1914 Hoch und Untergrundbahn Map, Sophie-Charlotte-Platz, Berlin

One of 26 panels on the walls of the platforms of this U-Bahn station that show the history of the subway before the First World War.

Source: bentchristensen14/Flickr

Infographic: Crocheting in the Subways of Hamburg by Lana Bragina

Now this I love!

Every time that Lana travelled on Hamburg’s S-Bahn or U-Bahn, she would pass the time by crocheting this neat little bangle. The fun part is that she would only use thread that was the colour of the line that she was riding on at the time: green thread for the S1, yellow for U3, etc.

The really extra fun part is that she also made this super nifty infographic that explains the whole thing in a very visual way: the dates that each trip was made on, which stations she rode between and how long (in minutes) that trip took, even little “work in progress” photos of the bracelet after each trip. And then the whole thing is tied into a simple little diagramof “Lana’s Subway” as well. That the whole infographic looks like thick skeins of thread draped across the page is just the icing on the cake. Perfect and wonderful.

Source: ulaniulani/Flickr

Historical Map: Detail of a Tokyo Streetcar Map, c. 1950

Not much more to say here except that this is gorgeous, despite the primitive artwork and terrible colour registration.

Source: Fluoride’s memories/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

In Between, Montréal

Love this photo!

Source: amesis/Flickr

Anonymous Asked
QuestionHi Cameron. Do you have any plans to update your 'Rail Transit of Portland' map with the new transit/pedestrian bridge and new MAX line down to Milwaukie? Are you waiting till the line opens? I love the map and would like to buy a print once it's updated. Thanks! Answer

That version of the map is basically done, as can be seen here on Flickr — the line down to Milwaukie is shown as “under construction”. I still need to revise the colours used for the streetcar lines to match the official ones as this map was made before they had finalised them.

Then, I will have to wait until the line is opened to see what the final route configuration of the Orange Line will be. I’ve chosen to show the line as a logical extension of the Yellow Line (as I personally believe that’s what it should be!), but it seems that TriMet wants it to be its own, separate route designation. I’ve heard differing reports of where the line will terminate/turn around/change into a Yellow Line train, so I’m just going to have to wait, I guess…

