes, you can actually work out where the buses go, but it’s all just a bit dismal. There’s quite a few examples of black label type crossing a black route line, which doesn’t really help much. The positioning of labels for roads is haphazard and inconsistent, with a strange partially transparent grey box placed behind some of the type. I guess it’s meant to aid legibility, but doesn’t actually help much at all. Parks and nature centers sit above roads in the layer order, so they butt into the roads and even cross them entirely in some places. Meanwhile, the runways at the airport appear to have been rendered as if they were roads. The map also features one of the most ridiculously oversized north pointers I’ve ever seen.

The other big failing of this map are the icons used for different points of interest on the map. Three of them – apartment or mobile home park, shopping center or mall and point of interest itself – all have quite similar visual shapes (they’re all roughly rectangular within the enclosing ellipse shape) and thus are quite difficult to tell apart at the small sizes used on the map. Bizarrely, the icon used for recreation facility is a comedy cap with a propellor on top! What?

Our rating: Works – just – as a somewhat functional map because of the small size of the network. Still serves as a cautionary tale as it gets an awful lot wrong. One star.

1 Star

Source: Official TRANSPO website (scroll down to the “Rider’s Guide” section)

Official Map: MARC Commuter Rail Map

Ugh. A terrible JPG of a decidedly ugly map. There’s so much to dislike about this: the blocky label type; the tiny, indecipherable symbols used for the Metro and light rail in Baltimore and the insultingly poor renditions of the logos of connecting services (WMATA, Amtrak and VRE); the ridiculously ornate and garishly coloured compass rose; the soft “glow” effect applied to the MARC routes… the list goes on. Not to mention the mistakes, like the incorrect colour for the Brunswick Line on the legend and the missing “railway line” ticks on he Camden line.

Our rating: Slipshod work with an ugly result. One star.

1 Star

Source: Maryland Transit Administration website

Official Map: “BUZ” Frequent Service Bus Network, Brisbane, Australia

"BUZ" apparently stands for "Bus Upgrade Zone", a somewhat convoluted way to refer to frequent service routes — every 10 minutes in peak periods and every 15 minutes at other times. That Brisbane has 20 such frequent service routes is actually pretty impressive, but the map itself is not.

What a horrible, twisted, messy, scraggly attempt at a network map this is. Completely diagrammatic in some parts, and overly precise in others: what is with the ridiculous twists in the two routes at the very top of the map? The central part of the map is simply ghastly, with absolutely no thought as to how to group routes together properly. Routes that leave the city headed towards a common direction or destination should all be grouped with each other, not randomly separated as they are here.

Why does the western end of the Maroon Cityglider have a slight non-standard and visually distracting angle applied to it?

Looking at the map, but not the legend, tell me if the last stop at the eastern end of the Maroon Cityglider is Stones Corner or Langlands Park. It’s the former, although the placement of the labels leads you to believe its the latter.

The 90-degree curve on the cyan Route 340 line through the city centre is terribly drawn and — appallingly —  runs into the lime green Route 196 terminus at Merthyr.

Station dots that don’t align with the route line they’re on, badly implemented arrows that point at stations that are too far away from their labels, labels that aren’t consistently aligned (there’s a thought for another tutorial!), insipid typography (Arial!), strange spacing (what’s with the giant empty gap in the middle of the southern leg of Route 100?)… the list of awfulness goes on and on. 

Our rating: Not thought through at all and almost incoherently executed. It’s like a first draft by someone who’s never made a transit map before. Who signs off on these things? One (incredibly generous) star, and that’s only because I was born there and have a sentimental attachment to the place.

1 Star

(Source: Translink Queensland website)

Official Map: Verkehrsverbund Ost-Region Tarifzonenplan, Austria

Okay, my head is officially reeling here. Try as I might, I can barely make any sense at all of this fare zone map from Austria’s Verkehrsverbund Ost-Region, the transport association that handles rail and bus transit in Eastern Austria (in effect, the Greater Vienna area).

