Historical Map/Photo: Installing an Enormous Northern Pacific RR Map, 1917

A fantastic photo that shows a huge map being installed through a window at the Northern Pacific offices in St. Paul, Minnesota. The short article that accompanied the photo when it was first published in Popular Mechanics in February 1917 says:

A railway map of enormous size was recently installed in the immigration department of the Northern Pacific Railway offices in St. Paul. It measures 69 ft. long and 11 ft. wide and required the services of nearly a dozen men to carry it. The map shows that portion of the United States between the eastern boundary of Minnesota and the Pacific coast, and the entire Northern Pacific Railway system, including practically every station on the line. The whole representation is done on such a large scale that even the lettering used in the names of the smallest towns can easily be read several feet away.

Despite its great size, the map appears to be pretty coarsely executed. The presence of what looks like large handwriting — it’s not sign writing, but is written in a natural hand — across the top of the map leads me to think that this is some kind of photographic enlargement from a much smaller original map, although I have no idea how such large prints would be accomplished with early 20th century technology.

Source: Making Maps: DIY Cartography

Historical Map: Southern Pacific “Red Electric” Tracks in Downtown Portland, c. 1920

Scanned from the book “The Red Electrics: Southern Pacific’s Oregon Interurbans" by Tom Dill and Walter Grande.

This handsome map shows the routing of the Southern Pacific’s electric interurban trains through downtown Portland from their northern terminus at Union Station. These trains, popularly known as the “Red Electrics” after their distinctive carriages, ran from Portland all the way down the Willamette Valley as far as Corvallis, 85 miles distant. Service started in 1914, extended to Corvallis in 1917 and ceased in 1929; just 15 years later.

These big, heavy trains ran right down the middle of Fourth Avenue from Union Station with an intermediate stop at Stark and Fourth. At Fourth and Jefferson, the lines split into two services: the “Westside” route served Beaverton, Hillsboro, Forest Grove and Carlton, while the “Eastside” line served Oswego, Sherwood, Newberg and Lafayette. The two routes connected in Saint Joseph, just north of McMinnville, and then continued to Corvallis.

Of further interest, the map also shows the route of the competing Oregon Electric company, running down 10th Avenue and Salmon Street. Their terminus station was at 10th and Hoyt (the train barns still exist, repurposed as fancy loft apartments on either side of 10th Avenue), with stations at 10th and Stark, 10th and Alder, Salmon and 5th/6th, and Jefferson and Front (modern-day Naito). Also seen is the incredible network of streetcar lines at the time, visible on almost every downtown street!

(Source: jackonflickr/Flickr)

Historical Map: TriMet Bus System Map, Portland, Oregon, 1978

Not much use for route planning: this map was really made just to show how the routes that ran into the city centre were grouped into geographic regions and denoted by a colour and an icon. While stops along the transit mall are now marked with boring old letters, back then these cheery and oh-so-1970s symbols guided you to the bus stop you needed. Also very 1970s: the tightly-kerned Avant Garde typeface.

(Source: TriMet’s “How We Roll” blog)

Updated: Aerial Photo Transit Map of Portland, Oregon — Now with Bus Routes!

Taylor Gibson’s aerial photo map of Portland’s rail and streetcar routes is one of the most popular posts ever on Transit Maps, so I thought I’d pass on this update to it, which now shows the bus network as well. The colours used match the official TriMet system map, although Taylor hasn’t shown peak hour-only services like the 51 up through Council Crest.

What this view really shows to effect is Portland’s grid-like bus network, which you can read more about (and learn why it’s so good) on Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit blog.

(Source: Submitted by Taylor to the Transit Maps Facebook page)

Submission - Unofficial Map: Portland, Oregon Rail Network by Taylor Gibson

When Taylor sent through his aerial photo map of Portland the other day, he also submitted this very interesting isometric map of the city’s rail network (MAX, WES and streetcar). Tyler is a self-proclaimed “total newbie at making transit maps”, but this is definitely a pretty solid effort.

Highly reminiscent of this isometric map of Stuttgart (Oct 2011, 5 stars), the 30-degree-angled route lines allow station labels to be set horizontally without clashing with each other, even in the congested downtown area. The only real problem area is the almost unavoidable mess created by the four separate “Pioneer Square” stations right in the middle of the map. I’ve noticed that these have been consolidated into one “mega-station” on TriMet’s new in-car maps, and that’s definitely a cleaner, more sensible approach to the problem in my eyes.

I also see a little influence from my own map of Portland’s rail system: both in the layout of the legend, and the fact that Taylor has decided to show the new MAX line to Milwaulkie as an extension of the Yellow Line, rather than the commonly expected “Orange Line”.

I do have a few minor criticisms: text in general is a little small and hard to read, although I can see how larger text would cause layout problems (perhaps a condensed typeface could solve this), and there are a couple of confusing label clashes: the parking symbol for Gateway TC is right on top of the station marker for Parkrose/Sumner TC, for example. It’s also a little sad to see the streetcar relegated to thin unlabelled lines, but the space limitations of the map almost demand this treatment.

Still, for a “newbie”, this is pretty darn awesome. Great work, Taylor!

