A picture map of the Washington Metropolitan Region, created for the official bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution (1776-1976). Dated 1975.
Please view a full, high-resolution version of the map.
Image 2: This section of the map gives an overview of the District, as well as listing information about different Metrobus stops and the in-progress Metrorail (which opened in March 1976, just before the bicentennial).
Image 3: The map gives an up-close look at different sections of the city and inner-ring suburbs, including: Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Southwest, Capitol Hill, and Old Town Alexandria. These special sections point out landmarks such as Howard University, the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Rock Creek Park. It also provides information on famous buildings such as the Willard Hotel, the Old Post Office, and the British Embassy.
Image 4: The last section provides historical details about the District and the surrounding region, including facts about the National Mall, a graph that charts the city’s population growth, and the March on Washington in 1963.
Well, this is just gorgeous (and relevant, as it has a little map of the nascent Metrorail system in the second image).
Historical Map: Map of Greyhound Lines and Principal Connecting Routes, 1938
From a booklet promoting sightseeing via Greyhound’s long-distance bus lines, which sounds like an absolutely awful way to see America. However, it’s a very handsome two-colour map that certainly highlights the apparent density of the network at that time.
Historical Map: Comprehensive Rapid Transit Plan for the City and County of Los Angeles, 1925
This is one of the earliest plans commissioned by the City and County of Los Angeles. The consultants — Kelker, De Leuw and Co. of Chicago — were asked to create a plan to accommodate a future city population of three million.
Metro’s own history archive has this to say about the project:
The plan shows a number of proposed immediate and future subways: one across Hollywood to La Brea Boulevard, another from downtown to 7th Street, up Vermont Avenue, and across Third Street. It initially would have run to Larchmont Boulevard as subway with a future extension on elevated rail to Third Street and down Wilshire Boulevard to Beverly Hills and the ocean in Santa Monica. It also shows a subway from downtown across Pico Boulevard, initially to Rimpau Boulevard with a future extension to Venice Beach.
Solid lines on both the regional map and the urban map represent mass rapid transit routes recommended for immediate construction to relieve downtown congestion. Dotted lines predict future extensions that will be necessary to serve population increases. The plan recommended for immediate construction of 153 miles of subway, elevated rail, and street railways at a projected cost of $133,385,000. Strong opposition by the business community to planned sections of elevated rail, as well as voter reluctance to tax themselves to benefit the privately held Pacific Electric Railway and Los Angeles Railway effectively shelved the plan.
The map itself is a superb example of cartography, complete with some lovely contour work on the mountains around the city and simply lovely hand-drawn typography — check out the loveliness of that “PACIFIC OCEAN” label.
The map does a lot with a limited colour palette, but it’s effective: existing rapid transit in black, proposed lines in red, and everything else in a pleasant (and visually recessive) gold. It’s worth noting that there aren’t any roads shown on this map, just the tracks of the two main streetcar companies, the Los Angeles Railway and the Pacific Electric Railway (see this contemporaneous map of that system).
Our rating: Gorgeous, and fun to compare against the actual existing Metrorail system. Four stars!
Source: LA Metro archive library (lots of other fun planning maps there!)
Historical Map: Map of Glasgow Corporation Transport Services, c. 1934
A handsomely drawn map that does some sterling work with just three colours (a very modern combination of black, cyan and magenta!).
Of particular note is the clever way that a solid magenta line (bus service), can be combined with a dashed black line (trams) to indicate where both types of transportation share the same route without having to draw two separate lines. Interestingly, buses appear to have route numbers, while trams are designated by their final destination only.
Glasgow’s single circular subway line is shown in nicely contrasting cyan, as are neighbourhood labels and the River Clyde.
Submission - Historical Map: Chicago Regional Transportation Authority, 1977
Submitted by Dennis McClendon, who has previously submitted material related to transit mapping in Chicago that I’ve featured on the site.
This map is a real beauty, and I definitely appreciate Dennis’ ability to talk about the technical aspects of cartography in the days before computers. We take computer-aided design almost completely for granted today — but map-making was a laborious, manually performed task back then, where a scalpel, a light box and rubylith film were vital parts of a cartographer’s arsenal.
I’m just old enough as a designer to have come in at the very end of this manual era of printing. My very first task in a real design studio was to cut up 48 pasteboards to mount the artwork for 24 double-sided leaflets on. I then marked up each and every board on an overlay with the colour specs for every element and instructions for stripping in photos from colour transparencies, or “trannies” (yes, really):
Tranny X - enlarge to 143%, crop as shown. Strip to keyline, delete keyline.
