Official Map: New York/New Jersey Regional Transit Diagram — Full Review
After our first glimpse yesterday, now it’s time for a more in-depth look at this map. Thanks to everyone who sent me a link to the PDF (and there were more than a few of you)!
First things first: this MTA press release confirms that the map was designed by Yoshiki Waterhouse of Vignelli Associates. It’s definitely nice to see that the original creators of the diagram continue to shape its future, rather than being handed off to another design team.
That said, the original source that this map is based off — the 2008 revision of Vignelli’s classic 1970s diagram, as used on the MTA’s “Weekender” service update website — actually creates some problems for this version of the map.
Because the bright primary colours used for the Subway’s many route lines are so much a part of the map’s look (and indeed, the very fabric of the Subway itself, appearing on signage and trains across the entire system) it forces the NJ Transit, PATH and Amtrak routes shown to be rendered in muted pastel tones in order to differentiate them from the Subway. This results in a visual imbalance between the New York and New Jersey sides of the map: cool and muted on the left, bright and bold to the right. I also feel that the PATH lines up to 33rd Street become a little “lost” compared to the adjacent subway lines.
The other result of using pastel route lines is a loss of contrast between all those lines: they all register at a similar visual intensity, making them a little harder to differentiate. Because of the sheer number of lines that have to be shown, some of the NJ Transit routes have lost their “traditional” colour as used on their own official map (Nov. 2011, 1.5 stars). The Bergen County Line is no longer light blue, but the same yellow as the Main Line, while the Gladstone Line now uses the same green as the Morristown Line. Their original colours get redistributed to New Jersey’s light rail lines and Amtrak.
Some people have noticed that the map shows weekday off-peak services and commented that this is useless for the Super Bowl, which is held on a Sunday. However, the map has to be useful for the entire week of Super Bowl festivities, not just game day, so I feel it’s doing the best it can under the circumstances. If it really bothers you, @TheLIRRToday on Twitter has made a quick and dirty version of the map that shows weekend service patterns. As as has been pointed out to me, service on Super Bowl Weekend will be close to that of the weekday peak, so the difference is negligible anyway.
What bothers me is the fact that the football icon has an extra row of laces. NFL balls have eight rows of laces — the icon shows nine.
Our rating: Based on the classic Vignelli diagram. While it remains true to its minimalist roots, it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessors. The need to integrate so many different routes and services while retaining familiar route colours for the Subway mean that the left half of the map isn’t as visually strong as the right. Still far better than many North American transit maps. It would also make a neat souvenir of a trip to the Super Bowl! Three stars.
(Source: NJ Transit “First Mass Transit Super Bowl" web page — also available on the MTA website)
Unofficial Map: Suburban Rail Network of Mumbai, India
Designed by two students — Jaikishan and Snehal — at Mumbai’s Industrial Design Centre under the supervision of Associate Professor Mandar Rane. While it looks like quite a traditional transit map, there’s a few innovations and design choices (of which some work, and some don’t) that make it interesting to study.
First off, this map is infinitely better than the official one, which is a bit of a mess however you look at it.
Normally, I’m not a huge fan of pseudo-geography behind a diagrammatic map, but I think this actually works rather nicely. The interesting textural treatment of the water is particularly nice.
I also think that the explicit labelling of slow and express (fast) routes is surprisingly effective and definitely leaves no confusion as to which is which. The “play” and “fast-forward” arrows for each service type are a cute touch, but also act as good visual contextual cues.
While naming the lines on the map is a good practice to assist colour-blind users, I think there’s a bit of overkill here for a map this simple. The Central and Western Lines are labelled no fewer than four times each — the one for the Western Line at the bottom left of the map is particularly egregious as the route lines have to take a little jog to the left to accommodate it!
The only part of the map that I would change completely if I had a chance is the grid system. While it’s laudable that the designers have attempted to come up with an new, easier way to locate stations on the map (and it’s very clearly explained in the legend of the map), I feel that the end result has way too much visual importance. The numbers that denote each square are large and visually distracting, and can’t be placed in a consistent location because the actual map (the important stuff!) gets in the way. The haphazard placement of these numbers combined with the checkerboard pattern also makes the map look more than a little like a board game, which probably wasn’t the intended result.
