A Better Denver RTD Strip Map?
People have already asked me what I’d do to make the Denver RTD strip map better. Well, here’s what I’ve come up with in five minutes flat. Even from this quick little “art director’s sketch”, I’m pretty certain that this concept would work better than the current iteration.
Once a transit system is past a certain size or complexity, some level of abstraction on these narrow oddly-shaped strip maps is a necessity. Once the rider is actually on the train, the most important information that they need is “how many stops until I get off/change trains”, not the physical reality of the system. Extraneous information like fare zones and street grids can be stripped out, leaving only the vital information behind.
Lessons in how NOT to adapt your map to a different shape, Denver edition
When I reviewed the new West Line Denver LTD light rail map (April 2013, 2 stars), I wondered how the new landscape format would work on trains and on station fittings. Well, one half of that question has been answered: this is what it looks like on the trains, and it ain’t pretty.
Basically, they’ve just taken the map and compressed it vertically to squeeze it into the allocated space. The loop around the city, which was already a pretty poor excuse for a circle, has now become a weirdly distorted oval, and all the inaccuracies where routes run concurrently have been magnified. Even in this angled photo, you can see huge differences in the spacing between the C, D, E, F, and H lines, especially between the I-25 & Broadway and Alameda stations.
The format also leads to huge amounts of empty, wasted space and teeny-tiny labels for the stations: not exactly useful. I will say that the map looks a lot better without the grey background and street grid (which would probably just look ridiculous in this horribly distorted version, anyway).
P.S. How do you make this map better? Here’s what I came up with in five minutes.
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.
(Source: Official RTD website)
Historical Map: Lines of the Denver City Tramway, 1913
While we applaud the Denver Regional Transportation District’s current FasTracks program, which is rapidly building a comprehensive light rail and commuter rail system in the Mile High City, it’s sobering to look at a map like this and realise that 100 years ago, Denver already had a comprehensive transit system. It’s a story repeated across America — Denver, Los Angeles, Portland, Minneapolis/St. Paul and more.
Which Do You Prefer?
Starting a new project - a redesign of the Denver RTD light rail map - and here’s a very initial screenshot of progress so far. Two options shown for the downtown loop: the top one has the lines crossing over each other from the Theatre District station down to California Street, while the bottom one has the lines “peeling” down to California Street. Which do you like best?
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.
(Source: Official RTD site)