The Evolution of My Washington, DC Metro Map
Now that I’ve finally brought my DC Metro map fully up to date, I thought it would be interesting to compare all four versions – the first dating back to February 2010, way before the announcement that Lance Wyman would be redesigning the map to accommodate the Silver Line.
The first version is unique in that it includes commuter rail and Amtrak lines as well as the Metro lines, shown by a thinner light purple line, a la the Boston “T” map’s representation of its commuter rail. I was working on my Amtrak as Subway Map project at the time, so adding this type of detail was important to me. Feedback seemed to indicate that Washingtonians didn’t think that this was really necessary – knowing which stations allowed interchange between services was enough – so it was dropped from future versions.
Normal stations are indicated by a white “pill” shape that spans across the route lines. Originally, these were individual dots – one for each line at a given station – but many people seemed to find this confusing. You’ll see that the symbology for stations is the part of the map that changes the most across the different versions as I sought to find the best solution.
Innovations in this map compared to the official map at the time (and now similarly adopted into the new Silver Line map, coincidentally or not) include letter designations for each line (I use a single letter, the official map appends an “L” for “Line” to each letter) instead of the minuscule “<COLOR> LINE” text that used to run alongside each route; and the introduction of a dogleg in the southern part of the Green Line to place the Southern Avenue and Naylor Road stations more accurately in relation to the District/Prince George’s County border.
However, the type on this version is considerably smaller than any of my other maps, and the colour used for parkland is a bit too bright and overpowering. Note also that the Silver Line just runs dead straight once it diverges from the Orange Line, something I wasn’t entirely happy with at the time and would remedy in the next version.
Version 2 is my entry for the Greater Greater Washington “Design the Metro Map” contest back in May 2011. Although it won the “People’s Choice Award" and came second in the juried voting, I now think it’s definitely the weakest of the four maps. Quite frankly, I think I was trying to be just a little bit too clever with some of my design choices, and the map suffers because of it.
In a search for a way to visually depict the odd service patterns on the Red Line and the Peak Orange/Yellow Lines, I thought I would add separate route lines for these services so that a trip could be unambiguously traced from end to end. However, the explanation required in the legend was still confusing, and the additional lines on the map meant that all the route lines now became unacceptably thin and spindly. Spelling out the colour designations for each line in full was also not one of my finer ideas – “PEAK ORANGE” takes up a lot of space – and I reverted back to single letters in the next iteration. The station symbol – a white strip that cuts through the route lines – is the weakest solution used, and definitely made relating station labels to their symbols more difficult than it should have been.
On the plus side, the type for labels was now larger and the configuration of the Silver Line with its bend through Tysons Corner was something I was much happier with. I personally also prefer the 45-degree-angle configuration of the Orange/Silver lines from Rosslyn to Ballston over the previous horizontal one, although this still seems to be a bone of contention with some reviewers of my maps. In reality, the routes head in a direction somewhere between the two angles, so there’s no “perfect” solution in an octolinear map like this.
Version 3 is my response to both the draft Lance Wyman map and the other maps submitted to the GGW contest. I abandoned my extra “service pattern” route lines from Version 2 and thickened the route lines back up again, which makes the map graphically stronger. I eagerly embraced the single best idea to come out of the contest – subtitles for stations that had ridiculously long names – which helped a lot with reducing extraneous visual clutter. The single best feature that I introduced with this map was the simple but effective “walking” icon to show the free out-of-system transfer between Farragut West and Farragut North stations: a real “Eureka!” moment for me.
Station symbols are now “ticks” that point towards their labels: a big improvement over the previous devices, but perhaps a little short to be really useful.
Version 4 is the “final” product, based on the final configuration of Phase I of the Silver Line and feedback from Version 3. Station ticks are now much longer to definitively “point” at their label, which works excellently in my opinion. I’ve added parkland along the Anacostia River to match the new official map’s representation and made a bunch of other minor little tweaks and fixes.
Is it perfect? No, but that was never really the point. I always wanted to make a map that was decidedly different to the official one, to show that there are always alternate solutions to the same design problems. Thinner route lines versus thicker ones, ticks versus whiskered circles, horizontal labels versus angled labels, and so on. Each decision a designer makes affects the look and usability of the final product, and I wanted to make something that had its own unique look and feel while still serving the same purpose as the official map. And in that, I think I’ve succeeded.