For every photo on every page.
But enough reminiscing about the olden days: on to Dennis’ thoughts on this fantastic map:
Because I’m hard at work on its modern successor, I thought you might be interested in a very curious and striking printed map from the 1970s: the famous black Chicago RTA map, first published in 1977.
This was the Chicago area’s first full-color transit map, a splashy beginning for the newly created Regional Transportation Authority that voters had approved to take over the region’s failing transit agencies and private companies. The colors used for the Chicago Transit Authority rail lines would—mostly by happenstance—be chosen 20 years later as the actual names for those lines (brown got swapped with purple for the line serving Northwestern University, whose school colors are purple and white). Transit history geeks will understand the A and B symbols on the rapid transit stations as relating to Chicago’s skip-stop service (ended in 1995) during which alternating trains stopped only at A or B stations.
The system map exhibits several traits long associated with Chicago transit maps, such as the curving corners, dots at terminals, and bare route numbers next to the lines. There are reminders of the era, like the Souvenir Bold Italic typeface used for points of interest. The map was designed by Rand McNally, and the folklore is that they were hungry for the work. The same oil crisis that had boosted interest in public transit had made free gas station maps unnecessary, and that was a big part of Rand’s business. But the main design question is: why black? Printing a rich black generally requires two passes, or at least an underlayer of cyan.
The official explanation for the black is that it was a clever way to deal with misregistration of thin colored lines. Undoubtedly there’s a lot of truth in that. In those days of Scribecoat and photomechanical production, cartographers had to worry a lot about trapping and misregistration. So a close look at the thin blue and tan bus lines will reveal that a one point line has been photographically “spread” into a 1.4 point line that is behind a 1 point gap in the black (black is printed last in four-color printing). The method wasn’t always totally successful, and there are tiny white gaps around some of the point-of-interest names. But an ordinary 1 point tan line would have been difficult to print, since it would be composed of a 20 percent dot each of cyan and magenta, and a 30 percent dot of yellow—all of which would need to line up exactly. None of the colors would so dominate that the other colors could be “choked” to a narrower line that wouldn’t peek out.
Some of the printing details can be seen in the enlargement. The rich black seems to be 100% black over 40% cyan. The ocher-olive (not the most pleasing color, even in the earth-tone 1970s) looks to be about 60% black over 60% yellow. A similar combination of cyan and black produces a handsome steely blue for the downtown inset.
A very curious design feature is that bus lines are never allowed to intersect. Instead one line is always broken where another crosses it. Some of this was worked out by folks who knew the system well, and buses on overpasses, or buses making a 90-degree turn, are always shown on top of crossing lines. The others were randomized like a basket weave. The reason for this design choice isn’t obvious to me; it may be that it reinforces where lines turn a corner and where they continue straight. There doesn’t seem to have been a production rationale: at least one perfect uninterrupted crossing (Kimball and Peterson) is shown, apparently by mistake. The idea of color-coding bus lines by which rapid transit line they feed wasn’t a success. Lots of crosstown lines reach four different lines along their lengths, and many crosstown bus riders aren’t headed to a rapid transit line at all.
But back to the main question, why black? I never saw another example anywhere of a black transit map—except for Métro inset maps on Montreal’s maps in the 1980s, which were so obviously reproduced directly from the artwork used for panels inside the cars that they even include the warning not to interfere with the functioning of the doors.
I think the real reason was marketing. The RTA was a new agency that saw the value of graphic design to tie together the region’s disparate transit assets and build public support for them. The maps, the signage typefaces, even the livery on locomotive, railcars, and buses was what we would today call “branding.” So while there may have been a good production justification for the striking black RTA map, I think the bigger reason was how cool it looked. Indeed, I had a copy hanging on my wall when I was in grad school a thousand miles away, never dreaming that 30 years later I’d be the designer trusted to make a new RTA system map useful and attractive.
Submission — Historical Map: Boston Elevated Railway System Map, c. 1946
Kindly sent my way by Ross Howard from his personal collection is this great old map of the Boston Elevated Railway (or BERy).
Ross thought it may have been from the 1930s, but a little Googling has revealed that this version — the seventh edition — was released in 1946-1947, making it the last BERy map before its operations were taken over by the MTA, itself a predecessor to the current MBTA.
