Jenni Sparks does her meticulously-detailed-yet-organic illustration thing with San Francisco (we’ve previously featured her great NYC map), with BART and Caltrain (really?) given strong visual prominence. Strangely, there’s not a single Muni Metro train, F Line streetcar or cable car to be seen!

99percentinvisible:

A beautiful, detailed, hand-drawn map of San Francisco

Submission — NEW Official Map: MARTA Rapid Rail System, Atlanta, Georgia
'Tis the season for new transit maps in the United States! Hot on the heels of Portland’s new MAX light rail map comes this new version for Atlanta’s rapid rail system. These photos were submitted by long-time correspondent Matt Johnson on a recent visit to Atlanta, and he notes that they are present in many of the system’s major stations.
For the time being, MARTA’s website is lagging behind, still displaying an older version that’s sort of halfway between this map and the version I previously reviewed (Oct 2011, 3.5 stars).
This map has quite a few improvements and changes from the version I previously reviewed, not the least of which is the change from Futura to Helvetica as the map’s main typeface. This makes a big difference in my eyes — Helvetica may have some failings that prevent it from being a truly excellent wayfinding typeface, but its clean looks and large x-height are a big step up from the idiosyncrasies of Futura.
The other big change is the way that night services are now shown as a separate inset map, rather than trying to explain them on the main map with different markings on the route lines. For a relatively simple system like Atlanta’s this works extremely well and is definitely easier to use and understand. However, it introduces one element that is simply awful and totally out of character with the simplicity of the rest of the map. The nighttime Red and Green Lines (the ones that have service cut back to only cover the stand-alone sections of track) have tiny little directional arrows running along both edges of the route line. I guess it’s meant to emphasise the shuttle-like nature of the lines, but I think that it’s totally unnecessary (as well as ugly). Bi-directional travel along route lines is inherently implied on a transit map unless specifically indicated otherwise, so why are these arrows even needed?
Other changes for the better include better drawn route lines than now nest properly going around curves (yay!). They’ve also lost their bounding black keylines, which helps to simplify the map — the Gold Line is a deeper hue now to enable it to retain its visibility compared to the other lines.
Our rating: In a way, this map has almost come full circle back to the stylish minimalism of the map used in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and that’s a good thing in my eyes. The little directional arrows on the night services map are a strange aberration, but overall, this is a solid improvement over previous recent maps. Four stars!
Submission — NEW Official Map: MARTA Rapid Rail System, Atlanta, Georgia
'Tis the season for new transit maps in the United States! Hot on the heels of Portland’s new MAX light rail map comes this new version for Atlanta’s rapid rail system. These photos were submitted by long-time correspondent Matt Johnson on a recent visit to Atlanta, and he notes that they are present in many of the system’s major stations.
For the time being, MARTA’s website is lagging behind, still displaying an older version that’s sort of halfway between this map and the version I previously reviewed (Oct 2011, 3.5 stars).
This map has quite a few improvements and changes from the version I previously reviewed, not the least of which is the change from Futura to Helvetica as the map’s main typeface. This makes a big difference in my eyes — Helvetica may have some failings that prevent it from being a truly excellent wayfinding typeface, but its clean looks and large x-height are a big step up from the idiosyncrasies of Futura.
The other big change is the way that night services are now shown as a separate inset map, rather than trying to explain them on the main map with different markings on the route lines. For a relatively simple system like Atlanta’s this works extremely well and is definitely easier to use and understand. However, it introduces one element that is simply awful and totally out of character with the simplicity of the rest of the map. The nighttime Red and Green Lines (the ones that have service cut back to only cover the stand-alone sections of track) have tiny little directional arrows running along both edges of the route line. I guess it’s meant to emphasise the shuttle-like nature of the lines, but I think that it’s totally unnecessary (as well as ugly). Bi-directional travel along route lines is inherently implied on a transit map unless specifically indicated otherwise, so why are these arrows even needed?
Other changes for the better include better drawn route lines than now nest properly going around curves (yay!). They’ve also lost their bounding black keylines, which helps to simplify the map — the Gold Line is a deeper hue now to enable it to retain its visibility compared to the other lines.
Our rating: In a way, this map has almost come full circle back to the stylish minimalism of the map used in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and that’s a good thing in my eyes. The little directional arrows on the night services map are a strange aberration, but overall, this is a solid improvement over previous recent maps. Four stars!
Submission — NEW Official Map: MARTA Rapid Rail System, Atlanta, Georgia
'Tis the season for new transit maps in the United States! Hot on the heels of Portland’s new MAX light rail map comes this new version for Atlanta’s rapid rail system. These photos were submitted by long-time correspondent Matt Johnson on a recent visit to Atlanta, and he notes that they are present in many of the system’s major stations.
For the time being, MARTA’s website is lagging behind, still displaying an older version that’s sort of halfway between this map and the version I previously reviewed (Oct 2011, 3.5 stars).
This map has quite a few improvements and changes from the version I previously reviewed, not the least of which is the change from Futura to Helvetica as the map’s main typeface. This makes a big difference in my eyes — Helvetica may have some failings that prevent it from being a truly excellent wayfinding typeface, but its clean looks and large x-height are a big step up from the idiosyncrasies of Futura.
The other big change is the way that night services are now shown as a separate inset map, rather than trying to explain them on the main map with different markings on the route lines. For a relatively simple system like Atlanta’s this works extremely well and is definitely easier to use and understand. However, it introduces one element that is simply awful and totally out of character with the simplicity of the rest of the map. The nighttime Red and Green Lines (the ones that have service cut back to only cover the stand-alone sections of track) have tiny little directional arrows running along both edges of the route line. I guess it’s meant to emphasise the shuttle-like nature of the lines, but I think that it’s totally unnecessary (as well as ugly). Bi-directional travel along route lines is inherently implied on a transit map unless specifically indicated otherwise, so why are these arrows even needed?
Other changes for the better include better drawn route lines than now nest properly going around curves (yay!). They’ve also lost their bounding black keylines, which helps to simplify the map — the Gold Line is a deeper hue now to enable it to retain its visibility compared to the other lines.
Our rating: In a way, this map has almost come full circle back to the stylish minimalism of the map used in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and that’s a good thing in my eyes. The little directional arrows on the night services map are a strange aberration, but overall, this is a solid improvement over previous recent maps. Four stars!

