Topology versus Geography in Transit Maps
Here’s a nice little animated diagram from Fathom Information Design that compares the two polar opposites of transit mapping using Boston’s MBTA rail network as an example. Click through to play around with it, and see the benefits and drawbacks of the two approaches. It’s also super fun to watch the map morph between the two styles.
In real life, most transit maps fall somewhere between these two extremes: very few use such a strict topological grid, and completely geographically accurate maps are also very rarely used for this purpose — even the New York subway map has a certain level of simplification and abstraction.
Historical Map: The City of Los Angeles Showing Railway Systems, 1906
Another amazing old map from the awesome Big Map Blog, showing the already-booming rail transit network that was found in Los Angeles in the early days of the 20th Century. Electric trolleys first ran in LA in 1877, but the “Red Cars” of the Pacific Electric and the “Yellow Cars” of the narrow-gauge Los Angeles Railway had only appeared a mere five years before this map was produced. Their lines are represented on the map in appropriate colours, along with those of other, less-remembered, railway companies.
Technically, the map is beautifully drawn, although there’s some strange issues with route lines extending past the visible area of the map and spilling over the lists of street names, the map’s legend and even completely bleeding off the edge of the page (see the detail view of the legend above for an example). It could be intentionally done, but it certainly looks a little messy.
From a production viewpoint, it seems as though the map was printed with five different inks: black for the street name legend and Los Angeles Pacific RR routes, yellow for the Los Angeles RR, red for the Pacific Electric, green for the Los Angeles Inter-Urban RR, and a dark blue for the Los Angeles & Redondo RR and the underlying linework of the map itself. Understandably, given the fairly primitive printing technology of the day, the registration of these colours is a little bit off in places.
Our rating: A beautiful look at the early days of mass transit in LA. Four stars!
(Source: the Big Map Blog)
Historical Map: London Connections, 1988
The reverse side of the British Rail Network SouthEast map, showing the detailed view of the area surrounding London. While this map is designed in a very similar style (at the same time, by the same people) to the regional map, I feel it’s slightly less successful for a few reasons.
The inclusion of the London Underground introduces many more colors to the map, which instantly makes it feel much busier. After using all these familiar and well-established colours for the Underground, there really aren’t many colours left to use for the main line/Network SouthEast routes. So they get saddled with orange, a very vivid, powerful colour that visually dominates the map, especially south of the Thames.
Interestingly, the London Overground — a service which has largely been formed from parts of these old main line routes — also uses orange as its route colour: is this map the origin of that designation?
Other points of interest: The Docklands Light Railway, opened the previous year, is shown but has not yet acquired its distinctive teal route colour. The Waterloo & City Line (a very short line between Waterloo and Bank stations) is still part of British Rail, not the Underground.
See also this British Rail map from 1965 (May 2012, 4.5 stars) that covers a very similar area but omits the Underground.
Our rating: A fine piece of work that skillfully incorporates a lot of information, but not as excellent as its sibling. Three stars.
Historical Fantasy Map: St. Paul in the Year 1900 (Map c. 1871)
Definitely one of the stranger maps I’ve seen, and obviously meant to be read in a satirical light. It shows the city of St. Paul, Minnesota as an enormous METROPOLIS with Roman Road-straight railroad connections to all points (except to the “village” of New York, which is served by a “tri-weekly horse railroad”), a tunnel to “Peek-in” and a “railroad-balloonic route” to the North Pole and thence to the Moon. From America’s east coast, a gargantuan suspension bridge implausibly crosses the Atlantic to London — double-tracked the whole way, at that.
The explanatory text is quite hilarious at times. “Duluth,” it states, “is to be wiped out entirely, as it deserves for having the temerity to exist” while “Chicago is to be a signal station on the horse railroad to New York, which is deemed to be all the conveniences required for those insignificant villages.”
The text even pokes fun at the absurdity of the map itself, noting that “It may strike a stranger that some of these parallel roads [railway lines] may have a hard time of it to earn dividends, particularly as they have no way stations”.
Historical Map: Railways in Cornwall, 1936
An absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn map from a “Little Guide” to Cornwall published by Methuen in 1936. Drawn by B.C. Boulter, who also illustrated the guide book.
University of Virginia University Transit Service (UTS) Map
Submitted by Justin Tran, who says:
This is a redesign I did of the University of Virginia’s University Transit Service (UTS) map. You can see the original here. It won’t be live until permanent repairs are done to a certain bridge on Grounds that has vastly detoured more than half of these routes.
Transit Maps says:
This is pretty nice work here from Justin. It’s definitely been hugely influenced by the London Underground map, but works nicely in this context. I do think that the single-direction bus stop “ticks” are a little clever for their own good and rely on referring to the map’s legend a little too much to understand them fully. Something as integral to a transit map as a bus stop shouldn’t really need any further explanation to be able to understand it. A small arrow indicating which direction of travel the bus stop serves is the usual approach to this problem.
