Unofficial Map: MBTA Map Contest Entry by Michael Kvrivishvili
Here’s another entry for the MBTA’s map contest, sent to me by Michael Kvrivishvili, a graphic and interactive designer from Moscow.
Michael has chosen to show all of the services on his map that the MBTA does on their map — subway, BRT, commuter rail, key bus routes and ferries. He pulls it off pretty well, too, although the convoluted network of bus routes is always going to look a little busy.
Like Kerim, Michael’s map features a perfect diamond representing the downtown interchange stations, and he also manages to fit in all the Green Line stations.If it wasn’t for the little flip in the Red Line to Braintree, he’d also have a perfectly straight diagonal line across the map! Despite these similarities, the two maps are really quite different.
Much like the current Washington DC map, Michael has added badges to the end of each line that denotes that line’s name — ”OL” for Orange Line, and so on — an excellent aid for color-blind users of the system. He also adds the full name of the line in very small text within each line, which seems redundant and is also far too small to be of any real use.
For the most part, Michael’s handling of the commuter rail lines is well done: they’re obviously lower in the information hierarchy than the main subway lines, but still look attractive. Again, the ends of the commuter rail lines feature some lovely and unusual arrowheads — I love this sort of attention to detail. The one place the map is not as clear as it could be is at Readville station. The Fairmount Line terminates at this station, while trains on the Franklin Line stop, but trains on the Stoughton/Providence Line pass through without stopping. On Michael’s map. the Franklin Line looks like a continuation of the Fairmount Line (which isn’t named on the map), and there’s no visual indication that Stoughton/Providence trains don’t stop here.
There’s more usability problems with the Silver Line at Logan Airport. Michael shows all the stops, but he doesn’t show how the route loops around. From the information shown on the map, a reader might expect that once the bus reaches the end of the line at Terminal E, it reverses back along the line, stopping at the other terminals again along the way. A similar problem is evident with the end of the SL2 line at Design Center (also a loop in real life).
Interestingly, Michael has chosen to show non-accessible stations on the map, rather than accessible ones. This actually works quite well at cleaning up the central part of the map, where there are more accessible stations than non-accessible ones.
A few other thoughts: the legend at the bottom of the map is beautifully laid out; the subway to bus/commuter rail symbol is subtle but effective; and the bus routes are generally pretty well done. Also, the Silver Line makes a big capital “B” in the middle of the map!
Our rating: Really quite good. The few shortcomings are probably due to Michael’s unfamiliarity with the system and look like they could be easily fixed. Three-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Email from Michael, also on Flickr)
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)
Topology versus Geography in Transit Maps
Here’s a nice little animated diagram from Fathom Information Design that compares the two polar opposites of transit mapping using Boston’s MBTA rail network as an example. Click through to play around with it, and see the benefits and drawbacks of the two approaches. It’s also super fun to watch the map morph between the two styles.
In real life, most transit maps fall somewhere between these two extremes: very few use such a strict topological grid, and completely geographically accurate maps are also very rarely used for this purpose — even the New York subway map has a certain level of simplification and abstraction.
Non-Entry for the MBTA “New Perspectives” Map Challenge
I love the idea of re-designing Boston’s clunky quasi-decipherable Rapid Transit Map. When I heard that the T was putting together a challenge to re-design the map I seized the opportunity. My enthusiasm cooled once I read the fine-print, but more on that later. I spent the weekend tweaking Bezier curves and aligning dots (so many damn dots), using references like Google maps and subway maps from around the world and came up with this.Notably absent from the current map is any green space or any of evidence that humans live and work here. Olmsted’s parks have the decidedly un-manly name of “The Emerald Necklace” which I why I suspect they are absent from the current map. The parks really are a treasure though, and some believe that Franklin Park is Olmsted’s masterpiece trumping his more famous Central Park in New York. ( I confess that I have never been there, though I try to ride my bike to the Arboretum every summer). I did my best to tweak the parks’ geography to the rigidity of the map, as well as keeping them to scale with the Common and Rose Kennedy Greenway.
I named relevant waterways and some government buildings and landmarks. The choice not to overdo it with too many of them is a conscious one. The downtown region where all the lines meet is busy enough already that I simply could not include certain important landmarks. Also, station names that match locations like “Museum of Fine Arts” and “Aquarium” already do the job.The handicap accessibility symbol is necessary but also robs any map of rhythm and intent. My work-around was to create descriptive keys for each major lines listing the sub-lines and their teminuses (termini?) with a statement identifying stations that do not have accessibility. The Red Line only has one non-accessible station, the Blue Line -two. The Silver and Orange Lines have access to all of their stops. I feel this solution is an aesthetically stronger choice than to have the symbol at every accessible stop.The Green Line, however, requires such identification because the inaccessible stops outnumber the accessible ones. I’m not sure how ADA-compliant my idea is in the real world.
