Victorian Rail Network — Concept Map, April 2014
Here’s an interesting proposed new map out of Australia which combines Melbourne’s suburban rail network with the V/Line passenger rail service. In a way, this makes sense, as many of V/Line’s services act as commuter rail services from surrounding cities like Geelong. With the introduction of the myki farecard, much of the V/Line network now even shares the same ticketing system, as shown on the map by use of a solid grey route line. However, it does look a little odd to have Craigieburn (25km from the Melbourne CBD) so close to Albury at the end of the line (over the border into NSW, some 330km from Melbourne). In the end, the diagrammatic distortion is probably a good trade off in making a compact, legible map.
Overall, I really think this a good effort, and I certainly like it a lot more than the current Melbourne rail network map that just uses two colours (blue and yellow) to represent fare zones, although I don’t know if this map will replace that one or is meant to complement it.
I was going to comment that an indication of which direction trains travel around the City Loop would be good, but some research reveals that there’s no easy answer to that: trains can go opposite directions around the loop depending on the time of day.
Apparently, this map is on display at certain stations around Melbourne and Public Transport Victoria will be surveying customers for their opinion. However, putting a call to action on the poster — “for more information, visit our website” — really only works if the end user can actually find the relevant information easily (I gave up after 10 minutes).
Our rating: Nicely done. Three-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Daniel Bowen/Flickr)
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 - Unofficial MARTA (Atlanta, GA) Map by Andrew Whited
Now this I like!
Part of an overall identity project for MARTA that Andrew completed, here’s his stylish revision of the system map (I reviewed the official one way, way back in October 2011, giving it a pretty generous 3 stars).
The MARTA system isn’t that complex — essentially only having two intersecting trunk lines with a couple of branches — so simplifying it down and abstracting it like this works really well. The slightly muted colour palette (almost like the route line colours have been multiplied with the background grey) is quite lovely and subtle. There’s also some lovely bespoke icons for restrooms and the airport, and the legend is both comprehensive and attractive.
A couple of quibbles — the spacing of stations on the Green/Blue lines east of the main Five Points interchange could be better — Georgia State is pushed right up close to the Five Points label (the station dots are much closer to the Yellow Line than the Dome/Arena dots are to the Red Line on the other side), The way the labels drop down after the Green Line ends also creates a visual gap between Edgewood and East Lake stations. The dots may be evenly and mathematically placed along this line, but sometimes things have to be tweaked and eyeballed until they look right. I’d probably also make all the labels just a little bit bigger — there’s plenty of room and it would suit the fat, chunky look of the route lines nicely.
Finally, I love the super simple, stylised highways that sit behind the map (including a good old literal “ring road”), but I do have to make a correction: Andrew has labelled them as U.S. Routes, when they’re actually Interstate Highways — that is, it’s not “U.S. 20”, but “I-20”, etc. And I know my Interstates from my U.S. Routes!
Our rating: Pretty yummy stuff! I’d definitely click through to Andrew’s site to check out the whole rebranding project — maps, signage, trains, buses, tickets, the works! Four stars!
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 - Unofficial Map: Sydney Trains Aerial Image
Submitted by thatlattesipper.
Sydney Trains routes (complete with new “T-line” branding) for the north and west of the city overlaid on a Google Earth image.
If nothing else, this map reminds us of how staggeringly huge Greater Sydney really is. It’s 20 kilometres in a straight line from the dot representing Central Station at the lower left to Hornsby (just off the right of the map), and over 30km from Central to Prospect Reservoir, the large body of water just glimpsed at the centre top of the map. And this view doesn’t even show the entire southern half of the city (it’s another 20km from Central south to Waterfall) or Western Sydney from Prospect out to Emu Plains.
Some perspective: Greater Sydney has a population of around 4.6 million and an area of 12,100 square km (a population density of just 380 people per square km). The five boroughs of New York City have a population of 8.3 million in just 786 square km (or approximately 10,600 people per square km!)
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.
[GIF] Comparison between my Sydney Trains map and the official one
Just for the heck of it. Post about project here.
My Reworking of the New Sydney Trains Map
Okay, I couldn’t help myself: I just had to redraw this thing to illustrate all the points I talked about earlier — correcting the obvious errors I discovered in my technical review, and also addressing the general thoughts of my initial post.
So here it is: not a redesign, but a reworking of the design concept while working within the established principles of the official map. If you’re just starting out with designing transit maps, this is always a fun exercise: opening up a PDF file in Illustrator, pulling it apart and putting it back together again to see how it works. I reworked this over just two days, probably spending about 8-10 hours on it in total.
My objectives with this map were to clean up and simplify. To achieve this, I completely redrew everything apart from the header, footer and legend. I did this so I could guarantee consistency throughout: I drew it, so I knew it was what I wanted, basically.
There’s only two major changes to the map, both of which help a lot, I feel. Firstly, I’ve removed the line names from the terminus stations on the map, leaving only the “T-number” designator. The T-numbers are explained clearly in the legend: I feel that repeating them on the map is superfluous and takes up way too much space. This change also allowed me to place the T-numbers more consistently and away from the route lines, instead of butted right up to them, as they sometimes were (especially at Epping and Hornsby).
The second change is the straightening of the T3 Bankstown Line, which makes it much easier to follow, in my opinion. Changes in direction in a route line should always be kept to a minimum, and the twisty path that the original map takes just didn’t make much sense to me.
