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.
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.