Also, naming all of the stops on the Green Line became important. Easy enough to do with the C, D, and (especially) the E lines. The B-Line with its super long names and
1918(!) stops proved a challenge. I’m guilty here of omission and abbreviation (The “Griggs St/Long Ave” stop is now just “Griggs St”) but -hey- the T really should shorten those names. While they’re at it, they should eliminate some stops if they can.
I also took liberties with the names of the Silver Line, um, lines. “S1” simply fits better on a map than “SL1”. Personally, I think it looks better too and is potentially less confusing for the commuter.
So there it is… I would say that its kind of a love letter to this place that I have lived in for 12 years, but that’s over-stating it. It was just wicked fun.
Creating something and then surrendering copyright is tantamount to Work for Hire. With this ‘challenge’ (note, they are shrewdly not calling it a contest), the T wants Work for Hire… for Free. It’s unclear what the incentive is to enter the challenge if there are no prizes and especially if, according to T spokeswoman Kelly Smith:
“Replacing all of the maps in the MBTA system would represent a significant expense and not one that is being contemplated at this time.”
So, from here it seems that the T is claiming copyright on all the entries so when they do re-design the system map, they can pick and choose great ideas from each without compensating anyone for them. Classy!
Even the perpetually cash-strapped T can throw a bone to graphic designers that need to put in at least a weekend of work to make something look decent. If they really, really wanted designers to care, they could put some meat on that bone. I ride the commuter rail 4 days a week… I’ll take a yearly pass. I’m not alone in thinking this. In fact, American Institute of Graphic Arts points out that designers should never provide anything of value if they are paid nothing of value. So, T… pay for quality graphic design. Oh, and get rid of “forward funding” to finance yourself. That’s just common sense.
Transit Maps says:
Dave’s map has some neat new touches that I really like — the inclusion of Boston’s extensive parklands is lovely — and he’s really put a lot of thought into everything, as his commentary above shows.
Some elements aren’t quite as successful as others: while his “Line Keys” work well, condensing accessibility information into easily digestible blocks, his repetitive naming of the commuter rail lines (especially the quadruple naming on the south-eastern branches) is just redundant. I’d also have to say that making the B, C, and D branches of the Green Line the same length on the map would be confusing for most users — the D branch extends much further out to Riverside and operates more like a normal train service than the at-grade B and C branches.
However, one thing I totally agree with Dave on is his stance against the MBTA’s shameless grab for free creative ideas, as I’ve already posted about here.
Design the Boston MBTA Map — For FREE!
So the MBTA is having a friendly little “contest” for people to design a new “T” map, ostensibly in celebration of National Transportation Week. How sweet and fun!
Let’s get real here, people.
This is speculative (“spec”) work, pure and simple. The MBTA wants to harvest ideas for a future map from entries, but doesn’t want to pay a red cent for them. The winner gets nothing but kudos and the “privilege” of having their map displayed on the MBTA website and at the State Transportation Building for an unspecified period of time.
Meanwhile, the MBTA gets it all:
“All submissions shall become the sole property of the MBTA. The MBTA shall own the entire copyright in all submissions selected, in whole or in part, for use in the final map design.
Competitors whose submissions are not selected, in whole or in part, shall grant to the MBTA a worldwide, perpetual, gratis license to reproduce and/or use the submission in any way, in any medium now known or hereafter devised, for any purpose, including but not limited to publication, exhibition and archive of the competition results.
Submissions will not be returned to competitors after the contest and access to the submission will not be allowed at any time. Therefore, it is important that competitors photograph their submissions and/or retain at least a copy of the submission materials. Once received, submissions become the sole property of the MBTA.”
That’s right: the MBTA owns everything, lock, stock and barrel. You, on the other hand — no longer owning the rights to your own hard work — probably can’t even put it in your portfolio.
Simply put, this competition is insulting to designers and cartographers — skilled practitioners of a difficult and complex discipline of design — who deserve their talent to be recognised and rewarded. There are plenty of amazing professionals in America who make their living out of designing maps — good, usable, beautiful maps — all of whom would love to work on this project, and would do an excellent job of it.
As long time readers of this blog know, I’m not a big fan of the current MBTA map, and I’ve already done my own redesign of it, which I’m actually very proud of (seen above and in more detail on my design blog). My map isn’t the perfect square that MBTA design standards require, because I made a conscious decision to show and name all the Green Line stations. Eventually, I was going to get around to making a square version, but not now. Not now that I know the MBTA is looking for free ideas for their map. If the MBTA likes my ideas for their map — and they’ve surely seen enough of my body of work to know that it’s good — then they can bloody well pay me for it.
