Official Map: New York/New Jersey Regional Transit Diagram — Full Review
After our first glimpse yesterday, now it’s time for a more in-depth look at this map. Thanks to everyone who sent me a link to the PDF (and there were more than a few of you)!
First things first: this MTA press release confirms that the map was designed by Yoshiki Waterhouse of Vignelli Associates. It’s definitely nice to see that the original creators of the diagram continue to shape its future, rather than being handed off to another design team.
That said, the original source that this map is based off — the 2008 revision of Vignelli’s classic 1970s diagram, as used on the MTA’s “Weekender” service update website — actually creates some problems for this version of the map.
Because the bright primary colours used for the Subway’s many route lines are so much a part of the map’s look (and indeed, the very fabric of the Subway itself, appearing on signage and trains across the entire system) it forces the NJ Transit, PATH and Amtrak routes shown to be rendered in muted pastel tones in order to differentiate them from the Subway. This results in a visual imbalance between the New York and New Jersey sides of the map: cool and muted on the left, bright and bold to the right. I also feel that the PATH lines up to 33rd Street become a little “lost” compared to the adjacent subway lines.
The other result of using pastel route lines is a loss of contrast between all those lines: they all register at a similar visual intensity, making them a little harder to differentiate. Because of the sheer number of lines that have to be shown, some of the NJ Transit routes have lost their “traditional” colour as used on their own official map (Nov. 2011, 1.5 stars). The Bergen County Line is no longer light blue, but the same yellow as the Main Line, while the Gladstone Line now uses the same green as the Morristown Line. Their original colours get redistributed to New Jersey’s light rail lines and Amtrak.
Some people have noticed that the map shows weekday off-peak services and commented that this is useless for the Super Bowl, which is held on a Sunday. However, the map has to be useful for the entire week of Super Bowl festivities, not just game day, so I feel it’s doing the best it can under the circumstances. If it really bothers you, @TheLIRRToday on Twitter has made a quick and dirty version of the map that shows weekend service patterns. As as has been pointed out to me, service on Super Bowl Weekend will be close to that of the weekday peak, so the difference is negligible anyway.
What bothers me is the fact that the football icon has an extra row of laces. NFL balls have eight rows of laces — the icon shows nine.
Our rating: Based on the classic Vignelli diagram. While it remains true to its minimalist roots, it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessors. The need to integrate so many different routes and services while retaining familiar route colours for the Subway mean that the left half of the map isn’t as visually strong as the right. Still far better than many North American transit maps. It would also make a neat souvenir of a trip to the Super Bowl! Three stars.
(Source: NJ Transit “First Mass Transit Super Bowl" web page — also available on the MTA website)
Historical Map: Tyne and Wear Metro, 1981
A beautiful early map for this system, clearly showing how much of it was planned from the start. Apart from a few name changes (the proposed “Old Fold” station became Gateshead Stadium, for example), this is recognisably the same map that existed as far into the future as the year 2000, when the proposed extension to Sunderland made its appearance.
The outlined route lines to show proposed/future extensions work wonderfully well, making an excellent contrast to the existing coloured routes. The approach is even carried through to outlining the names of the proposed stations — a lovely and deft design touch.
Another interesting feature is how small and low in the visual hierarchy the ferry across the River Tyne is: in later maps, the ferry symbol has become very large and overpowering.
Our rating: The original and the best. Simple, stylish, uncluttered design that sets out a clear vision for the future. Four stars.
Unofficial Future Map: Singapore MRT/LRT by Bernie Ng
Submitted by Bernie, who says:
I saw your recent post regarding future Singapore MRT/LRT maps and thought I’d throw mine into the ring. The Singapore MRT has long been one of my fave metro systems around the world. I like the concept of destination numbers and station numbers - I believe it is one of the first, if not the first, to use this concept (do let me know if that’s not quite right). My approach for this map is to incorporate the station number into the station marker itself to avoid some of the clutter associated placing the station name AND the number alongside the station marker. Also, I really wanted the Circle Line to be a circle, so I have adopted a few distortions to make that happen. Finally, I tried to incorporate geography of Singapore in a stylistic manner to further reinforce the circle motif. I know this does not quite meet the professional standards I often see on this blog (this is drawn using Microsoft Visio), but let me know what you think all the same!
Transit Maps says:
I don’t know, Bernie — this looks pretty darn nice from what I can see!
The temptation to make any line called the “Circle Line” live up to its name is almost always too hard to resist! Sometimes the result can be a little forced or contrived, but I think you’ve done a nice job here — for the most part, the stations are spaced out pretty nicely. I particularly like the way you’ve managed to keep the purple North East Line perfectly straight while heading entirely in the direction its name implies.
Integrating the station code into the station marker is a good idea that removes clutter — reader Xavier Fung pointed out that the new official map does this as well — and the insets for the LRT systems also work well in simplifying the main map as well as providing greater detail for these services than the official map can. I also really like the stylish shell-like shape that the island of Singapore takes on: stylised but recognisable!
