Fantasy Map: North American Metro Map by Mark Knoke
Obviously inspired by — and clearly credited as such — the brilliant xkcd “Subways of North America” map, here’s a quite staggeringly detailed map of pretty much every rail-based rapid transit system in North America, including future expansions and upcoming new systems like Honolulu’s HART elevated light rail. Like the xkcd map, all the systems link up at their termini to form one giant Metro map that spans the entire continent.
True, the map isn’t the most visually attractive piece — it’s very basic in its construction and has labels going just about everywhere, but the sheer level of effort required simply has to be appreciated. By my count, there are forty-seven (yes, 47!) separate systems represented on this map, from the New York subway to the Tren Urbano in San Juan, Puerto Rico and all points in between. Each and every station is labelled. For the most part, the systems adhere to their standard map layout, although obviously some tweaks have had to be made to make them join up.
While I haven’t checked every detail, I have noticed that the Tacoma Link light rail in Tacoma, Washington is missing. It’s part of Sound Transit’s network, although physically separate from the main Central Link line that runs from SeaTac Airport to downtown. The inclusion of the the much-maligned Detroit People Mover is interesting (is it really proper “rapid transit”?), and begs the question why the very similar Miami Metromover system isn’t also shown.
(Source: Mark Knoke/Flickr)
Historical Map: The Burlington Route (Chicago to San Francisco), 1879
Here’s a beautiful map from the glory days of American railroading, showing the route from Chicago to San Francisco via Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. Amtrak’s modern-day California Zephyr still calls at many of the same locations between Chicago and Omaha to the east and from Elko to Oakland in the west, but takes a different route through the middle, using Colorado instead of Wyoming.
Although presented as one continuous route, the journey is actually made up of smaller sections owned by multiple railroad companies: the section from Chicago to Omaha is the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, then Union Pacific to Sacramento and the Western Pacific the rest of the way. Many other railroads have track that connects to and branches off this main trunk route — Southern Pacific, Central Pacific, Utah Central & Southern, Utah & Northern, Central Railroad of Iowa… the list seems endless!
The map itself is packed full of information: the population of towns, connecting rail and stagecoach services, the distance from either Chicago or San Francisco, the elevation of the railroad (cleverly shown as a green profile line below the map), and even the terrain type and major industries and land uses along the way — “heavy timber”, “gold and silver mines”, “elegant farms”, etc. Poor Stockton, CA is noted for its “insane asylum” (see detail image above). As the blurb at the bottom of the map proclaims, “Armed with this Guide, the passenger needs no further information.”
About the only thing that lets this map down is the low quality printing. There’s a lot of poorly registered colours, which slightly spoil the flamboyant and stylish look of the map. The design certainly asks a lot of a late-19th century (pre-offset lithography) printing press!
Our rating: A superb piece of American railroading ephemera, only slightly spoiled by poor printing. Four-and-a-half stars!
(Source: The Big Map Blog)
Historical Map: San Francisco Muni Transit Routes, 1970
For a long period of time, the San Francisco Municipal Railway, (commonly shortened to just “Muni”) used pretty much exactly the same map in their brochures. It seems that each year, they’d simply make any amendments required — addition of new routes, deletion of old ones, etc. — and then reprint the brochure/map in a new colour combination.
The earliest example I can find, from 1952, uses a sombre two-color palette of black and red, mostly tinted down to greys and pinks. However, by 1970, the map had evolved into this gloriously garish three-colour purple, yellow and black vision that suits the post-Summer of Love San Francisco perfectly.
The map shows all Muni streetcar, coach and cable car services, but with no visible mode differentiation — express services are shown with a dashed line. However, the map’s actually pretty clean and easy to follow: route termini are clearly shown by route numbers in large circles, and there’s enough smaller numbers along each route to allow you to follow them from one end to the other.
Also of note: basic fare is just 20 cents!
Our rating: Groovy, man! A psychedelic re-imagining of a long-serving and functional map. Four stars.
(Source: Eric Fischer/Flickr)
Historical Map: Rapid Transit for San Francisco: Monorail Alternative,1952
Well, thank goodness this never eventuated. Can you imagine an elevated monorail running down the length of Market Street?
From a 1952 San Francisco Public Utilities Commission report entitled Rapid Transit for San Francisco: Monorail, Elevated, Subway? A Report of Possibilities.
(Source: Eric Fischer/Flickr)
Historical Map: Oakland-San Francisco “Key System” Commuter Rail Routes, c. 1939—1940
A charming, if simplistic, map of commuter rail services offered by the Key System company. Some sources on the Internet date this to 1941: however, the prominent “Exposition Ferry from Ferry Bldg.” callout box would seem to link this map to the timeframe of the Golden Gate International Exposition held on Treasure Island between February 1939 and September 1940.
