Official Map: Tri-Rail Commuter Rail, Southern Florida
I’ve had a couple of requests to review this one, so here goes…
For me, this map is an excellent example of the overwhelming averageness of a lot of transit mapping here in the US. Yes, it does the job — you can work out how to get from here to there and where to make connections — but it’s just so completely bland and unmemorable.
Everything about the map seems to be completely generic, from the stock ESRI icons for airports and connecting services to the dull and tired Arial used for the labels. The beige background and thick, heavy black route line don’t help matters either. This is Florida here: how about some bright, sunny colours?
For me, the Tri-Rail logo itself suggests that the lovely blue in the central icon could be used as the colour for the main route line — the orange and green have already been used for the connecting Metrorail services, so why not continue with that colour theme and leverage the service’s branding a little more?
Speaking of the Tri-Rail logo, its placement in a white box within the blue header bar is awful — either reverse the logo out in white (if corporate standards allow) or put it on a light background. Similarly, the Interstate and U.S. Highway markers look odd when they’re contained in a white square.
A note regarding labelling: consistency is hugely important to produce an attractive map! Labels for the Metrorail services use all sorts of different sizes — “Douglas Road” is absolutely tiny compared to the other stations for no apparent reason. The names of the three counties that give Tri-Rail its “tri” are almost completely unreadable — light grey against a green/beige background and they also have a little offset drop shadow effect behind them that further obfuscates the text. Yes, this is subsidiary information, but it still needs to be readable.
On a more positive note, it’s nice to see that the map at least attempts to integrate services from different transit agencies, something I wish more maps that serve a large region would do.
Finally, examination of the PDF seems to suggest that this map was at least output from Microsoft Publisher: not a first-choice map/diagram design tool.
Our rating: Bland, dull and forgettable. Could easily be so much better and evocative of the area it serves. One-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official Tri-Rail website - PDF link)
Also see the similarly dull and unattractive Miami-Dade Metrorail map (Aug. 2012, 1 star). Florida doesn’t inspire great map design, apparently.
Official Map: Gauteng Metrorail, South Africa
Submitted by scsj, who says:
Metrorail in Gauteng (Johannesburg/Pretoria/Soweto/Germiston), South Africa. I don’t know, I find this map monumentally confusing. There are way too many colors and none of the lines have names, there’s no scale or anything to indicate location other than station names, it’s so cramped, and it sacrifices too much geographic accuracy for the sake of the design - for example, the offshoot of the dark blue line between Johannesburg Park and Pretoria is actually west of the main part of the line, not east. And why is the spacing mostly uniform everywhere except the Centurion and Midrand Gautrain stations?
The interesting thing is that Gautrain is among the best, most user-friendly transit systems I’ve ever used. I haven’t used Metrorail in Gauteng, but I have used it in Cape Town, and the quality is much lower. Gautrain is aimed at upper and middle class suburbanites whereas Metrorail is aimed at the working class, who by and large commute in from the far-flung townships they were forced into under apartheid.
Transit Maps says:
It’s pretty hard to disagree with this summary: this really is a pretty dismal effort of a map. The most ridiculous part has to be the naming of all eleven route lines in the legend as just “MetroRail Line”, not as destinations or even route colours. Absolutely and astonishingly useless.
The other main problem is the lack of any semblance of geography or scale. This system is huge and sprawling: it covers an area around 150 km tall by 120 km wide (90 x 75 miles), but you’d never know it from this map. As an example, Nasrec station is less than 10 km away from Johannesburg Park Station, and over 60 km from the southernmost station, Vereeniging — yet here they seem almost equidistant. While I understand that this is a diagrammatic representation of the system, some concession to showing the distances a traveller can expect to cover needs to be made.
Colour choices are generally hideous as well: cyan interchange markers clash with almost every line they cross, and we also have retina-searing magenta and yellow “Business Express” markers just to make sure no colour feels left out.
Finally, absolutely every single station label is set at an angle — and in all four possible 45-degree orientations as well: Erik Spierkermann would have an absolute fit if he ever looked at this map.
Our rating: Technically, it’s actually drawn quite well — no errors, consistently drawn lines, no-nonsense sans serif typeface (some variant of DIN?) — but the end result still manages to be quite dire. 1.5 stars.
(Source: Official Metrorail website - PDF link)
Official Map: San Francisco Bay Area Regional Transit Map
Submitted by Reed Wagner, who says:
This map appears to be part of a greater “wayfinding” campaign by the SF Bay Area MTC - it appears at major Caltrain, Muni and BART stations and presumably is elsewhere (I took this picture at Caltrain 4th & King. In comparison to the maps made by SF Cityscape like this (external link: PDF), it seems that the official MTC map is falling short in every regard other than information overload in a messy form.