Submission — NEW Official Map: MARTA Rapid Rail System, Atlanta, Georgia

'Tis the season for new transit maps in the United States! Hot on the heels of Portland’s new MAX light rail map comes this new version for Atlanta’s rapid rail system. These photos were submitted by long-time correspondent Matt Johnson on a recent visit to Atlanta, and he notes that they are present in many of the system’s major stations.

For the time being, MARTA’s website is lagging behind, still displaying an older version that’s sort of halfway between this map and the version I previously reviewed (Oct 2011, 3.5 stars).

This map has quite a few improvements and changes from the version I previously reviewed, not the least of which is the change from Futura to Helvetica as the map’s main typeface. This makes a big difference in my eyes — Helvetica may have some failings that prevent it from being a truly excellent wayfinding typeface, but its clean looks and large x-height are a big step up from the idiosyncrasies of Futura.

The other big change is the way that night services are now shown as a separate inset map, rather than trying to explain them on the main map with different markings on the route lines. For a relatively simple system like Atlanta’s this works extremely well and is definitely easier to use and understand. However, it introduces one element that is simply awful and totally out of character with the simplicity of the rest of the map. The nighttime Red and Green Lines (the ones that have service cut back to only cover the stand-alone sections of track) have tiny little directional arrows running along both edges of the route line. I guess it’s meant to emphasise the shuttle-like nature of the lines, but I think that it’s totally unnecessary (as well as ugly). Bi-directional travel along route lines is inherently implied on a transit map unless specifically indicated otherwise, so why are these arrows even needed?

Other changes for the better include better drawn route lines than now nest properly going around curves (yay!). They’ve also lost their bounding black keylines, which helps to simplify the map — the Gold Line is a deeper hue now to enable it to retain its visibility compared to the other lines.

Our rating: In a way, this map has almost come full circle back to the stylish minimalism of the map used in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and that’s a good thing in my eyes. The little directional arrows on the night services map are a strange aberration, but overall, this is a solid improvement over previous recent maps. Four stars!

4 Stars!

Unofficial Map: Sydney Rail Network (Trains and Light Rail) by Ben Luke

Submitted by Ben, who says:

This is my version of the Sydney Trains map. I was inspired to try designing my own version after the introduction of the new official map which I found to be rather uninspiring. I have been learning Illustrator in the process, so thanks to your excellent blog for all the tips and tutorials.

I have used a realistic background layer which is distorted to fit around the map but maintains a sense of geographic familiarity (I’m a map geek so this is important to me!). My aim was to capture the essence of Sydney with its rich interplay between land and water without being to distracting. I have also decided to include the light rail system, which the new official map has dropped, as I’ve always been fan of multi mode maps. Other than that I just tried to keep things as simple and straight as possible. 

——

Transit Maps says:

There’s a lot to like in Ben’s reinterpretation of the Sydney Trains map. His use of 30/60-degree angles actually helps a lot in some of the traditionally crowded parts of the map – the Illawarra Line south of Arncliffe and the North Shore Line, in particular. The reorientation of the main trunk line out to Blacktown as one long straight line on a 30-degree angle also works surprisingly well, countering the diagrammatic enlargement of the CBD nicely. There are places where the 30-degree lines look a bit awkward next to the 45-degree labels (Flemington to Granville, for example), but I can see why Ben’s taken this approach.

I also really like the “Intercity” labels that Ben has used to indicate the direction of longer-distance trains: it integrates the branding of the service more effectively than the official map, although adding some key destinations along each line might be a good idea for users unfamiliar with the system: Blue Mountains Line – to Katoomba and Lithgow works better than just the line name for me. A little more “breathing room” at the top and bottom of the map would also be welcomed, as the labels are pushed up pretty tight to the edge at the moment.

