Fantasy Map: Subways of North America by xkcd
My Twitter feed and my Tumblr inbox are both absolutely overflowing with references to this map from the “xkcd’ web comic, so here’s a post about it!
xkcd has always been a comic for geeks, and has a long history of awesome map-related work — my favourites include this Lord of the Rings movie narrative map, and the particularly carto-nerdy discussion of map projections — so it’s nice to see the strip’s attention turn to this particular facet of cartography. Randall Munroe’s typically wry sense of humour can be seen in a lot of the labels on the map: “graveyard for passengers killed by closing doors”, the “Green Line extension to Canada” from Boston, and the inclusion of the infamous Springfield Monorail from The Simpsons. It’s definitely worth exploring in great detail — my favourite is probably the inclusion of the idiosyncratic and once-futuristic Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit system at West Virginia University as the connection between Washington, DC and Atlanta.
A lot of people are already having issues with Randall’s definition of a “subway”, which he defines thusly:
For the pedantic rail enthusiasts, the definition of a subway used here is, with some caveats, “a network containing high capacity grade-separated passenger rail transit lines which run frequently, serve an urban core, and are underground or elevated for at least part of their downtown route.” For the rest of you, the definition is “an underground train in a city.”
If we’re going to be pedantic, then there are some strange omissions — Seattle’s Central Link light rail (grade-separated, frequent, serves the city and runs underground through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel) just off the top of my head. I feel sure many people could think of others!
What the map does show well, even in its cartoon-like execution, is the complete dominance of New York’s subway system (the mouseover tooltip for the comic states that about one in three North American subway stops are in NYC). Randall has remained quite faithful to the actual official system maps for each component city, so New York ends up taking up a huge portion of the map.
But, despite the undeniable brilliance of this map, I know I’ve seen very similar pieces before this. This more serious map of almost exactly the same thing was featured on the Beyond DC blog last month, and this awesome piece by Bill Rankin from 2006 which shows all North American metro systems (a far more inclusive phrase than “subway systems”) at the same scale is also highly reminiscent of this piece. In the end though, it’s infused with enough wacky “xkcd-ness” to make it take on a life of its own.
It’s that time once again, where I recap the top ten most-viewed posts for the last four months, as well as an all-time list from Transit Maps’ inception back in October 2011. Without further ado, here’s the list for posts viewed between September 1st — December 31st, 2012:
10. Official Map: Key Bus Routes in Central London (link)
9. Official Map: TransLink Bus and Rail Network, Brisbane, Australia (link)
8. Historical Map: West Berlin U-Bahn Map, 1977 (link)
7. Historical Map: Old Metropolitan Line Map (link)
6. Unofficial Map: New York Regional Rail by Carter Green (link)
5. Official Map: Boston MBTA Rapid Transit/Key Bus Routes Map (link)
4. My Unofficial Boston MBTA Map Green Line Preview (link)
3. Official Map: Copenhagen S-Tog Map (link)
2. Official Map: Rail and Tram Network, Budapest, Hungary (link)
1. Unofficial Map: Transportation of Walt Disney World Resort, Florida (link)
And now the all-time list, dating back to October 2011. Change in position from the last all-time list is shown in [square brackets].
10. Official Map: Key Bus Routes in Central London (link) [NEW]
9. Official Map: Washington D.C. Metro “Rush+” System Map (link) 
8. Historical Maps: Berlin S- and U-Bahn Maps, 1910-1936 (link) 
7. Fantasy Map: Chicago El Overlaid On New York City (link) 
6. My Unofficial Boston MBTA Map Green Line Preview (link) [NEW]
5. Official Map: Rail and Tram Network, Budapest, Hungary (link) [NEW]
4. Official Map: Copenhagen S-Tog Map (link) 
3. Unofficial Map: Transportation of Walt Disney World Resort, Florida (link) [NEW]
2. Official Map: Boston MBTA Rapid Transit/Key Bus Routes Map (link) 
1. Historical Maps: Man-Made Philadelphia, 1972 (link) 
Unofficial Map: New York Regional Rail by Carter Green
To say I’m excited to share this map with you would be an understatement.
In August, I was contacted by Carter Green, a high school student who had been inspired by my maps (especially my map of French TGV routes) and had created his own of regional rail services in and around New York City. He asked whether I would mind taking a look at it, which I did. Immediately, I was impressed with the amazing quality of the cartography, but had a few suggestions which I thought Carter could implement. He took my ideas on board, and has now got back to me with the final version - and it’s beautiful.
Have we been there? My only experience with regional rail in the New York area is a NJ Transit train from Newark Airport to Penn Station.
What we like: A nicely unified design - the whole map gives off an elegant Art Deco feel (very appropriate for New York!), courtesy of the distinctive Neutraface type family and some nice little flourishes in arrowheads and the map’s north pointer.