In my opinion, the traditional letter-number grid system — a system that almost all map users around the world are familiar with through years of exposure to it — would work much better here. The letters for the columns (A-D) and numbers for the rows (1-6) could be placed discreetly in the orange border around the map and the distracting numbers removed completely from the main map. If required, the smaller “Find Your Station” grid in the legend could spell out the full grid location within each square (In the example they use, Wadala Rd. station would be at B-4).
Apart from that, there’s just a few missing spaces between words to be fixed and consistency checks to be done — the map needs to use either “Rd.” or “Road” in station names, not both. Space limitations would seem to suggest that the former would be more appropriate here.
Our rating: A considered and well-measured approach to developing something beautiful, modern and usable, although some of the map’s innovations don’t quite work. Three stars.
Source: Professor Rane’s website. I definitely recommend clicking through, as there’s a lot of interesting background on the development of the map, including a Q&A with Jaikishan and Snehal, and images of concept maps that they worked on independently before combining their ideas into the final map. I’m quite partial to a couple of the maps that use 60/30-degree angles myself!
Future Map: Singapore MRT with Future Extensions
I reviewed the official Singapore MRT map back in January 2012, and was generally in favour of it (giving it four stars). So it’s interesting to look at this version of the map, which includes extensions that are currently under construction or in the final stages of planning. There are two entirely new lines — the blue Downtown Line and the brown Thomson Line, as well as an eastern extension to the green East-West Line. There’s also a new light rail loop being added to the far north-eastern sector of the city.
The problem with this map is that the new lines have simply been overlaid on top of the existing older version, and they then have to take some very strange and visually unattractive routes to “join the dots” where they interchange with existing stations. The dashed “under construction” lines also align poorly with station ticks, leaving some of them floating in space between dashes. Finally, the downtown area is also becoming a little tangled and cramped because of all the new additions.
This map still does a very good job, and is still a very competently executed piece. However, some more thought about how to restructure it so that the new lines could be better integrated would definitely have been welcome.
As it happens, I have an unofficial map that definitely does consider how to incorporate the new lines in a more thoughtful manner… but you’ll have to wait for my next post to see it!
Our rating: The original map provides a solid base, but the new additions really aren’t integrated with much thought. A downgrade to three stars.
(Source: Singapore Land Transport Authority website)
Unofficial Map: Minimalist Glasgow Subway by Verboten Creative
A system as simple as Glasgow’s (one loop of track with a mere 15 stations) lends itself well to a minimalist design approach. Indeed, the current official map is pretty darn simple itself.
However, this neat little two-colour poster from Glasgow-based creative agency, Verboten, definitely takes a very different approach to that minimalism. It eschews any attempt at geography, dispensing with the River Clyde completely (although the gaps between the groups of stations give away its location for those in the know). Red lines lead way from large station dots to the corresponding station names, as well as a handy list of nearby points of interest (but not connections to other rail services).
For me, these connecting lines are the weakest point of the poster, being overly busy in some cases (Bridge St, for example) for a “minimalist” poster. I’m also not fond of the way that the lines for Cessnock and Kinning Park cross over each other: Cessnock could easily fit under Ibrox and negate the need for the crossover at all.
The “G” logo is a clever idea: reminiscent of the new “S” logo that the subway has adopted without being derivative of it. I just wish the “G” was centred a little better in the circle (it seems too far to the left to me).
Our rating: Despite my minor quibbles, this is still a very attractive interpretation of this venerable transit system. I especially like the interesting colour palette: soft, yet still dynamic at the same time. Three stars.
Fantasy Map: Tyneride BRT Network Map
Utterly plausible bus rapid transit (BRT) system map for the Tyneside region of England, designed as if it was a division of the Tyne & Wear Metro.
