Official Map: Brussels Integrated Transit Map
According to my correspondents, Brussels has recently switched from a geographical transit map to this new diagrammatic map. As you can see by comparing the two images of the centre of the city above, a lot of streamlining and simplification has taken place. The first thing that strikes me is the way that many bus routes have either been removed or have been condensed or “collapsed” into a single route line with a common label, simplifying the map immensely. The place where this is really obvious is at Gare du Nord/Noordstation, which now only has six route numbers listed next to it, compared to thirty-six on the previous map!
Major interchanges are now denoted by an enclosing ring, suggesting that all stops at that interchange — be they bus, tram or Metro — are in close proximity to each other. The Paris Metro map uses a very similar device at interchanges between modes.
However, while the map is a huge improvement over the crowded mess of the previous geographical map, it’s certainly not perfect.
The labelling — which admittedly has to overcome the requirement of being bilingual — is a bit haphazard in its application, with some labels for one station overlapping that of another in parts. Major station labels waste a lot of space when there’s only one or two route numbers listed under the station’s name.
Each and every route line is outlined in black, regardless of its colour, which gives a very heavy, cumbersome feel to the map. Normally, only very light coloured routes (yellow or light blues, for example) need this treatment, so I’m not sure why it was deemed necessary here. Also, while the difference in line thickness between trams and buses seems obvious in the legend, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart on the actual map when multiple routes are butting up to each other (Hint: stops on bus routes are ever so slightly wider than the route line — way too subtle for easy mode differentiation!)
The icons for points of interest are all so very generic and bland.
Finally, the colours used on the map seem very simplistic and cartoon-like, stopping the map from having a harmonious, unified feel. Both the green used for parkland and the blue used for water are way too strong and vivid: they compete with the route lines for attention, becoming a distraction.
Our rating: Better than what came before, but still not great. Despite all the reworking, it’s still very cluttered and confusing. The new Ile-de-France Regional Rail map sets the standard for this type of map, and this falls well short. Two-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official STIB website)
Brussels Metro Line Map and Next Train Countdown
A companion piece to the official map (Dec. 2012, 3 stars) on the platform at Rogier station. The look of this map marries with the official map quite well, showing an admirable consistency in application.
Rogier station itself is clearly shown with a nice big arrow and stations before it on the lines are clearly indicated against greyed-out route lines. There’s also a nicely legible countdown for the next two trains, indicating their route number (2 or 6), final destination and estimated time in minutes to arrival. It even looks like the position of all the trains on the line headed in the same direction are shown on the strip map as bright red lights. Now you can see where that train you just missed has got to without you!
The only thing this map fails to show is the circular nature of the routes that the station serves. Routes 2 and 6 form Brussels’ “circle line”, and the two terminus stations for Route 2 — Simonis (Elisabeth) and Simonis (Leopold II) — are really just two different levels of the same Metro station.
(Source: Ian YVR/Flickr)
Official Map: Brussels Metro, Tram and Rail Network
Having touched briefly on the Brussels map with this previous post, I thought it was time to take a proper look at the current official map.
Have we been there? Yes, back in 2003, but I walked pretty much everywhere and didn’t use the Metro/tram system. I did catch trains from Brussels to other cities in Belgium, however.
What we like: The treatment of the Metro part of the system is excellent, with a nice solid 90-degree angle design really accentuating the orbital nature of lines 2 and 6. Strong, yet interesting, choices for the route lines seem to be aimed at maximising contrast between adjacent lines: the lines are paired in colours that are opposite each other on a colour wheel (blue/orange and purple/yellow).
The map still looks nice and clean despite the bilingual French/Dutch labelling required for many stations.
What we don’t like: The map is less impressive when it comes to some of the design choices made for the tram network - the yellow used for line 7 is so pale that it needs to be outlined in grey, which then makes that line look visually too strong. Line 7’s treatment at terminus stations is also inconsistent with all the other lines: its terminus dot sits above the station marker like the others, but its route line lies underneath the station.
An inconsistent approach to naming stations for the tram routes: most of the stations that don’t interact with the Metro system remain nameless, except for a few on the eastern part of Line 7… why are these stations different to the others?
The pastel striped main rail lines take quite a bit of getting used to: the effect does reduce their importance in the information hierarchy, but it all just looks a little 1980s after a while.
Our rating: If it was stripped back to show just the Metro, this would be a wonderfully strong map. As it is, each subsequent mode reduces the visual focus of the map and ends up as a slightly unsatisfying final product. Stilll very competently done, however. Three stars.
(Source: Official STIB website)
Brussels Metro Map Changeover, April 2009
Here’s an interesting pair of photos from 2009 that show two in-car strip maps that co-existed on Metro trains in Brussels. Together, they show the changes in the system that were occurring with the opening of track between the Delacroix and Gare de l’Ouest stations.
Apart from a new look to the map, the system itself seems to have been overhauled completely, with the previous lines “1A” and “1B” becoming “5” and “6”, amongst lots of other changes. Note also the four languages used on the informational stickers: French, Dutch, English and German!
(Source: Daniel Sparing/Flickr)
Metro Mapping, Brussels
Official Map: Belgian Railways Network
Following on from the previous post about Luxembourg, here’s another nationwide system map that resembles a subway map, this time for Luxembourg’s neighbour, Belgium - the land of beer, frites and Tintin!
Have we been there? Yes, during my European jaunt in 2003. I caught trains from Brussels to Ghent, Ghent to Bruges, Bruges to Ypres and Ypres back to Brussels.
What we like: Nice simplification of a relatively complex network. Major hubs are treated particularly well, especially Brussels - which is actually pretty clear even without the inset.Colour is used nicely to provide differentiation between adjacent route lines and zones (which don’t correlate to Belgium’s provinces, as far as I can see).
What we don’t like: The strange placement of elements on the page really detract from the map. The nationwide map could be larger, and the Brussels inset needs to be boxed in and highlighted better.The corporate branding in the bottom right is very average indeed. Orange is a terrible colour for a gradient effect. Awful treatment of the coastline and ocean.
Some odd route choices which may be technically accurate, but don’t help the map to read better. An example of this is the 12 route out of Antwerpen-Centraal, which loops all the way around Antwerp to the south and east before heading north through Antwerpen-Luchtbal towards Amsterdam. This may be what actually happens in real life, but do we need to see it on a simplified diagram to understand where the train goes?
Our rating: Solid effort, let down by some poor page layout. 2.5 stars.
(Source: Official Belgian Rail website)