The use of increasingly large circles for hub stations is something that could have looked terrible, but I think Carter has actually pulled it off very well - your eye is definitely drawn to them, and it quickly gives an idea of a station’s importance.
I absolutely adore the circular treatment of routes around Philadelphia, which is new to this version of the map.
Neat integration of New York Subway interchanges.
I wish I’d thought of Carter’s solution for stations where not every train stops - white dots linked by connecting lines, as seen on the red Metro-North routes into Connecticut.
What we don’t like: Some minor, minor things. The symbols for connecting services that aren’t the Subway aren’t as effective (just three-letter abbreviations and teeny tiny airport symbols for the AirTrain services).
The curves where a route line has to “step down” to remain next to other routes on the same corridor (on the Metro-North Waterbury branch, for example) could be smoother to fit better with the graceful curves seen throughout the rest of the map.
A couple of errors that can easily be fixed: the LIRR Belmont seasonal service is shown in the legend, but not its parent Greenport branch. “AirTrain” is misspelled as “AirTran” in the legend.
Our rating: Incredibly impressive work that shows a very complex network of services from many different agencies and makes it visually compelling and informative. Did I mention Carter is still in high school? Four-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Email correspondence with Carter Green)
Welcome to the second installment of the top ten most-viewed posts (as determined by Google Analytics) on the Transit Maps blog. I try and do these every four months (three times a year) to highlight some great content that may now be hiding in the deep, dark depths of the blog. Enjoy!
First off, here’s the top ten posts for the four-month period of May 1 to August 31, 2012.
10. Miami-Dade Metrorail System (link)
9. Man-Made Philadelphia, 1972 (link)
8. Rail and Tram Network, Budapest, Hungary (link)
7. Copenhagen S-Tog Map (link)
6. Freshwater Railway, Detroit and Southeast Michigan (link)
5. Chicago El Overlaid On New York City (link)
4. Berlin S- and U-Bahn Maps, 1910-1936 (link)
3. National Parks Transit Authority Map (link)
2. Transportation of Walt Disney World Resort, Florida (link)
1. How the WMATA Rush+ Maps Are Printed (link)
Now the top 10 of all time list, from the start of the site back in October 2011. The previous position from the last all-time top ten is noted in [square brackets].
10. Copenhagen S-Tog Map (link) [NEW]
9. London Underground Tube Map Bathroom Tiles (link) 
8. New Jersey Transit Rail System (link) 
7. How the WMATA Rush+ Maps Are Printed (link) [NEW]
6. Vignelli-Style New York Subway Ampersand (link) 
5. Berlin S- and U-Bahn Maps, 1910-1936 (link) 
4. Washington D.C. Metro “Rush+” System Map (link) 
3. Chicago El Overlaid On New York City (link) 
2. Official Boston MBTA Rapid Transit/Key Bus Routes Map (link) 
1. Man-Made Philadelphia, 1972 (link) 
Leaving aside the politics and cost for a minute, this is actually a pretty darn nice map. Attractive and informational. Drawing the “Super Express” and “Express” routes as dead straight lines definitely emphasises the idea of speed and direct connections between points. Long Island looks a little weird, though…
All-Time Top 10 Posts, October 24, 2011 - April 30, 2012
Following up yesterday’s post, here’s the top ten most viewed entries on Transit Maps of all time:
10. Historical Maps: Berlin S- and U-Bahn Maps, 1910-1936 (link)
9. My Boston MBTA Map Redesign (link)
8. Official Map: New Jersey Transit Rail System (link)
7. Igor Skliarevsky’s Unofficial Integrated Transit Map of Kiev, Ukraine (link)
6. London Underground as Bathroom Tiles (link)
5. Fantasy Map: Vignelli-Style New York Subway Ampersand (link)
4. Fantasy Map: Chicago El Overlaid On New York City (link)
3. Official Map: Washington D.C. Metro “Rush+” System Map (link)
2. Official Map: MBTA Rapid Transit/Key Bus Routes Map – Boston, MA (link)
and at Number 1, the entry that first put Transit Maps on the map (if you’ll pardon the pun!):
1. Historical Maps: Man-Made Philadelphia, 1972 (link)
Historical Maps: Man-Made Philadelphia, 1972
One last view of Philadelphia transit via these amazing diagrams from a 1972 book from the MIT Press, "Man-Made Philadelphia", now sadly out of print. As well as the train network, there’s also buses, highways and the growth of the city. Definitely loving the early 70s mimimalism design vibe to these. Looks like they were all produced specially for the book.
