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.
(Source: Official Israel Railways website)
Unofficial Maps: Bus Routes of Greater Israel/Palestine
Here’s a pair of maps that transcend my normal method of reviewing maps and demand a more serious approach, as well as a commentary on the power of design to shape and influence our thoughts.
These two maps show exactly the same thing - bus services out of Jerusalem and into Palestine. The route lines are identical on each map. The first map presents the services from an Israeli perspective, while the second map presents them from a Palestinian point of view. The differences are striking.
The Israeli map has a calming grey background, and the text presents the bus services as a way of linking and benefiting Jewish-Israeli communities on both sides of the prosaically named “Security Fence” (an understatement reminiscent of the Berlin Wall being simply referred to as the Sektorengrenze, or “sector boundary”). The Security Fence itself is de-emphasised by being shown as white against the grey background, while the 1949 Armistice Line is barely visible at all.
In contrast, the Palestinian version of the map has a dramatic black background, and the text uses words like “illegal” to describe the bus routes shown. The Security Fence is renamed as the “Separation Wall” and is emphasised strongly by thickening it and colouring it yellow, contrasting strongly against the black background. The land between the Separation Wall and the 1967 Green Line is hatched, bringing into relief the land that Palestinians believe have been stolen from them by Israel over the years.
Place names on both the maps reflect their backgrounds - Judea and Samaria on the Israeli map become the politically-charged “The West Bank” on the Palestinian map. Subtle differences in the size and position of Israeli settlements reflect the two opposing views on their legality.
Our rating: Extraordinary example of how design decisions can completely alter the tone and bias of a map. In isolation, each map would present a compelling argument for each position - by comparing them, we can see how we are influenced by what the map designer chooses to show, and by how they choose to show it. Five stars.