Unofficial Map: Washington DC Metro Map with Silver Line, 2014
Just because I don’t like leaving things unfinished, here’s a new version of my Washington DC Metro map with the final configuration of the Phase I Silver Line shown. For reference, here’s my previous version from 2011.
Like the official map, I’ve left the Phase II Silver Line stations unnamed, which is probably a wise choice, seeing all the variants that the Phase I stations went through! Flipping the Silver Line to the southern side of the Orange Line before East Falls Church was something else that the official map got right, and I’ve emulated that here as well. Only a few other minor tweaks: a couple of station name changes and a darkening of the Red Line colour to aid colour-blind users a little more. What do you think?
Edit – Morning, August 6, 2014: Thanks to Peter Dovak for a couple of tweaks: NoMa–Gallaudet U is now named correctly, and Phase II of the Silver Line’s completion date has been pushed out (unsurprisingly) to 2018. I’ve swapped in a new image above, and I’ve updated the version over on Flickr.
Evening, August 6, 2014: Further edits based on feedback today, especially from the comments left on this Greater Greater Washington post about the map. Changes include the addition of parkland along the Anacostia River as shown on the official map, lengthened “ticks” for stations so that they’re not so “nubby”, route letters in circles instead of squares so that they can’t be confused with the parking icon, proper designation of Wiehle-Reston East as the current western terminus of the Silver Line, and a few minor fixes and clean ups here and there.
Source: Cameron Booth/Flickr
Historical Map: WMATA Metro Planning Map, 1968
WMATA planning map, dated March 1, 1968 and last revised by the WMATA Board on June 11, 1970.
Please view a full-size, searchable version of the map. (Navigational tools are at the bottom of the map.)
On March 1, 1968, WMATA officially adopted a 97.2 mile regional system in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. On February 7, 1969, WMATA revisited the rapid rail plan and relocated three of the stations, calling instead for 97.7 miles of track. The total system cost was $2.5 billion ($15.9 billion in today’s dollars) consisting of $835 million of revenue bonds issued by WMATA, $1.1 billion in federal funding, and $573.5 million from local sources. On June 11, 1970, the WMATA Board adopted a realignment of 2.5 miles of a mid-city route to better serve the city center. This revised version is posted above.
Metro originally had a future route planned to Dulles Airport—the final destination of Phase 2 of the soon-to-open Silver Line—the first half of which (to McLean, Tysons, Greensboro, Spring Hill, and Wiehle-Reston) is scheduled to begin service on Saturday, July 26, 2014.
This version of WMATA’s planning map also features a different path for a route that would materialize as Metro’s Green Line. The proposed north-south route through the District was set to feature a station near Logan Circle and run north toward a terminus in Laurel, Md. An alternate route trajectory, which was then being studied by WMATA, ran up-and-down 7th Street NW and featured station locations near what are now the Mt Vernon Sq 7th St-Convention Center and Shaw-Howard U Metro Stations.
According to this map, Metro also planned for a Metro line along a route that is similar to one followed by the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar in Arlington, Va.
Pro Tip: Note how the Metro Station names have changed over time.
Photo: A Washington DC Metro strip map that’s just bound to cause confusion…
Here’s an example of an overly designed strip map that’s gone horribly wrong. This photo was taken by Bryan Rodda, who notes that the sign makes it appear that Foggy Bottom-GWU is the name of the main interchange station between the Silver, Blue and Orange Lines in the center of the photo.
Anyone who knows the DC Metro system will know that the station in question is actually Rosslyn, but the map makes this horribly ambiguous. The problem stems from the fact that all the station names are offset from their markers up and along a 45-degree axis. It seems a reasonable thing to do in theory, but what it has actually done is position most of the labels almost directly above the next station marker to the right, where it can reasonably be confused as belonging to that marker.
Good design should not create confusion or make things unnecessarily ambiguous for the end user — it should always simplify and clarify: something this map absolutely fails to do.