My few quibbles — the graduated grey background could be seen as representing fare zones. As Singapore uses a distance-based fare system, not a zonal one, this could cause a lot of unnecessary confusion. I also find the grey a little drab and overpowering — it seems to make the other colours used on the map a little duller as well.
Finally: Visio? Not my tool of choice, and you’re probably pushing it to the absolute limit of its capabilities, but this does look really, really good.
Our rating: Strong visual concept, nicely executed, a couple of well-thought out innovations. Colours could be brighter and more evocative of Singapore. Three-and-a-half stars.
P.S. See another excellent unofficial redesign of the Singapore MRT map here.
Unofficial Map: Singapore MRT by Andrew Smithers
As promised, here’s an unofficial map of Singapore’s rail transit that takes the future extensions and integrates them far more effectively and attractively than the official future map. This map was created by Andrew Smithers, who runs the quite excellent Project Mapping website — well worth losing a few hours to all the maps he has over there!
Immediately, you can see how design is used to simplify and clarify the routes — the Thomson Line becomes a north-south axis for the map, while the new Downtown Line now describes a perfect diamond-shaped loop. This motif is echoed beautifully by the larger loop of the yellow Circle Line — which visually lives up to its name far more here than on the official map — and even by little double-crossover between the Downtown and North East lines at the bottom centre of the map. Repetition of design themes in a transit map is a lovely thing, and it really helps to hold a map together thematically.
That’s not to say that everything is perfect, however. The station codes — used to help non-English speakers buy tickets and navigate the system — are just as problematic here as they are on the official map. Andrew has opted to place them on the opposite side of the route line to the station name; while it works well in the less-crowded parts of the map, it can get a little messy in places, especially where the Downtown Line runs close to the North East and Circle Lines in the densest part of the map (just to the right of centre).
Our rating: A lovely example of how repeated design elements can thematically tie a map together. Four stars.
(Source: Via email discussion with Andrew)
Future Map: Singapore MRT with Future Extensions
I reviewed the official Singapore MRT map back in January 2012, and was generally in favour of it (giving it four stars). So it’s interesting to look at this version of the map, which includes extensions that are currently under construction or in the final stages of planning. There are two entirely new lines — the blue Downtown Line and the brown Thomson Line, as well as an eastern extension to the green East-West Line. There’s also a new light rail loop being added to the far north-eastern sector of the city.
The problem with this map is that the new lines have simply been overlaid on top of the existing older version, and they then have to take some very strange and visually unattractive routes to “join the dots” where they interchange with existing stations. The dashed “under construction” lines also align poorly with station ticks, leaving some of them floating in space between dashes. Finally, the downtown area is also becoming a little tangled and cramped because of all the new additions.
This map still does a very good job, and is still a very competently executed piece. However, some more thought about how to restructure it so that the new lines could be better integrated would definitely have been welcome.
As it happens, I have an unofficial map that definitely does consider how to incorporate the new lines in a more thoughtful manner… but you’ll have to wait for my next post to see it!
Our rating: The original map provides a solid base, but the new additions really aren’t integrated with much thought. A downgrade to three stars.
(Source: Singapore Land Transport Authority website)
Unofficial Maps: Other Salt Lake City Rail Transit Maps
A selection of alternate maps for Salt Lake City that I’ve received as submissions or that I’ve found on the Internet. The first two maps — by thatlattesipper and scsj, respectively — were sent to me in the aftermath of Friday’s review of the UTA’s latest absymal effort, and must therefore have only had a few hours of work put into them.
Scsj’s map was actually produced by an online transit map generator in less than three hours and also includes the “MAX” bus rapid transit line. While it runs into problems because the stations from Meadowbrook to Courthouse run at a 45-degree angle instead of conforming to Salt Lake City’s street grid, the very fact that a free online tool can produce a more competent map in three hours than a sizeable transit agency can in six months is damning in the extreme.
The third map is by cranialdetritus and is possibly the nicest-looking of the bunch. The inclusion of the Free Fare Zone is a very welcome touch. Routes should be designated by their official numbers, however (701 = Blue Line, etc.).
The fourth is taken from Wikipedia’s page about the UTA, and is theonly map not to currently show the new streetcar line.. It’s not actually that great a map, but I would still venture that it’s better than the real thing.
The fifth map was featured a while back on Transit Maps (December 2012, 3.5 stars), and is also streets ahead of the official map.
So, that’s five completely unofficial maps that outshine the real thing, and I bet there’s more out there as well. Sad, really…
Official Map: Salt Lake City Rail Transit for Opening of New “S Line”
Submitted by the eagle-eyed Garrett Smith, who says:
I must say I am not overly impressed with UTA’s revision of their rail map—which will begin to be posted in trains once UTA’s first streetcar, the S Line, opens. Yes, it certainly is better than before. Removing addresses from the map did wonders for improving legibility. But that’s about it. Call me old fashioned, but shouldn’t the lines below the station names roughly correspond to the length of the word? And why doesn’t N. Temple Bridge/Guadalupe receive a callout box when it also is a transfer station involving TRAX, FrontRunner, and local bus service?