Unofficial Map(s): Atlas of Italian Rail Transit by Andrea Spinosa
Occasionally, I get in a bit of a rut with Transit Maps – I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see, or that I’m just treading water – and then something like this comes along that just blows me away.
This poster, designed by Andrea Spinosa of the CityRailways blog (in Italian), provides an incredible look at rail mass transit in Italy, and it’s simply superb.
The centre of the poster gives a country-wide overview, showing where the different urban networks are and the distribution of transit modes – Metro, commuter rail, regional rail, trams and even funiculars (which seem to be surprisingly popular in Italy!).
The real highlight for me, however, are the 15 maps around the edge of the poster that show the transit systems of different cities/regions around Italy. I’ve included images of four of these maps above. Not unlike Jug Cerovic’s INAT maps (April 2014), the new maps redraw these systems using one consistent style for everything, and it looks good. Pretty much all of them look better than their corresponding official map, especially Naples. The typeface used looks like our old friend, Neutraface. I particularly like all the custom icons for points of interest, including ones for Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, each drawn with the appropriate profile for each volcano.
There’s a lot to take in here, and I definitely recommend that you head on over to the CityRailways site and check the poster PDF out in full. Each of the city maps is also available as a separate, pocket-sized PDF that you can download and print out, or just put on your mobile device and use it that way. There are lots of other great maps to be found on the site as well.
Our rating: Brilliant, comprehensive and beautiful. I’d put this poster on my wall! Five stars!
Source: CityRailways site Unofficial Map(s): Atlas of Italian Rail Transit by Andrea Spinosa
Occasionally, I get in a bit of a rut with Transit Maps – I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see, or that I’m just treading water – and then something like this comes along that just blows me away.
This poster, designed by Andrea Spinosa of the CityRailways blog (in Italian), provides an incredible look at rail mass transit in Italy, and it’s simply superb.
The centre of the poster gives a country-wide overview, showing where the different urban networks are and the distribution of transit modes – Metro, commuter rail, regional rail, trams and even funiculars (which seem to be surprisingly popular in Italy!).
The real highlight for me, however, are the 15 maps around the edge of the poster that show the transit systems of different cities/regions around Italy. I’ve included images of four of these maps above. Not unlike Jug Cerovic’s INAT maps (April 2014), the new maps redraw these systems using one consistent style for everything, and it looks good. Pretty much all of them look better than their corresponding official map, especially Naples. The typeface used looks like our old friend, Neutraface. I particularly like all the custom icons for points of interest, including ones for Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, each drawn with the appropriate profile for each volcano.
There’s a lot to take in here, and I definitely recommend that you head on over to the CityRailways site and check the poster PDF out in full. Each of the city maps is also available as a separate, pocket-sized PDF that you can download and print out, or just put on your mobile device and use it that way. There are lots of other great maps to be found on the site as well.
Our rating: Brilliant, comprehensive and beautiful. I’d put this poster on my wall! Five stars!
Source: CityRailways site Unofficial Map(s): Atlas of Italian Rail Transit by Andrea Spinosa
Occasionally, I get in a bit of a rut with Transit Maps – I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see, or that I’m just treading water – and then something like this comes along that just blows me away.
This poster, designed by Andrea Spinosa of the CityRailways blog (in Italian), provides an incredible look at rail mass transit in Italy, and it’s simply superb.
The centre of the poster gives a country-wide overview, showing where the different urban networks are and the distribution of transit modes – Metro, commuter rail, regional rail, trams and even funiculars (which seem to be surprisingly popular in Italy!).
The real highlight for me, however, are the 15 maps around the edge of the poster that show the transit systems of different cities/regions around Italy. I’ve included images of four of these maps above. Not unlike Jug Cerovic’s INAT maps (April 2014), the new maps redraw these systems using one consistent style for everything, and it looks good. Pretty much all of them look better than their corresponding official map, especially Naples. The typeface used looks like our old friend, Neutraface. I particularly like all the custom icons for points of interest, including ones for Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, each drawn with the appropriate profile for each volcano.
There’s a lot to take in here, and I definitely recommend that you head on over to the CityRailways site and check the poster PDF out in full. Each of the city maps is also available as a separate, pocket-sized PDF that you can download and print out, or just put on your mobile device and use it that way. There are lots of other great maps to be found on the site as well.
Our rating: Brilliant, comprehensive and beautiful. I’d put this poster on my wall! Five stars!
Source: CityRailways site Unofficial Map(s): Atlas of Italian Rail Transit by Andrea Spinosa
Occasionally, I get in a bit of a rut with Transit Maps – I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see, or that I’m just treading water – and then something like this comes along that just blows me away.
This poster, designed by Andrea Spinosa of the CityRailways blog (in Italian), provides an incredible look at rail mass transit in Italy, and it’s simply superb.
The centre of the poster gives a country-wide overview, showing where the different urban networks are and the distribution of transit modes – Metro, commuter rail, regional rail, trams and even funiculars (which seem to be surprisingly popular in Italy!).
The real highlight for me, however, are the 15 maps around the edge of the poster that show the transit systems of different cities/regions around Italy. I’ve included images of four of these maps above. Not unlike Jug Cerovic’s INAT maps (April 2014), the new maps redraw these systems using one consistent style for everything, and it looks good. Pretty much all of them look better than their corresponding official map, especially Naples. The typeface used looks like our old friend, Neutraface. I particularly like all the custom icons for points of interest, including ones for Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, each drawn with the appropriate profile for each volcano.
There’s a lot to take in here, and I definitely recommend that you head on over to the CityRailways site and check the poster PDF out in full. Each of the city maps is also available as a separate, pocket-sized PDF that you can download and print out, or just put on your mobile device and use it that way. There are lots of other great maps to be found on the site as well.
Our rating: Brilliant, comprehensive and beautiful. I’d put this poster on my wall! Five stars!
Source: CityRailways site Unofficial Map(s): Atlas of Italian Rail Transit by Andrea Spinosa
Occasionally, I get in a bit of a rut with Transit Maps – I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see, or that I’m just treading water – and then something like this comes along that just blows me away.
This poster, designed by Andrea Spinosa of the CityRailways blog (in Italian), provides an incredible look at rail mass transit in Italy, and it’s simply superb.
The centre of the poster gives a country-wide overview, showing where the different urban networks are and the distribution of transit modes – Metro, commuter rail, regional rail, trams and even funiculars (which seem to be surprisingly popular in Italy!).
The real highlight for me, however, are the 15 maps around the edge of the poster that show the transit systems of different cities/regions around Italy. I’ve included images of four of these maps above. Not unlike Jug Cerovic’s INAT maps (April 2014), the new maps redraw these systems using one consistent style for everything, and it looks good. Pretty much all of them look better than their corresponding official map, especially Naples. The typeface used looks like our old friend, Neutraface. I particularly like all the custom icons for points of interest, including ones for Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, each drawn with the appropriate profile for each volcano.
There’s a lot to take in here, and I definitely recommend that you head on over to the CityRailways site and check the poster PDF out in full. Each of the city maps is also available as a separate, pocket-sized PDF that you can download and print out, or just put on your mobile device and use it that way. There are lots of other great maps to be found on the site as well.
Our rating: Brilliant, comprehensive and beautiful. I’d put this poster on my wall! Five stars!
Source: CityRailways site

Unofficial Map(s): Atlas of Italian Rail Transit by Andrea Spinosa

Occasionally, I get in a bit of a rut with Transit Maps – I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see, or that I’m just treading water – and then something like this comes along that just blows me away.

This poster, designed by Andrea Spinosa of the CityRailways blog (in Italian), provides an incredible look at rail mass transit in Italy, and it’s simply superb.

The centre of the poster gives a country-wide overview, showing where the different urban networks are and the distribution of transit modes – Metro, commuter rail, regional rail, trams and even funiculars (which seem to be surprisingly popular in Italy!).

