Unofficial Map: UTA TRAX and Frontrunner — a plea for good transit map design
Found on Twitter via user @f40phr231
Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s an unofficial map of Salt Lake City’s TRAX and FrontRunner rail system. I’ve feautured another unofficial map of this system previously (December 2012, 3.5 stars), but this one is interesting because it contains a message seemingly aimed at the UTA, almost pleading for better map design. It reads:
This map was created by CLF as an attempt to show how a UTA rail map can be laid out clearly while avoiding unnecessary bends in the lines, and extra lines connecting station names with the station dots.
Transit maps should be simple and easy to route.
For clarity, some station names that had only only numbers were replaced with an hypothetical neighborhood name.
The lines were drawn for black-and-white printing and accessibility for the color-blind.
In the grand scheme of things, this map is really pretty standard — there’s nothing truly memorable about it, nor is the design particularly outstanding — yet it’s still streets ahead of the current official map. The extra space afforded to downtown SLC works wonders for clarity and usability — gone are the ugly lines pointing to stations from awkwardly placed labels. The labelling could still use some work — different sizes of type are used, and the labels on the south-western leg of the Red Line could easily be set horizontally instead of at an angle. The tiny labelling of route names within their respective route lines is next to useless: another approach should be used to identify routes for color-blind users.
Finally, a tweet from the UTA in response to this map seems to suggest that things could get better in the future — here’s hoping!
P.S. Does anyone know who or what “CLF” is?
Salt Lake City UTA TRAX and FrontRunner: now officially the most embarrassing transit maps in the U.S.
Seriously. Do they even care at all any more?
With the opening of the new TRAX light rail Green Line extension to the airport, the UTA has updated their website with new maps. Well, only partially, which is bad enough in itself. If you go to the System Maps page, you still get a combined pre-extension TRAX/FrontRunner map (reviewed here, Dec 2012, half a star). However, if you click on the TRAX or FrontRunner icons, you can get to the updated individual maps for each service as shown here.
These maps are… beyond appalling.
It’s painfully obvious to me that a low-quality JPG has been exported for each map, and the service that is not meant to be shown has been deleted in Photoshop using the eraser tool. And they’ve done a really bad job of it, too, sloppily deleting parts of route lines, station markers and labels all over the place. On the TRAX map, the Red and Blue lines inexplicably change to shades of grey through the city center, and a completely undeleted part of the FrontRunner route remains visible (also in grey!). Stations on the FrontRunner map that would interchange with TRAX still have their wider interchange markers, even though there’s no TRAX routes shown to interchange with.
Even the legend at the bottom of the maps have had the same treatment: there’s room for the three TRAX lines to slot neatly into place on the FrontRunner map and vice versa. I’ve overlaid these two maps on top of each other in Photoshop: they fit almost perfectly.
I recently said that designers shouldn’t work for free, but in this case, I take it all back. Please: can someone — anyone! — design a decent rail map for the UTA and make them use it, because this is is just pathetic.
Unofficial Map: FrontRunner and TRAX, Salt Lake City, Utah
Brought to my attention by Garrett Smith when he submitted the abomination that is the new official UTA map, here’s a completely different take on Salt Lake City’s rail system from Flickr user H4vok_13. This map is by no means perfect, but it’s an absolute paragon of simplicity and clean design compared to the real thing.
What we like: Streamlined, simplified route lines that expand the city centre and compress the outlying areas work wonders for the clarity of this map. Removing the street addresses from the station names helps a lot, as does the shortening of some of the longer station names.
What we don’t like: I’m not entirely convinced by the use of dashed lines for the FrontRunner routes - dashed lines on a transit map almost always signify a route under construction.
Nor am I a huge fan of the county boundary labels on the FrontRunner lines - a little big and overpowering, and not hugely important for using the system. From what I understand, county boundaries don’t correspond to fare zones on FrontRunner, so why is that information linked so heavily to those routes?
The proposed Sugarhouse Streetcar is perhaps given a little too much emphasis as well: if built, the route will only be about two miles long.