Transit Maps says:
And here we are: hardly worth the wait, really. Tiny baby steps have been taken by removing the street addresses of the stations, but almost all the previous faults are still present. The labelling of stations remains an awful, convoluted mess and the giant callout boxes at transfer stations are still completely unnecessary. Downtown is a disgrace, with eight stations crammed into the tiniest of spaces: so small that most of those stations have to have a smaller station dot to compensate. Meanwhile, the new “S Line” streetcar, which is only 2.1 miles long, stretches luxuriously off to the right side of the map, way larger in scale than it should ever be.
And your brand-new, awesome streetcar gets to be the “gray” line? How exciting.
This map needs to be crumpled up, thrown away and never used as a template again. Seriously, who at the UTA actually approves this? Who actually says, “Wow! That looks great! Let’s print some signs and put it on the website!”
Start from scratch. Abandon the pseudo-geographical layout that actually has no consistent scale. Take a diagrammatic approach and expand the downtown area (so we can read the station names!) while compressing the outlying ones. Make the FrontRunner follow a completely straight path from end to end — a compositional vertical axis for the rest of the map. Ditch the freakin’ terrible compass rose. Anything but this.
(Source: Official UTA website)
Official Map: Port Authority of Allegheny County Full System Map
While researching yesterday’s post about Pittsburgh’s light rail map, I came across this, the full system map — showing light rail, BRT (busways) and buses — produced by the Port Authority of Allegheny County and available on their website.
That’s right: the map image has been sliced up into multiple .png files and placed into an HTML table. A table with a staggering fifty-one separate cells. It’s like a time warp back to 1996 or something.
To view the map in more detail, you have to click on one of those cells and a (slightly) enlarged version of that tiny slice of the county comes up for further viewing, as seen in the second picture above. A list of routes that runs through that section also comes up: you can click again to view individual maps and schedules for that line. To see where a route goes outside your current tiny square, you have to close the pop-up and then click on an adjacent area.
Of course, you can also click an area of the map which has no routes shown at all, just to view that wide open nothingness in greater detail (third picture). Useful!
Is this really the best way for customers to view a system map, one tiny little square at a time? It’s almost impossible to follow a route from one end to the other or even really make sense of the map at all (it’s not legible at the overview size). A downloadable PDF of this map with embedded hyperlinks to further route information (linking back to the website) would be a far better way to distribute this information, but that’s not even an option: this clunky, antiquated “Web 1.0” interface is the only way this system map can be accessed.
Submission - Official Map: Pittsburgh Light Rail System Map
Submitted by Dan Daly, who says:
Here is the Pittsburgh light rail map. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. In my opinion it is kinda useless not because of it’s design but because it only covers the light rail. Very little of the urban part of the city is actually covered in this map. If the busways were fully included with station names and the links to the T stops it would be much more useful for someone trying to find their way around the city.
Transit Maps says:
It seems a little unfair to me to single out this one particular light rail map for not showing other transit modes when there are plenty of other maps that do exactly the same thing — my own city of Portland, Oregon makes no reference to bus services on its MAX light rail map. Generally, an overall system map will include all modes of transit — a light rail map like this is then also offered to show this particular mode in full detail without the clutter of the other modes.
So while I can’t really find fault with the scope of this map, I certainly can with the execution. It’s another example of the frustratingly average transit map design seen throughout much of the United States — uninspired typography, dull, unexciting colour choices and poor/strange informational hierarchy.
I especially take issue with the way that stations with high-level platforms are given so much more visual prominence over low-level platforms, with both a bigger station marker and larger, bolder labelling. While it’s good to know whether you’re boarding on the level or via stairs (the light rail trains in Pittsburgh have two front doors, one at each level), it doesn’t justify giving one type of station so much more visual emphasis over the other. Apart from the different platform heights, there’s no difference between these stations — the larger, bolder type should really be reserved for interchange or terminus stations only.
The other thing I’ve long disliked about this map is the weird jog that the Red Line takes through Fallowfield station, which “breaks” the line into two segments at that point. For the longest time, I thought this meant that riders had to change trains here or something, but it just seems to be an unnecessary design element casing that confusion.
The inclusion of busways on this map seem like a complete afterthought: only one busway actually interfaces with the light rail (and even this isn’t made clear with the stations closer to downtown), and the minuscule green route line shown for the West Busway just seems insultingly pathetic.
Our rating: Relentlessly mediocre. Two stars.
Updated: Aerial Photo Transit Map of Portland, Oregon — Now with Bus Routes!
Taylor Gibson’s aerial photo map of Portland’s rail and streetcar routes is one of the most popular posts ever on Transit Maps, so I thought I’d pass on this update to it, which now shows the bus network as well. The colours used match the official TriMet system map, although Taylor hasn’t shown peak hour-only services like the 51 up through Council Crest.
What this view really shows to effect is Portland’s grid-like bus network, which you can read more about (and learn why it’s so good) on Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit blog.
(Source: Submitted by Taylor to the Transit Maps Facebook page)