Submission - Official Map: Pittsburgh Light Rail System Map

Submitted by Dan Daly, who says:

Here is the Pittsburgh light rail map. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. In my opinion it is kinda useless not because of it’s design but because it only covers the light rail. Very little of the urban part of the city is actually covered in this map. If the busways were fully included with station names and the links to the T stops it would be much more useful for someone trying to find their way around the city.


Transit Maps says:

It seems a little unfair to me to single out this one particular light rail map for not showing other transit modes when there are plenty of other maps that do exactly the same thing — my own city of Portland, Oregon makes no reference to bus services on its MAX light rail map. Generally, an overall system map will include all modes of transit — a light rail map like this is then also offered to show this particular mode in full detail without the clutter of the other modes.

So while I can’t really find fault with the scope of this map, I certainly can with the execution. It’s another example of the frustratingly average transit map design seen throughout much of the United States — uninspired typography, dull, unexciting colour choices and poor/strange informational hierarchy.

I especially take issue with the way that stations with high-level platforms are given so much more visual prominence over low-level platforms, with both a bigger station marker and larger, bolder labelling. While it’s good to know whether you’re boarding on the level or via stairs (the light rail trains in Pittsburgh have two front doors, one at each level), it doesn’t justify giving one type of station so much more visual emphasis over the other. Apart from the different platform heights, there’s no difference between these stations — the larger, bolder type should really be reserved for interchange or terminus stations only.

The other thing I’ve long disliked about this map is the weird jog that the Red Line takes through Fallowfield station, which “breaks” the line into two segments at that point. For the longest time, I thought this meant that riders had to change trains here or something, but it just seems to be an unnecessary design element casing that confusion.

The inclusion of busways on this map seem like a complete afterthought: only one busway actually interfaces with the light rail (and even this isn’t made clear with the stations closer to downtown), and the minuscule green route line shown for the West Busway just seems insultingly pathetic.

Our rating: Relentlessly mediocre. Two stars.

2 Stars

(Source: Port Authority of Allegheny County website)

Official Map: Madrid Metro Tourist Map

A few people have requested this recently-introduced “simplified” Metro map from Spain’s capital, so here goes…

Introduced with much fanfare earlier this month, this new version of the Madrid Metro map is aimed solely at visiting tourists, showing where all the main zones and points of interest are in relation to the comprehensive subway system.

This kind of map is hardly unique — London has had a central city bus map showing points of interest for years now (Feb 2012, 3.5 stars) — and this is not one of the more successful efforts in my eye. The Metro lines themselves are laid out clearly enough, in nice smooth, friendly, looping lines and the stations and main interchanges are easy to enough find. But the rest of the map just seems to be trying way too hard to be casual and inviting, with a weird clash of visual styles and typography.

There are some nice touches here and there — the scratchily-illustrated waves in the lakes are quite lovely — but there’s a lot that just looks slapdash as well. The illustrations for the points of interest look like run-of-the-mill clip art, with no real unique style (compare to the buildings on the London map, which are beautifully and uniformly drawn). The eight “zones of interest” could really use some colour-coding to differentiate them from each other, and the default Adobe Illustrator “scribble” effect used to shade them just looks weak.

The typography veers from trying too hard (the hipster hand-drawn block heading typfeace) to the downright ugly (is that condensed Comic Sans that’s being used to label the points of interest?).

Our rating: It does the job, I guess, but could have been so much more with a little more attention to detail and craftsmanship. Two stars.

2 Stars


Official Map Update: Denver RTD Light Rail West Line

Transit Maps reviewed Denver’s light rail map way back in October 2011. We weren’t too impressed with it then, and nothing much has changed with this new edition that marks today’s opening of the new (aqua) West Line out to Golden.

The map itself has had to change orientation from portrait to landscape to fit the new route in, which raises the question of how it’s going to fit into existing fittings on trains and stations. The new format also seems to make a lot of the labels — especially those on the underlying street grid — very small and hard to read.

The route lines on the map are still very poorly dawn. Lines that run parallel to each other appear to have been drawn individually, rather than offsetting a master line with the tools available in most illustration software to ensure accuracy (Hint: in Illustrator, this would be the Object > Path > Offset Path command). As a result, there’s some very ugly and inconsistent gaps between routes in places. The curves are also generally badly drawn: the loop around the city would look so much better as a proper circular arc, while the sudden jog in the West Line at Federal Center looks positively dangerous for riders!

Finally, it looks as if the designer forgot to group all the roads together before reducing their opacity: it looks especially horrid where I-25 and I-225 intersect.

This is very much an interim map: the RTD’s FasTracks program is going to expand the passenger rail system in Denver hugely in the next few years — both light rail and commuter rail. However, that still doesn’t excuse sloppy work like this. 

Our rating: Nothing’s really changed since last time in terms of execution or quality. Still two stars.

2 Stars

(Source: Official RTD website)

Official Map: Israel Railways Passenger Services, 2013

Originally sent to me as a photo by long-time reader and contributor, Sam Gold, I thought this map was interesting enough for a full review. It shows all the passenger rail services in Israel, which are divided into nine operational routes, plus a night route than runs the length of the main north-south trunk line.