Transit Maps says:
It’s pretty difficult to disagree with Reed’s summary of this map: it is messy, cluttered and difficult to decipher. It’s a little unfair to compare it to the excellent SF Cityscape map (which only shows rail transit and thus becomes less cluttered instantly), but this is still pretty poor work. The main failings, in my opinion:
It’s neither a map or a diagram, and suffers from this hybrid approach. Cities and towns are in (or close to) their correct geographical location, but are simply connected with straight lines between them, creating a lot of very unattractive angles throughout the map.
The ugly and unnecessary feathered shading behind the route lines to denote (very approximate) urban limits. Use a label for each major city: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, etc, then let the station names do the rest of the work. This map has enough problems with colour already (see next point) without introducing more!
Finally, the legend of the map indicates that there are 38 (yes, 38!) different transit agencies or services shown on the map, and the only visual difference between them is the colour of their route line. It’s too much work for colour to do alone, and certainly isn’t very colour-blind friendly! Some attempt at differentiating modes (BART, commuter rail, bus, Amtrak, etc.) by using something like different stroke widths would allow less colours to be used overall (as the same colours could then be used more than once), while also adding an extra dimension of useful information to the map.
Our rating: More hindrance than help — the information as shown takes way too long to be interpreted by the reader, which isn’t very useful at a crowded railway station! One-and-a-half stars.
Official Map: Opolskie Voivodeship Railway Network, Poland
The whole map is a bit of a mess, with all sorts of random angles everywhere (both route lines and station labels), but what really takes this map into the land of the bizarre are the big photos of trains superimposed over it. It’s like someone said, “Hey, there’s a bit of white space left over — what can we fill it up with? I know! How about some shots of our trains, and we’ll rotate them so it looks like they’re travelling along the tracks? That’s a great idea!”
NOT. One-and-a-half stars.
Official Map: Des Moines DART Bus System
Submitted by “ZMapper”, who included a link to the full map on the official DART website.
Have we been there? No.
What we like: At first glance, this looks like a nice, clean, modern-looking system map — a breath of fresh air that stands out from the usual geographically-based “road map” bus maps. However, there are some serious usability issus that detract from the light and airy look, which I’ll discuss below.
I do like the geographical downtown inset — while it’s not a radical thing to do, it is handled quite deftly. And the approximate time to/from downtown markers are handy, if a little cumbersome in practice.
What we don’t like: First off, I loathe it when a transit agency refuses to offer a downloadable PDF on their website. DART instead makes you load the map in a clunky zoomable Flash interface, which you can then scroll around. And that’s the full extent of “interactivity”: you can’t click on a route for more information, for example.
And you really would like to be able to do that sometimes, because the map has absolutely no legend. What does a route number in a circle mean as opposed to one in a square? What do dotted route lines mean? (Answer: it means two completely different things. The dotted green route lines across the middle of the map indicate sections of express routes where the bus doesn’t stop; other dotted lines — where the dots actually merge into a “sausage link” shape — indicate intermittent service. But you’d never know that from the map itself).
Express routes (Route numbers 9X) are all shown in the same shade of green, but that’s the only visual differentiation they have from other routes. Even worse, Route 52 is a similar — but not identical — green, causing a lot of confusion on the left side of the map.
The delineation of neighborhoods by use of big balloon shapes is pretty unsuccessful and ugly. Even worse, there’s not a single street name on the map outside of the downtown inset. Bus riders rely on this type of information when deciding whether to use the system far more than subway or commuter rail riders and its omission is baffling.
To round things off, there’s a number of technical errors in the map, especially where corners haven’t been joined properly and white keylines appear across the middle of a route line.
Our rating: Looks glossy and modern, but suffers from huge usability problems. The definition of style over substance. One-and-a-half stars.
Official Map: Bus and Tram Network Map, Strasbourg, France
In general, I hold European transit maps in better regard than maps from other parts of the world. Crisp, clear European graphic design and transit maps just seem to be made for each other! Of course, there’s always exceptions to the rule, and this map from the Compagnie des Transports Strasbourgeois (CTS) in Strasbourg, France is one of those exceptions.
Have we been there? Yes, in December 2003. I found the trams pretty easy to navigate at the time.
What we like: Not a lot. Seriously, this thing hurts my eyes.
What we don’t like: Ugly, ugly, ugly. Black edges on all the route lines makes the map look very heavy, despite its light yellow background.