After that, much of my work was just respacing stations for a more even effect throughout the map: see the Lidcombe detail comparison above for a good example: Granville, Clyde, Auburn and Lidcombe are far more evenly spaced, despite their differing text sizes and boldness. One effect of the respacing is that only one station name — the unavoidable Olympic Park — cuts through another route line: Sydenham and Flemington now sit away from nearby lines.
I also paid huge attention to curves throughout the map: all curves are now consistently sized with an equal radius (no curve is longer than it is wide). Stations don’t sit on a curve anywhere on the map: the closest they come is on the point that marks the start of a curve. The city comparison detail image above shows how this affects the station markers at Redfern, Central and Town Hall. Because none of the dots are on a curved part of the line, they can be placed perfectly evenly across the routes.
The other thing I’ve done with curves is to ensure that joins between lines always have a curve on them: no line joins straight onto another one. On the city detail image, you can see this where the Bankstown Line heads north to Town Hall, and where the Airport Line heads south to Green Square. This kind of information is subtle but important, as it makes it absolutely explicit which direction the line travels once it joins onto the other one.
Finally, the wireframe comparison image shows how clean my artwork is: no extraneous points in the middle of a straight line and two-point curves: simple, clean and — most importantly — easy to edit later.
Things that could still be addressed: I’d love to be able to get a T3 icon next to Lidcombe, and I’m still not convinced that the T1/T5 lines need to change direction between Parramatta and Blacktown — it might be nice for the T5 line to continue in a straight 45-degree line from Harris Park all the way to Schofields, with the T1 branching off from Blacktown to Emu Plains.
(Source: Original Official map PDF from this page)
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Better? Worse? The same?
Technical Review: New Sydney Trains Network Map
It seems that the draft Sydney Trains map that I posted about the other day is the real thing: printed timetables featuring it have been seen and scanned. So, I started looking at it again in order to write a proper review, when I started to notice a lot of little technical things that — as a designer — I found jarring and inconsistent.
I opened the PDF file in Adobe Illustrator and began to poke around. I thought it might be interesting — and perhaps instructive for designers who are interested in making their own transit maps — to show you what I found.
First, apologies for the four separate images: it’s an attempt to get around Tumblr’s maximum 1280px width for pictures. For reference, lets call then NW, NE, SW and SE.
My biggest problem with the map, and what I noticed first, is the wildly inconsistent positioning of labels. The one that really caught my eye was Lindfield on the North Shore Line on the NE map: it’s waaay out of place. St Marys on the Western Line (NW map) is also pretty bad. But, really, almost every label is poorly placed.
To show just how poor, I created cyan guides that are offset a small distance out from the route lines: this seemed to me to be about the right distance away for optimum placement of station labels. Then, for each orientation of label, I created an L-shaped magenta guide that shows both the baseline and the correct alignment (left or right) for the type. I then copy-and-pasted these guides to almost all the labels on the map, being sure to always keep them in the same position relative to each station maker.
As you can see, things are pretty horrific. It’s pretty obvious that there’s no common baseline for labels relative to their stations, nor are they a consistent distance away from the route lines. It’s almost as if each label has been placed individually and then nudged into position, rather than setting up a master set of label positions and applying them as required. Illustrator’s Duplicate function (Command/Control-D) makes this kind of thing so simple: place once, copy elements the required distance to place the next station, then Duplicate, Duplicate, Duplicate until all the stations are quickly and consistently placed.
It can be seen on the North Shore Line (NE map) that even the station dots are inconsistently placed — I’ve put a magenta dot over the top of any station that wasn’t where I expected it to be if things were placed mathematically. Possibly the worst culprits here are Merrylands, Guildford and Yennora stations at the bottom of the NW map: Guildford’s dots aren’t even at the correct angle to each other, and the label placement is completely different for each station. The huge gap between Yennora and Fairfield stations is also pretty ugly: it definitely should be possible to evenly and smoothly space the stations all the way down from Merrylands to Campbelltown.
Some route lines aren’t actually constrained to 45-degree angles: the worst offender is the East Hllls line from Riverwood to Holsworthy (SW map); others are also shown with an overprinting magenta line.
The distance between parallel route lines is inconsistent across the map: this is shown with a little measuring line. The black lines show my base measurement, while the blue lines show inconsistently spaced gaps, which may also be inconsistently spaced with each other! Again, spacing between elements can be controlled easily in Illustrator by entering precise values into the Move dialog box, so this type of thing is very frustrating to see.
The under construction South West Rail Link route is drawn differently to the North West Rail Link: it has no curves where it changes direction and the angled part of the line is too thick. I’ve rotated and overlaid the NW Link on top of the SW Link in cyan to illustrate the difference.
Why is the Macquarie University (NE map) station label set in bold “Interchange” text, but has no interchange ring around the station marker?
Finally, the nesting of curves where parallel routes change direction is very poor throughout the map. Look especially at the City Circle, where huge gaps open up between the route lines at the 90-degree corners. The corners on the orange Bankstown line there aren’t even a consistent radius, being much wider than they are tall.
You know, I really want to like this map. I don’t have any huge attachment to the old one, even though it’s competent enough. Sydney has regularly changed the look of its system map, so we certainly don’t have the same attachment to it that London has to its Tube Map, for example.
This new map is nicely simplified and streamlined, properly full of promise for the new timetabled services. It’s even looks quite friendly and cheerful! However, as a designer, I find it very difficult to look past glaring technical errors like the ones that litter this map, and now I can’t help but see them every darn time I look it.
NOTE: The PDF I edited is slightly older than the one now posted on the Sydney Trains website, but almost every error I talk about is still present in this final version. North Strathfield’s label no longer intersects the T7 Olympic Park line, which is an improvement of sorts.