There’s also one very unfortunate error on the map - the service numbers for the Blue and Red lines have been transposed: Blue should be 701 and Red should be 703.
Our rating: Not perfect, but still streets ahead of the official map. Three-and-a-half stars.
Official Map: TRAX and FrontRunner Rail Map, Salt Lake City, Utah (December 2012)
Today, the FrontRunner commuter rail system opens for revenue service south of Salt Lake all the way down to Provo, and there’s a new version of the map to reflect this new service. I reviewed a previous version of this map back in July, and I didn’t have much positive to say about it then - and my opinion has not been changed with this new iteration. Quite a few people have submitted this new map to me, and they’ve all been extremely critical of it as well.
Have we been there? Yes, but I haven’t caught any trains.
What we like: To be honest: nothing.
What we don’t like: Almost all the flaws from the previous version of the map remain: the one thing that has improved is the removal of the huge labels explaining the concept of a transfer station. Downtown remains cramped and ugly, while the labelling of stations remains a sloppy, disorganised mess — possibly even worse than before — with some station names now a ridiculously long way from their related station marker (such as North Temple Bridge/Guadalupe).
Speaking of labels, the “FrontRunner” and “FrontRunner South” labels are inexcusably set in completely different fonts: the former in Swiss (a cheap Helvetica clone), the latter in Arial… look at the capital “R” and you’ll see they have completely different shapes.
And why does the South FrontRunner route line extend past Provo when it’s the end of the line?
Our rating: Simply terrible. One submitter of this map, Garrett Smith, sums it up very eloquently, I think:
“You know, it saddens me just a tad bit. Salt Lake City has made such an investment in its rail infrastructure, beginning with the initial 16-mile stretch of the Blue Line between downtown and Sandy in 1999. A mere fourteen years later, we’ve seen the construction of a 90-mile commuter rail line linking the entirety of the urban conglomeration in which Salt Lake lies, as well as massive light rail expansion. To show for it? We’ve got one of the worst transit maps around.”
Another anonymous submitter simply calls this map “embarrassing”… and it is. With the new FrontRunner extension, there was an opportunity for a fresh look at this map, a chance to create something vibrant, modern and attractive that matched the obvious quality of the system itself. Instead, we get this. Half a star.
(Source: Official UTA FrontRunner schedule page)
Official Map: TRAX and FrontRunner Rail Map, Salt Lake City, Utah
By all accounts, the Utah Transit Authority’s rail system is a modern and successful one. However, this is something you’d never guess from their system map, which is one of the most cobbled-together, unprofessionally done maps I’ve ever seen.
Have we been there? Yes, but I’ve never caught the train there.
What we like: The required information is there to be found if you can bear to look at the map long enough.
What we don’t like: Put simply, this is terrible, terrible work.
The downtown area is ridiculously cramped (the Planetarium and Arena station dots actually overlap slightly!), leading to some ugly and difficult to follow labelling of stations, especially between the Gallivan Plaza and 900 East stations. Things could be improved somewhat by setting the station addresses in a smaller, lighter font to at least alleviate some confusion.
The lines that point from the labels to the stations have no consistency at all: some are longer than the station name, others are shorter, leading to a very messy look.
The map also seems to think that its users are utterly incapable of understanding what a “transfer station” is, as it includes giant, redundant call out boxes that point at five separate stations explaining the concept.
The call out boxes for the stations that allow transfers to different modes are large and intrusive and could be much better handled with icons that represent each mode.
The inset map of the track layout at Fashion Place West station is somewhat useful (although I think signage at the station itself would suffice, as it’s not a particularly complex arrangement), but looks like a generic piece of clip art.
The presence of ESRI fonts in the PDF of this map leads me to believe that this map is based off GIS data, which has only been slightly tweaked to create the final map. Both for aesthetics and information hierarchy, I think the map could have greatly benefited from being redrawn from scratch to allow better spacing of elements. Other parts of the map, especially the call out boxes, need to be rethought completely.
Our rating: Awful. 1 star (and that’s probably being generous).
(Source: Official UTA website)