Official Map: MARC Commuter Rail Map
Ugh. A terrible JPG of a decidedly ugly map. There’s so much to dislike about this: the blocky label type; the tiny, indecipherable symbols used for the Metro and light rail in Baltimore and the insultingly poor renditions of the logos of connecting services (WMATA, Amtrak and VRE); the ridiculously ornate and garishly coloured compass rose; the soft “glow” effect applied to the MARC routes… the list goes on. Not to mention the mistakes, like the incorrect colour for the Brunswick Line on the legend and the missing “railway line” ticks on he Camden line.
Our rating: Slipshod work with an ugly result. One star.
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)
Historical Map: Tactile/Braille Map of the Washington DC Metro, 1988
A tactile map designed by J.W. Wiedel for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education.
Tactile surfaces on the map reveal information about the Metrorail system for vision-impaired users, including whether stations have side or centre platforms (more information than can be found on the official map) and transfer stations. It’s hard to make out, but braille text is also included for major stations and areas. Each route line also appears to have a unique texture so that one can be distinguished from another easily. It’s easiest to see this with the Yellow Line in the legend, where a tactile dotted line can be discerned.
We talk about making maps accessible for colour-blind users a lot, but we don’t often discuss how to make transit accessible for completely blind or heavily vision-impaired users. Maps like this are a great tool for such users, but seem to be pretty few and far between.
Note also the “missing” parts of the system that haven’t been built yet: no Green Line at all, Yellow Line only goes to Gallery Place, etc.
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)
Unofficial Map: Washington DC Metro Map by Peter Dovak
An interesting approach to an alternative DC Metro map by Peter Dovak, who previously submitted this fantasy light rail map of Louisville, Kentucky.
There’s quite a bit to like here: I love the circular abstraction of the beltway highway around DC, which is then centred perfactly around the District diamond. Peter’s even made sure that the “square” formed by the three main interchange stations — Metro Center, Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza — sits at the exact centre of the diamond/circle, which is a nice design touch. He’s also worked hard to ensure that stations retain their correct position relative to all the boundaries (be they roadway or jurisdictional), which isn’t an easy thing to do.
Less successful, I feel, is the use of 30/60 degree angles for the route lines. While it gives more flexibility in layout, it just ends up looking a little too chaotic when overlaid on the 45-degree angles of the District boundary. Like it or not, this diamond is the shape that defines the District (and the map!): too many angles fights against that shape and dilutes its visual strength. The naturalistic approach taken to the rivers and parkland also creates even more angles that pull the eye different directions. The least successful result of this approach to route lines is the nasty acute angle formed on the southern branch of the Green Line as it turns to follow the District border through the Southern Avenue station.
I like the idea behind the station symbols acting as “ticks” pointing towards their labels, but I feel the white rounded rectangle needs to be brought in from the edge of the “non-tick” side just a little bit. The way it sits right on the edge of the route line at the moment breaks up the flow of the lines and could also cause some problems when printing the map.
Peter’s used the “subtitle” approach to station names that first appeared in a couple of the entries to the Greater Greater Washington map contest and has since migrated to the official map — a fantastic concept, and definitely the right approach. However, he’s also deleted parts of names in certain cases: U Street has lost its “African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo” subtitle completely. While this definitely saves space and helps labels fit, it’s a huge no-no. Lobby groups have worked hard to give stations those ridiculously long names, and they’re not going to like it if you remove them!
While on the subject of labels, Peter always spells out “Street” and “Road” in station names, but uses “Ave”, “Blvd” or “Sq”. I’d prefer either all spelled out or all abbreviated, not a combination of both.
In the end, this is an interesting alternate take on the DC Metro map. Some ideas work really well, others less so, but the thought processes behind them are valid and considered. For me, this map is a step up in both concept and execution from Peter’s Louisville map.
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: Street Railways, City of Washington, D.C., 1891
As the first segment of the new DC Streetcar on H Street and Benning Road nears completion, here’s a look back at what existed a long, long time ago. As can be seen at this time, no fewer than ten streetcar companies operated in the District. By 1895, Congress authorised consolidation of the companies and the larger, more successful systems bought out the smaller ones.
The map itself is very handsome, with the distinctive grid of the L’Enfant Plan very evident, especially compared to the relatively haphazard development north of “Boundary Street” — now Florida Avenue. Interestingly, the track of the Columbia Company (shown as yellow on the map) runs along H Street from its intersection with Benning Road past today’s Union Station: the exact same route that is nearing completion now, 122 years after this map was drawn up.
More information on the history of streetcars in Washington, DC on Wikipedia.
(Source: Sean Hennessey/Flickr)
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!