These dates mean that the Bay Bridge, the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco and the transbay commuter rail routes as shown on the map are all pretty much brand spanking new. By 1958, commuter rail over the Bay Bridge had ceased operations: the Key System replaced these services with buses, and were themselves taken over by AC Transit in 1960. AC Transit’s B, C, E, and F lines still roughly follow the corresponding Key System routes today.
Official Map: San Francisco Bay Area Regional Transit Map
Submitted by Reed Wagner, who says:
This map appears to be part of a greater “wayfinding” campaign by the SF Bay Area MTC - it appears at major Caltrain, Muni and BART stations and presumably is elsewhere (I took this picture at Caltrain 4th & King. In comparison to the maps made by SF Cityscape like this (external link: PDF), it seems that the official MTC map is falling short in every regard other than information overload in a messy form.
Transit Maps says:
It’s pretty difficult to disagree with Reed’s summary of this map: it is messy, cluttered and difficult to decipher. It’s a little unfair to compare it to the excellent SF Cityscape map (which only shows rail transit and thus becomes less cluttered instantly), but this is still pretty poor work. The main failings, in my opinion:
It’s neither a map or a diagram, and suffers from this hybrid approach. Cities and towns are in (or close to) their correct geographical location, but are simply connected with straight lines between them, creating a lot of very unattractive angles throughout the map.
The ugly and unnecessary feathered shading behind the route lines to denote (very approximate) urban limits. Use a label for each major city: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, etc, then let the station names do the rest of the work. This map has enough problems with colour already (see next point) without introducing more!
Finally, the legend of the map indicates that there are 38 (yes, 38!) different transit agencies or services shown on the map, and the only visual difference between them is the colour of their route line. It’s too much work for colour to do alone, and certainly isn’t very colour-blind friendly! Some attempt at differentiating modes (BART, commuter rail, bus, Amtrak, etc.) by using something like different stroke widths would allow less colours to be used overall (as the same colours could then be used more than once), while also adding an extra dimension of useful information to the map.
Our rating: More hindrance than help — the information as shown takes way too long to be interpreted by the reader, which isn’t very useful at a crowded railway station! One-and-a-half stars.
An Official Unofficial Map: San Francisco BART Creative Commons Map
In a move I’d like to see more often from transit agencies, San Francisco’s BART has a fully-editable “non-official” version of their system map available for download from their site. It has a Creative Commons license, meaning that you simply have to attribute the original map to BART and it’s free to use, commercially or otherwise.
Mainly designed for app and third-party website developers who need a BART map, it’s also great for those learning to create transit maps. You can simply open it up in Adobe Illustrator and edit to your heart’s content. While the file is saved in the Illustrator-native .ai format, and not the open-standard .svg format, it should be openable in the open-source vector-editing application, Inkscape.
The map itself is reminiscent of the official map with its distinctive “hexagonal” form, but is different enough to stand alone, which is exactly what BART intends. They really don’t want their official, copyrighted map used by third party applications and websites (which might imply BART endorsement where there is none), so they offer this alternative instead.
Personally, I’m not crazy about the green type used for transfer stations, and I wish the background coastline was editable vector artwork instead of a background raster image file. But hey — if you don’t like it, now you can edit it yourself and make it better!
Wonderfully immersive visual history of transit in San Francisco. As the blurb on the site says:
The history of San Francisco’s transit system can be traced back as far as 1873, when the first cable car began service. Tales of technological advances, natural disasters, political struggles, and triumphant celebrations color its 140-year history and shape it into a system today that’s uniquely diverse and uniquely San Francisco.
Definitely worth losing a few hours to!
Historical Map: Bay Area Connections Map, 1981
Submitted by Alex Jonlin, who says:
I saw this at the Fremont BART Station a couple weeks ago. It’s labeled (in tiny print at the top) “September 1981.” I have no idea how it ended up staying for so long, but it’s interesting to see how the transit system has changed since then. I also like the concept of depicting long-distance rail and long-distance buses just about the same - it shows people that the Bay Area’s transit network extends beyond where just the BART and Caltrain go.
Transit Maps says:
Another fine entry in the “hopelessly out-of-date map” genre — 31 years and still counting!
This really is one of my favourite categories of transit maps. So much so, that I’ve introduced a new tag just for them: out of date. This applies to maps that are still located at active stops or vehicles only — maps in transit museums or used as movie/TV show props don’t count. Anyone got any examples from their local transit system?