The map itself is a fine example of precise mid-20th century cartography, making good use of minimal colour. I also like the great typography and the wonderful compass rose logo on the cover. The house ad for travelling via “El” to the Airport is interesting: shuttle buses still run from the Blue Line to Logan to this very day.
Historical Map: Hamburg Hoch- und Untergrundbahn, c. 1912
A beautiful old map showing Hamburg’s Ringbahn and spur lines. I believe that this map is from no later than January 1912, and it may be from even earlier, as the legend denotes that all the routes shown in red (the beginnings of today’s U-Bahn system) are “intended for execution” — that is, planned or under construction, not actually built.
Construction of the Ringbahn began in 1906, and the first section between Rathaus and Barmbek stations was opened on February 15, 1912. The ring was completed by the end of June that year. The spur lines as shown on this map opened in stages between 1913 and 1915.
See also this amazing Hamburg train carriage ceiling map from 1915.
The Hamburg subway in 1912.
Historical Maps: Surface Trolley Lines and Elevated/Subway Lines of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, 1913
A superb pair of maps that depict the trolley lines (top) and elevated and subway lines (bottom) of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) Company as they would appear after the work specified in the famous “Dual Contracts" agreement was completed. Much of today’s existing subway system came about because of this contract, as can be seen from the red (proposed) lines on the lower map.
For me, the top map is even more interesting — it shows how incredibly dense the trolley system in Brooklyn was at the time.
(Source: University of Texas Library map collection)
Official Map: Île-de-France Regional Transit Map
Brought to my attention by readers Tony and Guillaume is this striking new regional transit map for the Île-de-France region that surrounds Paris.
It shows not only the Paris Métro (lines 1 through 14), but also the tramways (Lines T1 through T7), RER lines (lines A through E) and the Transilien commuter rail network (lines H, J, K, L, N, P, R and U). In addition to all this, it also manages to show a wide array of bus routes and indicate travel zones! That it can do all this while still looking quite lovely is definitely an achievement.
Issued by the Syndicat des Transports d’Ile de France (STIF) and designed by LatitudeCartagene, the map is starting to pop up at stations across Paris, replacing an older, more geographically-based map.
It’s interesting to note that while the map shows the entire Métro, it isn’t based on the official map of that network and has instead been drawn from scratch — a wise choice. It also uses Frutiger as the main typeface, rather than the RATP’s bespoke Parisine font. However, it does share the Métro map’s slightly muted pastel colour palette, which means that the few really bright colours like the blazing red of the RER “A” line really jump out.
The map uses an interesting mix of angles to allow all the routes to meet up with each other, as well as some lovely sweeping curves, especially the RER “C” line along the banks of the Seine. In general, the RER and Transilien lines have more flowing curves than the Métro, which works well to visually separate them. The bus routes are shown as straight lines with very tight curves when they change direction.
About the only fault with this map is the lack of a legend: the distinction between the RER lines (route letter in a circle) and Transilien lines (route letter in a square) isn’t immediately apparent, and I’m still not entirely sure why some bus routes are orange and others are blue (orange routes mainly serve central Paris, while blue routes seem to serve the outer areas or be express routes).
Our rating: Basically, I love this: a huge, complex network of interconnecting routes and transit modes simplified and rendered in a stylish, understandable way. Hopefully, it’s future-proofed to cope with the upcoming expansion of Métro and RER services. Four-and-a-half stars!
(Source: Official STIF vianavigo site — PDF download)
Historical Map: AC Transit Route Map, 1967
Sweet illustrated map of bus routes in the East Bay, including a multitude of transbay services: I count 16 crossing the Bay Bridge to San Francisco!
As with all maps of this ilk, the fun part is finding all the little details in the illustrations that are liberally scattered throughout (My favourite is probably the sailor who is busily chatting up the cute nurse at the top centre of the map). The subtle painted texture of the mountains at the top of the map is also rather lovely.
Although quite whimsical in execution, the map actually conveys a lot of useful information as well: local, intercity and transbay services are all differentiated by colour; rush-only services are denoted by a square route box, rather than a circle. Different zones are also shown simply and efficiently by simple line across a route: the zone numbers are placed on the relevant side of that line. Effective, but not overpowering.
Our rating: Lovely late 1960s design. Lots of fun to be had poring over this one. Four stars!