The real highlight for me, however, are the 15 maps around the edge of the poster that show the transit systems of different cities/regions around Italy. I’ve included images of four of these maps above. Not unlike Jug Cerovic’s INAT maps (April 2014), the new maps redraw these systems using one consistent style for everything, and it looks good. Pretty much all of them look better than their corresponding official map, especially Naples. The typeface used looks like our old friend, Neutraface. I particularly like all the custom icons for points of interest, including ones for Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, each drawn with the appropriate profile for each volcano.

There’s a lot to take in here, and I definitely recommend that you head on over to the CityRailways site and check the poster PDF out in full. Each of the city maps is also available as a separate, pocket-sized PDF that you can download and print out, or just put on your mobile device and use it that way. There are lots of other great maps to be found on the site as well.

Our rating: Brilliant, comprehensive and beautiful. I’d put this poster on my wall! Five stars!

Source: CityRailways site

My “Highways of the USA” Map Compared to an Actual Map
Here are some fun GIFs that overlay my “Highways” map with the monster Google Maps base map (stitched together in Photoshop from many, many screenshots) that I used as a template. The map actually took so long to complete that the template map was out of date by the time I finished, with new highways brought into operation across the country!
You can see that even though I’ve straightened out and simplified the roads, most of them still follow their actual path pretty closely, and many towns and cities fall almost exactly where they should.
The balancing act between simplification and the need to maintain a certain level of geographical fidelity (to maintain recognisable shapes for all of the states) was definitely the most challenging part of this project. There were quite a few sections that I reworked and refined multiple times to achieve the best result. Sometimes, I had to sketch an area out by hand before doing it in Illustrator, just to get things right in my head first. Other parts required almost no simplification at all: the highways across the Great Plains really do form an almost perfect grid, with great long stretches of almost perfectly straight roads meeting each other at right angles.
USA Map Project Page | State Maps Project Page | Flickr Album My “Highways of the USA” Map Compared to an Actual Map
Here are some fun GIFs that overlay my “Highways” map with the monster Google Maps base map (stitched together in Photoshop from many, many screenshots) that I used as a template. The map actually took so long to complete that the template map was out of date by the time I finished, with new highways brought into operation across the country!
You can see that even though I’ve straightened out and simplified the roads, most of them still follow their actual path pretty closely, and many towns and cities fall almost exactly where they should.
The balancing act between simplification and the need to maintain a certain level of geographical fidelity (to maintain recognisable shapes for all of the states) was definitely the most challenging part of this project. There were quite a few sections that I reworked and refined multiple times to achieve the best result. Sometimes, I had to sketch an area out by hand before doing it in Illustrator, just to get things right in my head first. Other parts required almost no simplification at all: the highways across the Great Plains really do form an almost perfect grid, with great long stretches of almost perfectly straight roads meeting each other at right angles.
USA Map Project Page | State Maps Project Page | Flickr Album My “Highways of the USA” Map Compared to an Actual Map
Here are some fun GIFs that overlay my “Highways” map with the monster Google Maps base map (stitched together in Photoshop from many, many screenshots) that I used as a template. The map actually took so long to complete that the template map was out of date by the time I finished, with new highways brought into operation across the country!
You can see that even though I’ve straightened out and simplified the roads, most of them still follow their actual path pretty closely, and many towns and cities fall almost exactly where they should.
The balancing act between simplification and the need to maintain a certain level of geographical fidelity (to maintain recognisable shapes for all of the states) was definitely the most challenging part of this project. There were quite a few sections that I reworked and refined multiple times to achieve the best result. Sometimes, I had to sketch an area out by hand before doing it in Illustrator, just to get things right in my head first. Other parts required almost no simplification at all: the highways across the Great Plains really do form an almost perfect grid, with great long stretches of almost perfectly straight roads meeting each other at right angles.
USA Map Project Page | State Maps Project Page | Flickr Album

My “Highways of the USA” Map Compared to an Actual Map

Here are some fun GIFs that overlay my “Highways” map with the monster Google Maps base map (stitched together in Photoshop from many, many screenshots) that I used as a template. The map actually took so long to complete that the template map was out of date by the time I finished, with new highways brought into operation across the country!

You can see that even though I’ve straightened out and simplified the roads, most of them still follow their actual path pretty closely, and many towns and cities fall almost exactly where they should.

The balancing act between simplification and the need to maintain a certain level of geographical fidelity (to maintain recognisable shapes for all of the states) was definitely the most challenging part of this project. There were quite a few sections that I reworked and refined multiple times to achieve the best result. Sometimes, I had to sketch an area out by hand before doing it in Illustrator, just to get things right in my head first. Other parts required almost no simplification at all: the highways across the Great Plains really do form an almost perfect grid, with great long stretches of almost perfectly straight roads meeting each other at right angles.

USA Map Project Page | State Maps Project Page | Flickr Album

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.

Photo: Coast to Coast

Lady with a NYC subway map umbrella looking at a Muni map in San Francisco. Great photo!

(Source: the N Judah Chronicles/Flickr)