I do feel that the spacing of the stations in the western part of the map is a little big compared to other parts of the map: there’s nice, even, tight spacing up to Blacktown, then a giant gap to Doonside or Marayong, and much bigger spacing between all the stations from there on out.

I’ve gone on record as saying that I’m not the greatest fan of diagrammatic maps on geographic backgrounds – but if you’re going to do it, do it well. Ben’s done it very well here – it looks far less distorted and cartoony that the previous Sydney rail map.

Ben’s integrated the light rail system into his map – although he’s inexplicably changed it to blue from its official deep red – and has come across a pretty big problem. The sydney train network is vast and sprawling, covering huge distances in every direction – while the light rail line is much denser, with stations spaced much closer together. It’s very difficult to coherently place these two very different systems on the same map, although Ben’s put in a manful effort here. I’d probably be in favour of showing the light rail (because I like a good multi-modal map too!), but only labelling major terminus stations. Dots or ticks to indicate the number of other stations could be retained. A separate map could then be used to show the light rail system in detail, without having to show all of Greater Sydney on the same map.

Our rating: Some excellent ideas that improve on the official map in some aspects. Spacing of stations could be a little more even/harmonious, but it’s really a great effort. Three stars.

3 Stars

Historical Map: WMATA Metro Planning Map, 1968
ddotdc:

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.
Historical Map: WMATA Metro Planning Map, 1968
ddotdc:

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.

Historical Map: WMATA Metro Planning Map, 1968

ddotdc:

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.

Historical Map: San Francisco BART & Buses Map, September 1977
Front cover for a 1977 map of BART and connecting bus services with some great late-1970s typography: tightly spaced Helvetica*, yum! That BART icon is also pretty amazing and is just asking to be digitally recreated. However, there’s something screwy about that map, as much of BART appears to be located in or underneath the San Francisco Bay. Global warming, perhaps?
Hardly: some quick Photoshop analysis reveals that  the underlying map has simply been erroneously rotated 180 degrees and flipped horizontally: that’s the San Mateo Bridge at the “top” of the Bay. Whoops!
Source: Luke O’Rourke/Flickr

Historical Map: San Francisco BART & Buses Map, September 1977

Front cover for a 1977 map of BART and connecting bus services with some great late-1970s typography: tightly spaced Helvetica*, yum! That BART icon is also pretty amazing and is just asking to be digitally recreated. However, there’s something screwy about that map, as much of BART appears to be located in or underneath the San Francisco Bay. Global warming, perhaps?

Hardly: some quick Photoshop analysis reveals that  the underlying map has simply been erroneously rotated 180 degrees and flipped horizontally: that’s the San Mateo Bridge at the “top” of the Bay. Whoops!

Source: Luke O’Rourke/Flickr

BART

Great photo that pretty much encapsulates the BART experience. Looks like the old, more geographically-faithful map in the car.

Source: Xuan Che/Flickr

Historical Map: Opening of the Los Angeles Metro Red Line, January 30, 1993

A very simple map showing the first segment of Los Angeles’ Red Line on its opening in January 1993. The Blue Line (part of which is also shown on this map) had opened three years earlier.

The map is mainly notable for the “RTD” logo that belonged to the southern California Regional Transit District, the immediate ancestor of today’s Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA, or more commonly, just “Metro”). In fact, the LACMTA was formed just a few months after this map was produced.

Source: Striderv/Flickr

Fantasy Future Map: Sydney, Australia by Thomas Mudgway

Thomas, who is a ninth-grader (i.e., he’s just 14 or 15 years old), says:

Sydney, my home town, has around 4.7 million people and already has a commuter rail network, however, the city is growing, and the network doesn’t cover everything, so I have augmented the network in many places, as well as showing how it could grow into the currently undeveloped far south- and north-west (they are generally the places where the stations have no names, there simply aren’t currently any for them). It is show by the thick lines. Also represented by the thick lines is the long planned north-west rail link in light green/khaki. Additionally, the map shows bus rapid transitways and light rail in half thickness, some built, some planned, and some I propose. Finally, the map shows the intercity trains as far as the city limits in quarter thickness, as well as an extra express service from the planned Badgerys Creek Airport to the existing Kingsford-Smith airport and the city loop.

——

Transit Maps says:

Being a native Sydneysider myself, I can’t help but laugh at the sheer audacity of some of Thomas’ proposals for new lines. Yes, it’d be great if there was a rail line running up through the Northern Beaches (from the southern side of the harbour via The Spit, no less!), but the geography of the area means it’ll realistically never happen.

Pipe dreams aside, the map is really quite beautifully drawn, especially for someone so young. His dream system is extremely complex, but everything fits together nicely with a good information hierarchy and harmonious colours. He’s even indicated ferry routes, busways and the extended light rail system to produce a fully multi-modal vision, which is great to see.

This is very promising work from Thomas: keep it up!

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.

3.5 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 - 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: 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.