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
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)
As you may know by now, I create my own transit maps as well as write about them. But unless you’ve been following me for a while, you may not know exactly what I’ve done, and what I currently have available for purchase this holiday season. Here’s a quick rundown:
Interstates as a Subway Map and US Highways as a Subway Map
These two posters are by far my most popular items. Because I can print in bulk with my supplier, the fantastic Wallblank Printery, the price on these is excellent for the superb quality. Each 36” x 24” poster is just $39 plus $10 shipping, or you can buy a combo pack of both posters for just $68 plus shipping — a saving of $10 over buying each poster individually.
This will be the last Christmas that I offer these posters for sale, as I have plans for something bigger and better next year (which I’ve already been dropping hints about). So, if you’ve been thinking about picking one — or both — of these posters up, do it now. You won’t get another chance. Click through to the order page on my website here.
Not all the maps I create generate as much interest as the ones above, but I still make them available for purchase through my Society6 store. As these posters are print-on-demand, the cost per unit is a little bit higher than the ones I order in bulk through Wallblank, but these are still excellent ideas for unusual gifts for the transit geek in your life.
Note: Due to the fine type and detail in many of these maps, I really, really recommend that you purchase only the LARGE or X-LARGE print sizes that Society6 offers. You will almost certainly be disappointed (and the type will be illegible) if you go smaller than that.
Amtrak Passenger Rail System
Fully updated for 2012, this map shows all of Amtrak’s passenger rail services — split into route lines and colour-coded in the style of a subway map. Big preview here on Flickr.
Boston Rapid Transit Map
My own original redesign of Boston’s transit map. Comes in two flavours: one with key bus routes and the other without (which I like better — the map looks so much cleaner without it).
European International E-Road Network
A couple of years old now, but still one of my favourite maps. Who knew Europe had an international network of routes?
Rail Transit of Portland, Oregon
My own original version of a unified rail map of my home, Portland, Oregon. Shows MAX Light Rail and the Portland Streetcar — including the new Central Loop line on the eastside.
Passenger Rail of Portland, Oregon | 1912 | 1943 | 2015
Overlays passenger rail services — light rail, streetcar, interurban and intercity trains — from three different eras for a comparison of how things have changed over time.
Official Map: The Wave Bus Network, Nantucket, MA
Here’s a nice little bus network map sent my way by long time Twitter follower, Gordon Werner. Designed by Smartmaps, Inc., it shows the seasonal shuttle bus service on Nantucket Island, known as “The Wave”. Almost predictably, “Ride the Wave!” is their slogan. Is the surf even that good in Nantucket?
Have we been there? No - only to the next island over, Martha’s Vineyard.
What we like: Nicely executed, attractive looking bus route map that neatly doubles as a guide to the major sights and attractions of the island. As the majority of users of the bus service would be visitors to the island, this is a welcome addition (the summer population of Nantucket increases five-fold, from 10,000 to 50,000 people!). Lovely nautical-themed border around the map, although I feel that it could perhaps have been divided into half-mile increments for scale, rather than being purely decorative. Simply lovely little compass rose. Shows bike routes as well.
What we don’t like: The “Wave” logo itself is probably the weakest part of the whole map, and its modern design stands a little at odds with the olde-world nautical theme of the rest of the map. On a map of this small a scale, it would be nice - and useful - to have every stop marked, rather than just two or three in the main downtown area.
Our rating: Solidly designed, useful and attractive. And it’s hard to dislike a map which has the Windswept Cranberry Bog as a destination. Four stars.
Historical Map: Boston Sights
Boston seems to rival only Washington, DC for old system maps being left in place at stations and on trains. This photo was taken in August of this year, but the map dates from between 2004 to 2008 (the extension of the Silver Line to City Point is the giveaway). I’d probably lean towards the earlier end of that range, due to the “Silver Line Waterfront” designation.
One thing to note is how much cleaner this map looks than the current one: helped a lot by no geography at all, no key bus routes, and interchanges with commuter rail being marked with a neat purple square rather than the entire line.
That’s not to say that the map isn’t without its little quirks, though - the large initial capital letters on the station labels are pretty ugly and the triple asterisk as a footmark notation at Bowdoin station is faintly ridiculous. And the Silver Line still joins onto the loop around Logan Airport the wrong way…