Have we been there? No.

What we like: Clear coding of the routes in attractive colours. The night service is handled deftly, with a distinct visual difference between it and the regular routes. The bilingual labeling is mostly nicely done, although a couple of stations at the southern end of the “Red Line” have their Roman script left-aligned when right-aligned would be more appropriate.

What we don’t like: The whole map feels a little disjointed to me. In a diagrammatic map like this, the main north-south trunk line from Nahariyya to Be’er Sheva really could be turned into a straight line — a strong visual axis that underpins everything else. Instead, it weaves uncertainly all over the place, leading to some awkward spacing between route lines and other elements

Stations that are recommended as interchanges have a bar linking all the lines, while other stations that serve multiple lines just have unconnected dots. I’d prefer to see them linked with a thin black line, just so it’s obvious that all the dots collectively belong to one station.

Although this is a diagrammatic map, the scale of some elements is very odd. Stations in Tel Aviv, which have to span across seven lines (plus the night line at Savidor Center), seem to take up half the width of the country, while the “Brown Line” from Be’er Sheva - North to Dimona — which is actually a 40-kilometre (25 mile) journey, appears to be a tiny shuttle trip, as its route line is only just longer than the distance shown between Be’er Sheva - North and Be’er Sheva - Central: a real-life distance of just over a kilometre!

Our rating: Serviceable enough, but visually, a whole lot more could be made of the main north-south trunk. Two stars.

2 Stars

(Source: Official Israel Railways website)

Official Map: Merseyrail Network, Liverpool, England

Submitted by ma77design, who says: I think it’s one of the most unattractive and horribly designed transit maps out there. It hasn’t been redesigned or reworked for a large number of years. It’s choice in colours is uninspiring and doesn’t really offer much to people using it.

Transit Maps says: While certainly not the worst transit map out there by any stretch of the imagination, this map is so bland and generic that it looks like it escaped from the cookie-cutter factory. There’s no major technical defects or horrible mistakes, but it’s just so… meh.

Aesthetically, things could be easily improved by rounding the corners where routes change direction and adopting a more contemporary colour palette (that yellow fare zone is pretty hard on the eyes). The part that needs the most work is definitely the table of station details underneath the actual map, which is pretty terrible. The table alone takes this down from a completely average (meh) score of 2.5 stars to a lowly two.

2 Stars

(Source: Official Merseyrail website)

Historical Map: Sydney Suburban Rail Network, 1969 

Here’s an interesting map from my hometown of Sydney, Australia from around 1969. Unusually, it doesn’t display different services as separate coloured route lines: everything is shown as one uniform orange line. It also displays the distance from Sydney Central station (in miles), and the elevation (in feet) of each station. Non-electrified lines are shown as dashed lines. These odd features lead me to believe that this is a map for internal NSW Railways use, and was never intended for use by the general public.

Our rating: Of historical interest, but pretty bland and bare-bones. 2 stars.

2 Stars

(Source: navarzo4/Flickr)

Official Map: Metrô Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Here’s a map that’s going to be seen a lot by tourists over the next few years as Rio de Janeiro hosts both the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. Will it stand up to such international scrutiny and join other transit maps as a definitive icon of its city?

Probably not.

Have we been there? No.

What we like: Suitably bright and exotic Brazilian colour scheme. Relatively clean and simple design.

What we don’t like: Poorly drawn route lines with some very uneven curves, which clash stylistically with the very straight “Subway Bus” route lines. Heavy-handed elements throughout the map, including very large and bold text for station names and enormous bicycle parking icons. Inconsistent placement of connection information: why is the “Cosme Velho” label placed below the station it connects to, when nearby stations have the label placed neatly to the side? Some absolutely hideous distorted text in the legend below the map.

Our rating: Not great. 2 stars.

2 Stars

(Source: Official Metrô Rio website)

Official Map: Denver RTD Light Rail

Here’s a transit map that can’t seem to make up its mind whether it is a rectilinear diagram or a geographically accurate map, and it ends up paying a price for that indecision. Overlaying the routes on a city-wide street grid can work well (see the Barcelona map posted previously), but here it seems to force the routes to be subservient to their geography, rather than the other way around. The labelling of the roads is also far too small to be really useful, and they often struggle to stand out from the oppressive grey background the map is placed on. There’s also some odd design choices, like placing the routes on the south-eastern leg out of alphabetical order: “H”, “E” and “F”, when it would be very easy to run the blue “H” line to the right of the red “F” line and maintain the correct order.

Have we been there? I’ve been to Denver, but haven’t ridden the train.

What we like: A nice, distinctive transfer station symbol works well and is a different approach to most other transit maps.

What we don’t like: A lack of craftsmanship in the drawing of the route lines. Spacing between the lines varies widely and curves are very uneven, creating a very slip-shod feel to the map. Extremely cramped downtown area and heavy-handed treatment of the free mall transfer bus service. Legend and fare boxes look very tacked on.

Our rating: It is clear and easy to understand, just unexciting and technically poor. Needs to evoke “Denver” a lot more to be truly successful. Two stars.

2 Stars

(Source: Official RTD site)