(For more on spec work and why it’s bad for the design industry, visit nospec.com)
This design is and always will be ©2012 Cameron Booth
Fantasy Map: Subways of North America by xkcd
My Twitter feed and my Tumblr inbox are both absolutely overflowing with references to this map from the “xkcd’ web comic, so here’s a post about it!
xkcd has always been a comic for geeks, and has a long history of awesome map-related work — my favourites include this Lord of the Rings movie narrative map, and the particularly carto-nerdy discussion of map projections — so it’s nice to see the strip’s attention turn to this particular facet of cartography. Randall Munroe’s typically wry sense of humour can be seen in a lot of the labels on the map: “graveyard for passengers killed by closing doors”, the “Green Line extension to Canada” from Boston, and the inclusion of the infamous Springfield Monorail from The Simpsons. It’s definitely worth exploring in great detail — my favourite is probably the inclusion of the idiosyncratic and once-futuristic Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit system at West Virginia University as the connection between Washington, DC and Atlanta.
A lot of people are already having issues with Randall’s definition of a “subway”, which he defines thusly:
For the pedantic rail enthusiasts, the definition of a subway used here is, with some caveats, “a network containing high capacity grade-separated passenger rail transit lines which run frequently, serve an urban core, and are underground or elevated for at least part of their downtown route.” For the rest of you, the definition is “an underground train in a city.”
If we’re going to be pedantic, then there are some strange omissions — Seattle’s Central Link light rail (grade-separated, frequent, serves the city and runs underground through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel) just off the top of my head. I feel sure many people could think of others!
What the map does show well, even in its cartoon-like execution, is the complete dominance of New York’s subway system (the mouseover tooltip for the comic states that about one in three North American subway stops are in NYC). Randall has remained quite faithful to the actual official system maps for each component city, so New York ends up taking up a huge portion of the map.
But, despite the undeniable brilliance of this map, I know I’ve seen very similar pieces before this. This more serious map of almost exactly the same thing was featured on the Beyond DC blog last month, and this awesome piece by Bill Rankin from 2006 which shows all North American metro systems (a far more inclusive phrase than “subway systems”) at the same scale is also highly reminiscent of this piece. In the end though, it’s infused with enough wacky “xkcd-ness” to make it take on a life of its own.
Historical Map: Outdated Sign at Readville MBTA Station (c. 1986)
Here’s a photo taken in 2011 of a fantastic old and faded sign at the Readville MBTA station in Massachusetts.
As the original poster on Flickr points out, trains no longer run from Readville to Attleboro along the Providence/Stoughton Line: trains on that line pass through Readville without stopping. Of course, the fact that the sign refers to the last outbound station as “Attleboro” is an anachronism within an anachronism, as the map shows Providence, Rhode Island to be the last station.
It seems pretty clear to me that the signage is a remnant on the old platforms that were used for Providence/Stoughton service up until 1987. I’d say the map is from late 1986, a date backed up by the fact that the Fitchburg Line is shown as extending through to Gardner, a station that closed on January 1st, 1987.
Anyone know if the map is still in place?
Unofficial Map: Boston MBTA Commuter Rail Time-Scale Map
We’ve previously featured Stonebrown Design’s time-scale Boston Subway Map (Aug. 2012, 3.5 stars) — now they’ve produced a map for Boston’s extensive commuter rail network along the same lines.
To my mind, this map is even more successful for a couple of reasons: firstly, the time rings are completely concentric, which makes the map easier to read and looks more aesthetically pleasing. It’s interesting to see how fare zones don’t necessarily correspond to the amount of time it takes to get to central Boston.
Secondly, the addition of service frequency to this map (simply put: the thicker the line, the more trains per day) is quite fascinating and is handled very deftly. The legend regarding this is perhaps a little confusing, but all you have to remember is that a station dot that is smaller than the line is wide indicates that not all trains that pass the station stop there. The sheer number of trains that funnel through Back Bay station is quite astounding.
Our rating: Building and improving upon previous work, this is a fantastic piece of work. 4.5 stars.
(Source: Stonebrown Design)
Submission: MassDOT Boston Green Line Extension Planning Map
Submitted by phytopathology. A fairly bare-bones GIS map of the planned northern extension to Boston’s MBTA Green Line. However, it clearly shows how the line will utilise the existing commuter rail right-of-way, something I took advantage of on my MBTA map redesigns to indicate this future service.
Boston MBTA Green Lne Average Weekday Traffic (2010) by Barrett Lane
Wednesday’s post, Subterranean Veins of Europe, and its discussion of design choices distorting data reminded me of this map/graph sent to me by Barrett Lane last year. At first glance, this is a really neat and cleverly devised concept: the ridership numbers for each station on Boston’s Green Line are presented in the form of a stylised map of the lines, with vertical bars representing those numbers. It looks great, there’s some solid data behind the graphic, and the visual conceit is very appropriate.
However, there’s one major flaw that — for me — stops this graphic from being a total success. Barrett has used three different vertical scales for his graphs, which prevents rapid visual comparison between numbers (which one might say is the whole point of graphical presentation of data).
The same height represents 5,000 riders on the “B” and “C” branches, 4,000 riders on the “D” and “E” branches, and 20,000 on the main trunk line. The graphic would be far more effective if the bars for the trunk line stations towered above those of the branch lines, don’t you think?
(Source: Barrett Lane)