(Source: Bryan Rodda/Twitter)
Weird: The Maryland Transit Administration’s Version of the DC Metro Map
Not only is the map out of date (no Rush+, no indication of the Silver Line at all), but the MTA has simply encased the official DC map in their own branding shell and then covered it in hideous and distracting callout boxes denoting their own commuter bus services. Yes, it performs a service, but — dear God! — is it ever ugly.
There should be a law against this kind of thing.
(Source: Maryland Transit Administration’s transit maps web page)
Fantasy Map: New York Subway Map in the Style of Washington DC’s Metro Map by Chris Whong
Yes, it only shows Manhattan and The Bronx with small parts of Brooklyn and Queens, but this is still a pretty awesome mash-up. Aesthetically, it’s a dead ringer for the Washington, DC Metro map — big, fat route lines, the “double ring” interchange stations, green areas for parkland, etc. Nice work from Chris to mimic this style so closely!
While the map looks great, it really also shows how unsuited the bold, simplistic approach taken by the DC diagram is to a complex transit system like New York’s. Vital information that New Yorkers depend upon for daily travel is simply nowhere to be found: the distinction between local and express stations, for example, or any indication of those hugely important free transfers between certain stations.
A few little errors that I see on a quick scan: the “A” and “L” lines are missing their terminus letter designation markers, and 42nd St/Port Authority has no station marker at all.
In the end, Chris probably made this because it seemed like a fun thing to do, and it’s certainly that and more. But it’s also very interesting to see that what works for one city doesn’t always work for another!
(Source: Chris Whong’s website)
Submission: New Washington, DC Metro Strip Map at Pentagon City
Submitted by Peter Dovak, who says:
Spotted a new schematic installed at Pentagon City Metro station in Washington this week. I’m not sure if this is experimental or what, but I’ve never seen such detailed line info at a station here before. Not a huge fan of the execution, though, the labels are awful skewed!
Transit Maps says:
In the limited space allowed here, angled station labels are pretty much the only workable option. It’s actually not dissimilar to the established framework used for line maps on the New York Subway (and many other cities), although they usually only show the one route, not four. The white pointer lines passing through the Orange Line to join station dots to names are not ideal, but are again a product of the space limitations.
Even though you can only catch Yellow and Blue Line trains from this platform, the map also shows the Green and Orange Lines. In principle, this is fair enough — the lines share physical track and stations for much of what is shown on this map, although this is what also leads to such a complex and convoluted looking map.
However, I personally believe that a strip map like this should only show stations that can be reached directly with trains that serve the station the sign is at: in this case, that’s just Blue and Yellow Line trains. Transfers to other lines could be shown as the Red Line is here: with a small coloured dot. While I believe it is possible to transfer to the Orange and Green lines at any of the stations they share with the Blue or Yellow Lines, it’s really preferable to do so only at the major interchange stations, and the placement of transfer dots should reflect this.
Introducing the level of complexity that this strip map has leads people to expect that it shows everything they need to navigate their way around the system (in effect, competing with the actual system map). However, the information shown here is incomplete: there’s absolutely no reference on this map to the Green Line’s leg from L’Enfant Plaza to Southern Avenue, nor the Orange Line’s leg from Rosslyn to Vienna. According to this map, they simply don’t exist. Yet the branch of the Orange Line to New Carrollton (which doesn’t share any track with the Blue Line) is shown in full detail.
Finally, if this approach is continued into the future, then the whole map is just going to have to be redone when the Silver Line is opened, further increasing the complexity.
Historical Map: Washington, DC Metro Map, 1981
Enough of all this talk about the new DC Metro map; here’s another old one for you — and this one’s a bit of an oddity. An inspection of the southern leg of the Green Line shows that the terminus was then planned to be at Rosecroft, not Branch Avenue. The preceding station shown, St. Barnabas Road, was also never constructed
The photos of the map were sent to me by Mark Greenwald, who says that these maps were on trains for less than a year — presumably because of the numerous legal issues surrounding the eventual routing of the Green Line, which you can read more about on Wikipedia.
Another oddity — Union Station is still labelled as “Union Station - Visitor Center” long after the ill-fated National Visitor Center closed its doors in 1978.
P.S. This is Transit Maps' 700th post — that's a lotta maps!
Photo — Worst. Bus Map. Ever.
(Source: Chester Beltowski/Flickr)