I get that there are eight concentric zone rings radiating out from Vienna, each of which is broken up into smaller zone areas, but after that…

There just seems to be so many exceptions to the zones as to make the system impossible to understand. There are multiple extensions from one zone from another along rail lines, and also the ever-so-helpfully named “Zone Conflicts”, where multiple zones could apply depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going to (shown by hatching in the colours of all the competing zones).

Add to the that the rather frenetic indication of bus routes (like a big scribble all over the map) and the incredible amount of labelling just about everywhere, and it’s all a bit of a confusing mess to me, unfortunately.

Unless readers from Austria can tell me that they use this map regularly and actually find it useful in their trip planning, I’m going to have to give this one star. Getting around by transit shouldn’t be this obtuse.

1 Star

(Source: Offical VOR website)

Official Map: Metropolitana di Napoli - 1 of 2

Following on from the last post, here’s a map of Naples’ Metro system. Strangely, there are two completely different maps of the system available on the official MetroNapoli website: probably because different transit agencies control different lines. MetroNapoli runs only Lines 1 and 6 and Naples’ extensive funicular system, which is what is shown on this map. I’ll cover the other map, which does show all services in Naples as a unified map in my next post.

Have we been there? Yes, in 2003. Almost predictably, there was a massive public transportation strike the very first day I was there. Fortunately, it was resolved the next day, so I could catch the Circumvesuviana train (not shown on this map) out to Pompeii and Herculaneum, both of which are incredible archaeological sites.

What we like: Comprehensive and nicely laid out legend, including something I’ve never seen on a transit map before - the location of the IHA hostel! To be fair, I have heard that the hostel in Naples is pretty darn pimping… although it’s currently impossible to get to it from Napoli Centrale station using the transport shown on this map.

I like the idea of the notches out of the route lines to indicate stations - it’s a distinctive visual device, but I’m just not sure it’s executed particularly well in this instance.

What we don’t like: Randomly angled route lines throughout: the extension of Line 1 ends up looking like some sort of crazy race track!

Strange colour choices - the salmon used for the funiculars is especially odd, while the grey used for the names of planned stations is almost unreadable in some places.

Labeling is a bit ugly and intrusive: the giant labels for the names of the funicular lines being the worst offender. Not too sure about the very severe, angular font used, either.

Our rating: Strange, random and chaotic: a fairly accurate depiction of the city itself, in my experience. 1 star.

1 Star

(Source: Official MetroNapoli website)

Official Map: Miami-Dade Metrorail System

Miami’s Metrorail just opened a new station at Miami International Airport, and decided to create an entirely new line (the Orange Line) to celebrate. Along with that, comes a new system map… which is, unfortunately, pretty terrible.

Have we been there? No.

What we like: The icon for overnight/long-term parking lots is actually pretty neat.

What we don’t like: Poorly chosen background colours make the road grid hard to distinguish from the background. On that note, why include the road grid at all if none of the roads are labelled? And do we really need to see all the runways and taxiways at MIA?

The two route lines are incredibly poorly drawn, with very sloppy curves - especially into the MIA station and between the Civic Center and Culmer stations. There’s a slight gap between the lines between South Miami and University stations, so it looks like the lines were drawn separately next to each other, rather than using tools in the software to duplicate or offset one line to create the other. Shonky.

Huge and ugly station name labels.

Our rating: GIS software really should be taken away from people making transit maps for public consumption. This map is uninspiring, bland and poorly executed. 1 star.

1 Star

(Source: Official Miami-Dade County website)

Official Map: Rapid Transit of Cleveland, Ohio

After posting a photo of a vintage Cleveland RTA rapid transit map, I was curious as to what the current map looked like. Oh dear. Maybe I shouldn’t have looked.

Have we been there? No.

What we like: Sadly, the best thing about this map is the nicely retro-styled RTA agency logo. As for the rest…

What we don’t like: Multiple angles for route lines instead of the standard 45-degrees looks messy and poorly thought out. Strange spacing of stations on the eastern part of the Green Line.

