Historical Map: Boston Rapid Transit Map, early 1980s

Submitted by “Some Assembly Required” who says:

I’ve been enjoying your site for some time and recently remembered that I have an old MBTA system map in my basement. It came into my possession via a roommate over 20 years ago; I’m not sure how that person came to have it, but it probably wasn’t entirely legal. It’s a piece of metal (some sort of tin?) so I believe it was removed from a station.

Based on what is and isn’t on the map, I believe it dates to the early 1980s.


Transit Maps says:

You own this? JEALOUS.

(And your dating seems to be about right; definitely no later than 1985 1982.)

  1. Camera: CASIO COMPUTER CO.,LTD. EX-Z700
  2. Aperture: f/2.7
  3. Exposure: 1/30th
  4. Focal Length: 6mm

Historical Map: Original 1967 Boston MBTA “Spider” Map with 1980s Additions

What we have here is a 100-percent original 1967 Boston MBTA “spider map" as designed by Cambridge 7 Associates, but with some very unofficial later additions.

The minor additions are the lengthening of two names on the Red Line to later versions — “Kendall” becomes “Kendall/MIT” and “Charles” is now “Charles/MGH”. No problems there. The real eye-opener is the addition of the Red Line extension past Harvard to Alewife. The sticker used has discoloured relative to the rest of the map, so the amendment is very easy to spot.

Now, this extension was fully open in 1985, so let’s date the additions to then. The rest of the map still dates from 1967, so huge parts of it are now horribly out of date. Green Line “A” branch to Watertown? Closed in 1969. Orange Line Charlestown Elevated to Everett? Demolished in 1975. Nothing shown for the Braintree branch of the Red Line, which was well and truly open for service by 1985.

The southern leg of the Orange Line — the Washington Street Elevated — is still accurate for this time period, as it wasn’t torn down until 1987. And we’ll give the “E” branch extending to Arborway and “Washington” station the benefit of the doubt: they both changed in 1985 as well. Still, this map must have been totally confusing for anyone trying to actually use it to get around!

However, this map continues a fine Boston tradition of adding information to old system maps: see here and here

(Source: Boston Andy on Twitter)

Unofficial Map: Boston “T” Map Made From Pipe Cleaners

In a similar vein to this London Tube Map made from paperclips, here’s a perfect little Boston “T” map made from other innocuous household objects. Created by the very talented Andy Woodruff of Axis Maps and Bostonography, who obviously had way too much spare time on his hands one day.

Historical Map: MBTA Keychain, c.1980-1984, c. 1978-1979

Submitted by dinnerkettle, who says:

Inherited this MBTA keychain from my aunt recently. There’s no exact date on it, but it was definitely made before the red line got extended past Harvard and before some other stops got renamed.


Transit Maps says:

What a great piece of transit map-related ephemera! The best I can date it is after 1980 (when Braintree opened; an arrow points to it at the bottom right of the map), but before 1984 (when the Red Line extended past Harvard to Porter). Also of interest is the extension of the “E” branch of the Green Line all the way to Arborway: this was cut back to Heath Street in 1985.

While obviously based on the classic Cambridge Seven Associates “spider map” that first appeared in 1968, there’s a very curious misspelling of Northampton station as Northhampton (note the extra “h”), which makes me believe that this was produced by a third party vendor under license from the MBTA.

It also looks like the artwork was screen printed in five separate colours: red, green, blue and yellow/orange for the route lines and black for the stations and type. The Blue Line is registered terribly, almost completely missing the station markers along it.

UPDATE: David Sindel’s comment below and a little more sleuthing leads me to revise the date to c. 1978-1979. “Columbia” instead of “JFK/UMass” definitely dates it prior to 1982, and his reasoning about the alternate Harvard stations in the early 1980s is sound.

But the kicker is actually in the map itself, which uses black dots for the stations. By 1980, all stations except the four main interchange stations in the middle of the map were shown using white dots, and the western end of the Red Line had been flipped up at a 45 degree angle.

  1. Camera: iPhone 4
  2. Aperture: f/2.8
  3. Exposure: 1/15th
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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.

3.5 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.

3 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 19 18(!) 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?

(Source: t55z/Flickr)