For the most part, the map looks great, although some of the curves could flow a bit better, especially around the hospital on the middle right of the map and on the orange University Loop line around the stadium.
Our rating: A solid effort that wears its influences on its sleeve. Overthinks the problem a bit, affecting usability slightly. Three stars.
P.S. As an aside, the geographically accurate map that Justin links to (PDF) is also pretty darn good.
Future Minneapolis & St. Paul Transit Map
After several months in development, I’m proud to present to you the Future Twin Cities Transit Map. A comprehensive summary of current rapid transit proposals, this version shows all existing and future light rail & BRT lines as well as select major bus routes, commuter rail and HSR connections. Detailed summary of transit improvements available at MetroTransit’s homepage.
In 2030, Twin Cities are expected to join the likes of Chicago, Curitiba and Copenhagen in operating an efficient, reliable, and extensive transit network. Take a peek at the future!
Download, Print, Share, Modify…
No project is ever complete, so I would welcome anyone to use it as a template for their own mapping project!
The map is published under a Creative Commons license(Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike).This means sharing and making copies is not just allowed but strongly encouraged.
Comments / questions? Just ask!
Transit Maps says:
I’ve been following this project with interest for quite a while now, and all I can say now that it’s completed is: WOW!
This is a transit map designed to inspire future riders. It’s beautifully designed, technically excellent (I’ve pulled apart the PDF in Illustrator to get a good look under the hood), and — quite frankly — puts a lot of official transit maps produced in the U.S. to absolute shame.
What I love most is the crystal-clear informational hierarchy: thick, coloured lines represent rapid transit, be it LRT or BRT. Regardless of the mode, service comes frequently (9 to 12 minute headways) and the vehicles move quickly. Grey lines (lower in the hierarchy) show arterial bus service, with line thickness neatly representing service frequency. Beneath this, the I-494/694 ring is subtly shown for orientation, and the geography is rendered in a style that complements the routes beautifully. The legend is clear and easy to use, and the colour scheme for the whole map gives it a very sophisticated, modern feel.
Finally, the icons used on the map are excellent from top to bottom, from the distinctive segmented interchange markers, down to the tiny airport, commuter rail and Amtrak icons. Fantastic attention to detail is evident here.
Our rating: Everything I love about modern transit map design. Five stars!
Historical Map: TTC Subway Route Map, c.1975–1977
While we’re on the subject of the Toronto Subway map, here’s a beautiful version from the mid-1970s. This particular map is in a preserved subway carriage at the Halton County Radial Railway museum, and shows the subway as it was before the Spadina extension was opened in 1978.
This is actually probably my favourite version of this system’s map: it has nice horizontal station labels alternating to either side of the route lines (although Finch station strangely breaks the pattern at the very top of the map), lovely even spacing between all the stations, and a very elegant curve at the eastern end of the Bloor-Danforth route. The interchange symbol is rather nice, too: a square within a circle that draws attention to it very well indeed.
I’d steal this map to put on my wall over the modern version any day.
Compare also to this map from 1966, when the Bloor-Danforth line first opened.
Naked TTC Rocket Map
What goes on underneath the printed map. The lights for the future Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension stations are already in place in the upper left of the map.
Fortunately, the map hasn’t been stolen by someone to reveal these inner workings: it’s simply been moved to the left. This being Toronto, however, it’s probably only a matter of minutes until someone makes off with it to hang on their bedroom/dorm wall.
EDIT: As ytomatoboi points out, the map is missing: what I thought was the map is actually just a separate panel to the side. Seriously, Toronto, what’s the deal with taking the goddamn maps?
Historical Map: Alilaguna Gold Line, Venice, 2006
We’ve featured Venice’s public transportation ferry map previously (February 2012, 2.5 stars), but here’s an interesting photo of a map by Alilaguna, a privately-run ferry and water taxi service.
This map, dating back to 2006, shows only the Alilaguna Linea Oro (Gold Line), running from the airport to St. Mark’s Square. Interestingly, this express route no longer exists, leaving passengers to lake the slower, local Linea Blu to the heart of Venice instead.
The map has some interesting Vignelli-esque aesthetics, with the lagoon islands reduced to simplified, blocky shapes (as well as beige water!). The execution works well for Venice itself; less so towards the edges of the map. There’s too much fussy detail over on the left side of the map near Malcontenta, and the way the mainland is strangely truncated makes Mestre and the airport look like they’re also located on islands. Global warming, perhaps?
Production-wise, it’s obvious that this map has been created by simply deleting the other Alilaguna lines from a master map, which leads to the three “station” markers shown being extremely long for no apparent reason. The indeterminate angle the route line takes from the airport down towards Murano is also a little odd-looking, given the strong 45-degree design aesthetic of the map.
Our rating: Nice concept, huge potential to be visually striking — but a shame about the uneven execution. Two-and-a-half-stars.