Submission - Aerial Photo Transit Map of Portland, Oregon

Submitted to the Transit Maps Facebook page by Taylor Gibson. While nowhere near as complex as the New York system featured previously, it’s still an interesting look at a successful rail transit system.

For those unfamiliar with Portland, the thicker lines (Yellow, Green, Blue and Red — shown here as pink for visual clarity, I think) are the MAX light rail, while the thinner aqua and lime green lines are the Portland Streetcar, which has recently expanded to the eastern side of the Willamette River (the top half of this photo).

Eventually, the aqua “Loop” streetcar line will cross back over to the western side of the Willamette at the extreme right of this photo via the new transit-only bridge that is currently being constructed. The bridge will also carry buses, pedestrians, cyclists and the new Orange MAX line.

(Photo Source: DubbaG/Wikipedia — Creative Commons License)  

Official Map: Portland MAX Horizontal Strip Map

The newest rolling stock used on Portland’s MAX light rail (Siemens S70 cars, known as “Type 4”) has enough room above the doors to display a horizontal version of the system map. Types 1 through 3 don’t have this space, and instead display an unwieldy portrait-oriented version of the map that bears little resemblance to geographical reality.

Interestingly, this map is not the same as the official system map found on TriMet’s website or ticket machines (despite sharing the same orientation and very similar proportions) but instead is yet another completely different layout. Wisely, the information on the map has been simplified down to the essentials — route lines and stations. Even the WES Commuter Rail has been omitted: there’s simply a note at the Beaverton Transit Center station noting that transfers to the weekday rush-hour only service can be made.

However, the map is also arguably the most geographically accurate version that TriMet has made: the Red and Blue lines take a big detour southwards from Sunset TC to Beaverton TC on the west side, just like in real life. Similarly, the Blue Line’s realignment from alongside I-84 to E Burnside St after Gateway TC makes an appearance. Even the slight changes in direction at either end of the Blue Line are reminiscent of actual geography.

Finally, of particular interest to me is the map’s striking use of 30- and 60-degree angles. Hmmmm, where have I seen that before?


  1. Camera: iPhone 5
  2. Aperture: f/2.4
  3. Exposure: 1/120th
  4. Focal Length: 4mm

Portland, Oregon: New Motor Coaches Replace Last Street Cars, February 26, 1950

Here’s an amazing full page ad that ran in The Oregonian on Thursday, February 23, 1950 to announce the end of an era in Portland. The last few remaining streetcar lines — to Council Crest, Willamette Heights and 23rd Avenue — were going to be replaced by “the very latest design in city transit equipment”, modern motor coaches. It’s interesting to compare the bulky, inefficient buses depicted here with their modern equivalents, especially in light of the glowing copy in the ad:

"The finest in heating and air conditioning … extra large windows for better natural light … increased electric lights … comfortable seating with deep upholstery … low entrance and exit steps".

The ad also includes a number of surprisingly clear and attractive route maps for the most popular lines, many of which were subject to route changes because of the then-new system of one-way streets that was being introduced in downtown Portland at the same time as the equipment change. The ad also exhorts the reader to contact the Portland Traction Company (PTC) Dispatcher if “route and schedule folders are desired” — we’re a long way from real-time arrivals information on our smartphones here!

Click through to Flickr to view the ad at a size where you can (just) read the type. Also, compare with this handsome map of PTC services from 1943 (April 2012, 4 stars) — all the streetcar routes shown on that map (the yellow route lines) have disappeared just seven years later. 

(Source: pdxcityscape/Flickr)

Unofficial Map: Portland MAX Light Rail — Super Mario 3 Style

Here’s the latest “Mario Map” from the incredibly prolific Dave Delisle (seriously, how much cool stuff can one guy pump out?). This one is of my home town of Portland, Oregon, and Dave actually enlisted my help in checking the accuracy of the route layouts and the spelling of the station names. Considering the ridiculous length of some of the station names in the system and the limitations of the 8-bit art style, Dave’s done a great job at fitting everything together in a very plausible and attractive manner.

Of course, in true Portlandia style, Dave has literally “put a bird on it” — there’s also a non-birdified version over on his website if you don’t get the joke. Also of note is Dave’s playful take on the TriMet logo, and the fact that our princess seems to be stuck out at Expo Center, the poor thing.

(Source: Dave’s website — posters are for sale!)

Submission — Official Map: Josephine County Transit Bus Map, Oregon

Submitted by Matthew Harris, who says:

This is the official transit map for Grants Pass, Oregon (Josephine County) and it will supersede your German map (February 2013, 0 stars) as the worst transit map.


Transit Maps says:

I knew it!!!

I knew as soon as I gave a score of zero, something else would appear that was even worse. A blurry, muddy, incomprehensible mess without any useful labeling at all. The inclusion of property boundaries on the background layer makes the main part of the map (the city of Grants Pass, Oregon) so dark that it’s impossible to tell where the black “transfer points” actually are.

Our rating: The only thing saving this map from a rating lower than zero is the fact that there’s a Google Maps transit planner link on the County website, which actually works rather well. It really should just act as the official map, because this is terrible.


(Source: Official Josephine County website)

Side Note: 500th post on Transit Maps! Yay!