Multicoloured concentric rings for interchange stations gives a strange rainbow vibe to the whole map that becomes quite jarring when four colours -green, red, blue and silver - are used at the Tower City station. Strangely and inconsistently, this concentric ring device is not used on the Waterfront Line, with two half rings being used instead.

The Waterfront Line is also drawn with thinner lines than the rest of the map, which confused me greatly at first: isn’t it just an extension of the Green and Blue Lines? I had to do some research to find out that the Waterfront Line only operates on weekends - an incredibly vital piece of operating information that isn’t indicated on the map at all. A simple addition to the legend would have worked nicely here.

Embarrassingly desultory addition of the HealthLine BRT route.

Our rating: Ugh. An ugly, confusing, inconsistent mess. One star.

1 Star

(Source: Official RTA website)

Official Map: Bus Routes of Tulsa, Oklahoma

Time for another entry in the Worst Map Contest, and this one, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, is right up there with the very worst.

Have we been there? No, and on the evidence of this map, I’m not sure I want to.

What we like: I will say that the labelling of the street grid along the edges is actually a very clever idea that frees up the centre of the map for the routes.

What we don’t like: First off, the quality of the map is simply terrible: JPG artefacts from over-compression, resulting in blurry type and route lines. The typography, both of the map title and the transit agency logo, is appalling and seems to have escaped from 1984 or thereabouts.

Poorly conceived, generic icons, some of which scale terribly down to the size used on the map. Look at the icon for Universities/Colleges: what is that? A palm tree?* The bus station icon fills in so badly that it’s almost impossible to work out what it actually represents.

The downtown area is terribly cramped and poorly drawn. There are dotted lines for some routes with no explanation of what that means in the key.

There’s a freakin’ rainbow gradient in the north pointer.

Our rating: Embarrassing. One star, and that’s only because I’m reserving half a star for something truly heinous. Already, after just two blog posts, Michael Champlin’s alternative map looks far more promising and definitely a project worth following as it unfolds.

1 Star

(Source: Official Tulsa Transit website)

*PS: Yes, I know it’s a mortarboard cap and tassel, but it shouldn’t be such hard work to see that. At the size it’s used on the map, it becomes a blobby mess and could be just about anything.

Official Map: TRAX and FrontRunner Rail Map, Salt Lake City, Utah

By all accounts, the Utah Transit Authority’s rail system is a modern and successful one. However, this is something you’d never guess from their system map, which is one of the most cobbled-together, unprofessionally done maps I’ve ever seen.

Have we been there? Yes, but I’ve never caught the train there.

What we like: The required information is there to be found if you can bear to look at the map long enough.

What we don’t like: Put simply, this is terrible, terrible work.

The downtown area is ridiculously cramped (the Planetarium and Arena station dots actually overlap slightly!), leading to some ugly and difficult to follow labelling of stations, especially between the Gallivan Plaza and 900 East stations. Things could be improved somewhat by setting the station addresses in a smaller, lighter font to at least alleviate some confusion.

The lines that point from the labels to the stations have no consistency at all: some are longer than the station name, others are shorter, leading to a very messy look.

The map also seems to think that its users are utterly incapable of understanding what a “transfer station” is, as it includes giant, redundant call out boxes that point at five separate stations explaining the concept.

The call out boxes for the stations that allow transfers to different modes are large and intrusive and could be much better handled with icons that represent each mode.

The inset map of the track layout at Fashion Place West station is somewhat useful (although I think signage at the station itself would suffice, as it’s not a particularly complex arrangement), but looks like a generic piece of clip art.

The presence of ESRI fonts in the PDF of this map leads me to believe that this map is based off GIS data, which has only been slightly tweaked to create the final map. Both for aesthetics and information hierarchy, I think the map could have greatly benefited from being redrawn from scratch to allow better spacing of elements. Other parts of the map, especially the call out boxes, need to be rethought completely.

Our rating: Awful. 1 star (and that’s probably being generous).

1 Star

(Source: Official UTA website)