While I can’t comment on whether Nexus/Metro would ever actually operate its own BRT network, I certainly can’t fault the aesthetics of the map itself. It’s absolutely spot-on, mimicking the look of the official Metro rail map (Nov 2011, 3.5 stars) perfectly. The 30/60-degree angles and the use of the distinctive Calvert slab serif typeface all convince the viewer that this is an official Metro map.
If anything, it’s perhaps a little too similar — the only indication that this is a BRT map as opposed to light rail is the red “B - Buses” symbol at the bottom left, a riff off the iconic yellow “M - Metro” logo.
Our rating: A fun visual homage to a well-known system map, although perhaps a little too close to be successfully adapted to real-world usage if such an event ever occurred. Three stars.
Submission - Offical Map: Water Transport Routes, St. Petersburg, Russia
Submitted by nelequetan.
Here’s a very pleasant map that shows the “Akvabusy” water transportation routes in St. Petersburg, Russia, which were introduced only a few years ago in 2010. The service only runs from the end of May until October each year as the city’s rivers and canals all freeze over in winter. The fleet — as shown at the bottom of the map — consists of everything from small 12-seat water taxis all the way up to 120-seat hydrofoils that can reach speeds of 65km/h.
The map itself is very clearly laid out and makes good use of 30/60 degree angles to represent the islands and canals of the city. This does make the one really odd angle — on the blue Central Line to the east of the Summer Garden stop — stand out like a sore thumb, however. I’m also not sure that the little “flick” in the red Kurortnaya line as it nears Kronstadt (in the map’s inset) is really necessary.
The map also has other useful information: the distance to nearby Metro stations is marked where appropriate (although 1,100 metres — over a kilometre! — is hardly a “short walk”), as are the names of the city’s famous bridges, both of which are great for general orientation and getting around.
My one main problem with this map is that the type is tiny and very hard to read. All the iterations I’ve seen are online bitmap graphics with a maximum width of just 1000px or so. A lot of the type, especially the English subtitle labelling, is almost impossible to make out at that resolution.
Our rating: Looks good, contains useful information, but teeny-tiny type lets it down somewhat. Three stars.
Historical Map: 1896 German Map of the London Underground
This map of the nascent London Underground and “other railways” appears in the 14th edition of Brockhaus’ Konversations-Lexikon, a respected German encylopedia that is still in business today. Now known simply as the Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, the 21st edition was published in 2006 and runs to over 24,000 pages in 30 volumes.
The map itself is pretty simple and traditional, notable for being printed in three colours (black, red and a rather lovely teal blue). Production-wise, this means the map was almost certainly printed separately to the main body of the encyclopedia (which was printed with black ink only), and tipped-in by hand as the main volume was bound and assembled.
Also interesting is the map’s use of both German and English labels: while the Underground bears labels like “City u. Südlondonbahn” and the river proudly wears the name “Themse”, many of the main railway lines and localities are named in their native tongue. I’m not sure why this is: perhaps the map was altered or copied from an original English source?
Our rating: With an 1896 date, this is one of the earlier Underground maps I’ve seen, and is interesting just for that reason alone. It’s not the greatest cartography, but it’s not really meant for navigation of the system, but for giving a broad overview in the context of an encyclopedia. Three stars.
(Source: homingmissileglow Tumblr)
P.S. Google Books has a 1908 update of this map available as part of their digitized collection - click here to view it.
Submission — Official Map: Bus and Ferry Network of the Faroe Islands
Submitted by Helgi Waag, who says:
The entire bus and ferry system of the Faroe Islands. The online version is interactive. Hubs are in boxes and sea routes in blue.
The Faroe Islands — a remote island nation under Denmark’s sovereignty located about halfway between Norway and Iceland — isn’t necessarily somewhere you associate with a bustling and modern transportation network, but here it is!
This map shows the Bygdaleiðir, or “village buses”, which connect the cities and towns that are accessible to each other by road (including some that travel through undersea tunnels), and the all-important ferry routes between the islands. The Number 7 route shown on the map between the capital, Tórshavn, and the southern island of Suðuroy is a two-hour journey in good weather.