Historical Map: Philadelphia SEPTA Map, c. 1979-1980
A reblog by cranialdetritus of yesterday’s featured SEPTA map asked whether I had covered the SEPTA maps of the 1970s yet. I hadn’t, and tracking down an image proved a little tricky. The best I can find is a modern redrawing of the map from around 1979-1980 - credit to Lucius Kwok of Felt Tip Software for this work. It seems to be a quite accurate rendition, as the photo above - showing part of a very similar sign that is still in situ - attests.
Have we been there? No.
What we like: Compared to today’s SEPTA map, this is gorgeous. It always makes me sad when beautiful maps are replaced by something nowhere near as good. Of course, the two maps don’t show exactly the same services, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison, but many lessons could be learned from this. The lovely simplicity of the rivers stands out the most, and the interchange station network downtown is deftly handled as well. Commuter rail, which is a horrible, blobby mess on the current map, almost looks graceful here - and it’s a bigger, more complex network!
What we don’t like: The poor old trolleys get short shrift again, with some arrows pointing in the general direction they go.
Our rating: So superior to the current map that it hurts. Four stars.
Official Map: Philadelphia SEPTA Network
After quite a few stellar maps, it’s time to show what I consider to be one of the least successful transit maps in current use in the US. To put it bluntly, SEPTA’s map is an unappealing, jumbled mess and certainly does not get me excited to use their system (a major plus point in my internal scoring system).
Have we been there? No.
What we like: Deserves credit for attempting to show so many different modes on one map as well as connections to other, unrelated, services - Amtrak, PATCO and the River Line in Trenton, NJ. Pity it’s so ugly.
What we don’t like: Oh dear, where to begin?
Huge blobby terminus stations on the regional rail lines. Incredibly tight spacing between stations on the 101 trolley line. Compare the dense 101 and 102 trolleys with the other trolley lines, which peter out into unconvincing arrows after a few stops - mainly because the designer couldn’t work out how to fit them in the space allocated, I think. Where is Port Richmond, anyway? This map sure doesn’t tell me.
No visual distinction that the Red PATCO line isn’t part of SEPTA’s services (you have to read the legend to find that out).
Yellow “Free Interchange” symbols are U-G-L-Y. Curves on the Regional Rail lines are inconsistent and technically deficient (look at the one heading north to the left of 30th Street Station and how it’s been hideously bent to avoid the word “Amtrak”).
While the rivers have been rendered in diagrammatic form, the map still wants to show every single little twist and turn in the shoreline - overwrought and unnecessary (as well as badly drawn - lots of non-45-degree angles can be seen).
Finally, this map totally fails the color-blind test: almost everything ends up yellow or blue with very little contrast between adjacent lines and nothing on the map apart from colour to link the routes to the legend.
Our rating: I call it “the blobby map”. Hideous and unwelcoming. One-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official SEPTA website)
Official Map: New Jersey Transit Rail System
This morning, an interesting tweet came across my desk: “NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein unveils new customer friendly rail system map at today’s board meeting” with a link to the new map. Always eager to check out a new transit map, I clicked through… and was incredibly underwhelmed by what I saw.
Far from being the paradigm of customer friendliness that was promised, this map comes across as sad, tired and amateur. It seems to have taken elements from many different transit maps and mashes them into one big mess. We have the thick route lines and giant circle transfer stations of Washington, DC Metro, icons for the lines similar to - but nowhere nearly as well executed - the Lisbon Metro, and different station symbols for each and every mode of transit.
Admittedly, this map faces some unusual challenges in that it shows a state-wide system, rather than just a smaller city. Because of this, some semblance of geography and distance between stations has to be shown. However, I feel that there has to be a better solution than this, where the light rail systems around Hoboken and Newark are crammed into a tiny space with miniscule station names, while vast amounts of space remain empty throughout the rest of the state.
The stylised geography also troubles me - what exactly happens to the Delaware River when it gets to Port Jervis? And why do we need to see the vast empty bottom part of the state, especially when it cuts an ugly swathe across the informational text at the base of the map.
Have we been there? Yes - I’ve caught the train from Newark Airport into New York Penn Station.
What we like: Ambitious scope, attempting to show all rail services in the state of New Jersey - NJ Transit, PATH, light rail systems, as well as an indication of connecting services in neighbouring states - MTA, SEPTA and stations serviced by Amtrak. This is the first real transit map I’ve seen with a QR code on it - I wonder what it does?
What we don’t like: Unfortunately, despite its best intentions, this map is hideous. Almost everything - from the icons and colours chosen for the main routes, to the typography, to the clumsy treatment of the geography, to the enormous circles used for transfer stations, even the spacing of the stations - looks amateur and poorly thought out. Suffers even more from having to include every logo of every separate transit agency.
Our rating: A hugely wasted opportunity to create something memorable and exciting. One-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official NJ Transit website - PDF)