The typography is extremely poor - the main typeface used is Helvetica Neue, but it has been horizontally scaled to create a faux condensed version, instead of using the actual Helvetica Neue Condensed font. Even worse, the amount of scaling it has been given varies from place to place across the map, depending on how much text the designers need to squeeze in. And squeeze it in they must, because the centre of the map is absolutely jam-packed with routes, station names and icons. Not helping this cramped feeling are the enormous boxed-in route terminus names and the biggest (and possibly ugliest) Park-and-Ride icons I’ve ever seen.
There’s also an error in the legend: Stops that only serve one direction should be shown as a dot with a black arrow pointing in the direction of travel, but the legend shows no station marker at all.
Our rating: Yuck. One-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official CTS website)
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)
Official Map: Philadelphia SEPTA Network
After quite a few stellar maps, it’s time to show what I consider to be one of the least successful transit maps in current use in the US. To put it bluntly, SEPTA’s map is an unappealing, jumbled mess and certainly does not get me excited to use their system (a major plus point in my internal scoring system).
Have we been there? No.
What we like: Deserves credit for attempting to show so many different modes on one map as well as connections to other, unrelated, services - Amtrak, PATCO and the River Line in Trenton, NJ. Pity it’s so ugly.
What we don’t like: Oh dear, where to begin?
Huge blobby terminus stations on the regional rail lines. Incredibly tight spacing between stations on the 101 trolley line. Compare the dense 101 and 102 trolleys with the other trolley lines, which peter out into unconvincing arrows after a few stops - mainly because the designer couldn’t work out how to fit them in the space allocated, I think. Where is Port Richmond, anyway? This map sure doesn’t tell me.
No visual distinction that the Red PATCO line isn’t part of SEPTA’s services (you have to read the legend to find that out).
Yellow “Free Interchange” symbols are U-G-L-Y. Curves on the Regional Rail lines are inconsistent and technically deficient (look at the one heading north to the left of 30th Street Station and how it’s been hideously bent to avoid the word “Amtrak”).
While the rivers have been rendered in diagrammatic form, the map still wants to show every single little twist and turn in the shoreline - overwrought and unnecessary (as well as badly drawn - lots of non-45-degree angles can be seen).
Finally, this map totally fails the color-blind test: almost everything ends up yellow or blue with very little contrast between adjacent lines and nothing on the map apart from colour to link the routes to the legend.
Our rating: I call it “the blobby map”. Hideous and unwelcoming. One-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official SEPTA website)
Official Map: New Jersey Transit Rail System
This morning, an interesting tweet came across my desk: “NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein unveils new customer friendly rail system map at today’s board meeting” with a link to the new map. Always eager to check out a new transit map, I clicked through… and was incredibly underwhelmed by what I saw.
Far from being the paradigm of customer friendliness that was promised, this map comes across as sad, tired and amateur. It seems to have taken elements from many different transit maps and mashes them into one big mess. We have the thick route lines and giant circle transfer stations of Washington, DC Metro, icons for the lines similar to - but nowhere nearly as well executed - the Lisbon Metro, and different station symbols for each and every mode of transit.
Admittedly, this map faces some unusual challenges in that it shows a state-wide system, rather than just a smaller city. Because of this, some semblance of geography and distance between stations has to be shown. However, I feel that there has to be a better solution than this, where the light rail systems around Hoboken and Newark are crammed into a tiny space with miniscule station names, while vast amounts of space remain empty throughout the rest of the state.
The stylised geography also troubles me - what exactly happens to the Delaware River when it gets to Port Jervis? And why do we need to see the vast empty bottom part of the state, especially when it cuts an ugly swathe across the informational text at the base of the map.
Have we been there? Yes - I’ve caught the train from Newark Airport into New York Penn Station.
What we like: Ambitious scope, attempting to show all rail services in the state of New Jersey - NJ Transit, PATH, light rail systems, as well as an indication of connecting services in neighbouring states - MTA, SEPTA and stations serviced by Amtrak. This is the first real transit map I’ve seen with a QR code on it - I wonder what it does?
What we don’t like: Unfortunately, despite its best intentions, this map is hideous. Almost everything - from the icons and colours chosen for the main routes, to the typography, to the clumsy treatment of the geography, to the enormous circles used for transfer stations, even the spacing of the stations - looks amateur and poorly thought out. Suffers even more from having to include every logo of every separate transit agency.
Our rating: A hugely wasted opportunity to create something memorable and exciting. One-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official NJ Transit website - PDF)