Not shown are the local buses — or Bussleiðin — in Tórshavn, which are operated by the city council, not the Strandfaraskip Landsins company. Interestingly, these buses are completely completely free of charge, an initiative introduced in 2007 to encourage people to use public transportation instead of driving their cars.
The map itself is a nicely stylised version of the archipelago, and information is presented nice and clearly. Nice bright route colours, too. My only complaint is that the interactive Flash version of the map on the website is the only version of the map available. Not all devices (especially mobile devices!) support Flash, so there should be an alternate image or PDF version easily available for those users.
Our rating: Nice work from an unexpected location. Three stars.
(Source: Official Strandfaraskip Landsins website)
Official Map: RENFE Cercanías Madrid Commuter Rail
Following on my review of Madrid’s old-is-new Metro Map (June 2013, 3.5 stars), I’ve had quite a few requests for Madrid’s commuter rail map, operated by the state-owned RENFE rail company — so here it is!
The map is a very solid effort, with unusual but effective station markers: small squares that “cut through” the route lines. The overall design is very angular, with no smoothing of the route lines or the zone boundaries that sit behind the map. It certainly helps give the map its own unique look, although I find it a little too harsh.
One negative is the ugly route designations — the bold “C” (perhaps trying to look somewhat like the Cercanías logo) next to a condensed numeral just looks odd and the placement of some of them seems arbitrary and/or cramped.
Finally, the depiction of zones on a transit map is almost always problematic: here, the harshly-angled and oddly-shaped grey areas dominate the map far too much, giving it a zebra-like appearance. The zones also require far too many labels, liberally sprinkled just about everywhere.
Our rating: Informational, with a look all of its own, but let down by a few jarring elements. Solid overall. Three stars.
(Source: Official RENFE website)
Unofficial Map: Kerim Bayer’s MBTA Map Contest Entry
While I’m personally not too keen on the MBTA’s map contest, I totally respect the rights of those who still wish to participate. As they’ve told me in conversation, kudos and recognition can be very strong reasons for less experienced or amateur designers to enter. A couple of those designers have sent their entries in to me to review and share with you — this one’s from Kerim Bayer, who also produced this rather striking map of Istanbul’s rapid transit system (June 2012, 4 stars).
To my mind, it’s definitely an improvement on the current map. The removal of the key bus routes helps to create a much cleaner look, although at the obvious loss of that information. The alignment of the Red Line — a strong, straight, diagonal slash across the map — provides a powerful visual axis, as does the perfect diamond formed by the major downtown interchanges (a device very reminiscent to the perfect square seen on older MBTA maps). Kerim has also managed to fit all stations on the Green Line branches into the perfect square required by the MBTA — a formidable achievement indeed!
The white stroke on the commuter rail and Mattapan lines help to differentiate these services from the main subway routes nicely and attractively (I love the arrowheads at the ends of the commuter rail lines), although I think the device is less successful when used on the Green Line. While it’s true that the B, C and D branches of the Green Line do act more like streetcars in the sections indicated, does having this information on the map actually help the viewer in any way? You still stay on the same train from one end of the branch to the other without the need to change trains like you would on the Mattapan line at Ashmont. One could also argue that the D branch also runs on the “surface”, as do portions of the Orange and Blue lines, albeit in specialised rail corridors.
While the typeface used is a lovely, modern sans serif font — Bariol, a welcome and interesting break from the ubiquitous Helvetica — I would say that much of the labelling on the map is too small: Kerim’s Instanbul map also suffered from this. It certainly adds to the clean look of the map, but diminishes its usability — especially when viewed from a distance, as it would often be in the real world at stations.
While Kerim has managed to show all of the stops on the Silver Line 2 BRT route out to Design Center, he has condensed all the Logan Airport stops into one blanket “mega-station”. Knowing that the bus stops at all of the terminals (and actually has two stops at the “B” terminal) as well as the direction it loops around the terminal road is necessary information and — to my mind — really needs to be included in some form.
Our rating: Stylish, clean and modern-looking. The type is a little too small to be easily readable, and some important information is lacking. Three stars.
(Source: via email conversation with Kerim)