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)
Submission — Historical Map: Boston Elevated Railway System Map, c. 1946
Kindly sent my way by Ross Howard from his personal collection is this great old map of the Boston Elevated Railway (or BERy).
Ross thought it may have been from the 1930s, but a little Googling has revealed that this version — the seventh edition — was released in 1946-1947, making it the last BERy map before its operations were taken over by the MTA, itself a predecessor to the current MBTA.
The map itself is a fine example of precise mid-20th century cartography, making good use of minimal colour. I also like the great typography and the wonderful compass rose logo on the cover. The house ad for travelling via “El” to the Airport is interesting: shuttle buses still run from the Blue Line to Logan to this very day.
Historical Map: Hamburg Hoch- und Untergrundbahn, c. 1912
A beautiful old map showing Hamburg’s Ringbahn and spur lines. I believe that this map is from no later than January 1912, and it may be from even earlier, as the legend denotes that all the routes shown in red (the beginnings of today’s U-Bahn system) are “intended for execution” — that is, planned or under construction, not actually built.
Construction of the Ringbahn began in 1906, and the first section between Rathaus and Barmbek stations was opened on February 15, 1912. The ring was completed by the end of June that year. The spur lines as shown on this map opened in stages between 1913 and 1915.
See also this amazing Hamburg train carriage ceiling map from 1915.
The Hamburg subway in 1912.
Submitted by gartenriese, who says:
I found this on a wooden toy station from Brio. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to look up what transit network this is supposed to resemble.
Transit Maps says:
Well, this is just adorable. I doubt that it represents any real world transit system, but it looks like it has both trains and buses!
Unofficial Map: Transit of Riga, Latvia by Viteks Bariševs
Transit Maps has been keeping an eye on this project for quite some time now: I reviewed an earlier version of this map way back in January 2012, noting that it held a lot of promise for the future.
At the time, Viteks was hopeful that he could get his map adopted as Riga’s official transit map. While that hasn’t quite happened yet, he’s definitely set himself up as an excellent alternative to the (pretty terrible) official maps. That’s right, the official website has to use three maps – one for each mode (bus, trolleybus, tram) – to show what Viteks has expertly put into one.
Having just had his map professionally printed, Viteks was kind enough to send me some samples for review. First off, this map reminds me why I will always love a map on paper… there’s just something about the way you can pore over it and absorb all the details fully that you just can’t replicate on a computer screen. A PDF of a complex network like this is all well and good, but you either have to view the whole map at a size which makes reading text hard, or you have to zoom in and lose the ability to relate the section you’re looking at to the system as a whole.
The print quality of the map is excellent, with good colour fidelity and registration throughout. The map folds down to a very compact size of just 8.5 x 17.5cm (3.3 x 6.9 inches) – a pocket map which can actually fit in a pocket without having to be folded over again! It unfolds to be around 51 x 35 cm (20 x 13.8 inches), which is big without being too big or unwieldy. The folds for the map also concertina nicely, so you could easily unfold it to just the portion that you need without opening it entirely.
The map itself has made great strides in legibility and information hierarchy since the 2012 version: the three transit modes are differentiated much better than before, and terminus stations are now clearly shown in white text in a black box (rather than with underlined text as before). While obviously a diagram, I think Viteks has done a good job of retaining spatial relationships between the different parts of the city, which an be helpful for orientation. The map also has an excellent city centre inset on the reverse of the main map (with some nifty little illustrations of the main points of interest), and a night bus map as well. Truly useful, well-considered information for all travellers!
A few thoughts for improvement: the map is probably at the absolute smallest size that it can be reproduced. While I can read the labels on it just fine, others with poorer eyesight may not fare so well.
Because the route lines are all so thin, the system that Viteks uses to distinguish between the three transportation modes – a solid coloured line for buses, a coloured line overlaid with a thinner white line for trolleybuses, and a coloured line overlaid with a thinner black line for trams – can be a little difficult to make out. The trolleybus lines effectively become two very thin coloured lines separated by an equally thin white one: depending on the colour of the line, this can be very difficult to discern. Similarly, if the route line colour for a tram service is relatively dark, the overlaid black line can be quite difficult to see. In the end, this doesn’t matter a huge amount, because Viteks has cleverly added a letter to the beginning of each route number that corresponds to the mode: A for autobus, E for trolleybus, and T for tram. The legend does point out that these prefixes aren’t actually shown on the vehicles, but perhaps this information could be made a little more prominent to prevent some poor tourist from standing around all day waiting for an “E15” to come.
In short, this is a fantastic effort to create something better than what’s officially available. This is obviously a labour of love and it shows in the attention to detail and quality of the work. Looking at the project website, it seems that lots of locations around Riga are now selling the map, so it would seem that Viteks’ hard work and perseverance is paying off.
Historical Maps: Surface Trolley Lines and Elevated/Subway Lines of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, 1913
A superb pair of maps that depict the trolley lines (top) and elevated and subway lines (bottom) of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) Company as they would appear after the work specified in the famous “Dual Contracts" agreement was completed. Much of today’s existing subway system came about because of this contract, as can be seen from the red (proposed) lines on the lower map.
For me, the top map is even more interesting — it shows how incredibly dense the trolley system in Brooklyn was at the time.
(Source: University of Texas Library map collection)
Submission - Unofficial MARTA (Atlanta, GA) Map by Andrew Whited
Now this I like!
Part of an overall identity project for MARTA that Andrew completed, here’s his stylish revision of the system map (I reviewed the official one way, way back in October 2011, giving it a pretty generous 3 stars).
The MARTA system isn’t that complex — essentially only having two intersecting trunk lines with a couple of branches — so simplifying it down and abstracting it like this works really well. The slightly muted colour palette (almost like the route line colours have been multiplied with the background grey) is quite lovely and subtle. There’s also some lovely bespoke icons for restrooms and the airport, and the legend is both comprehensive and attractive.
A couple of quibbles — the spacing of stations on the Green/Blue lines east of the main Five Points interchange could be better — Georgia State is pushed right up close to the Five Points label (the station dots are much closer to the Yellow Line than the Dome/Arena dots are to the Red Line on the other side), The way the labels drop down after the Green Line ends also creates a visual gap between Edgewood and East Lake stations. The dots may be evenly and mathematically placed along this line, but sometimes things have to be tweaked and eyeballed until they look right. I’d probably also make all the labels just a little bit bigger — there’s plenty of room and it would suit the fat, chunky look of the route lines nicely.
Finally, I love the super simple, stylised highways that sit behind the map (including a good old literal “ring road”), but I do have to make a correction: Andrew has labelled them as U.S. Routes, when they’re actually Interstate Highways — that is, it’s not “U.S. 20”, but “I-20”, etc. And I know my Interstates from my U.S. Routes!
Our rating: Pretty yummy stuff! I’d definitely click through to Andrew’s site to check out the whole rebranding project — maps, signage, trains, buses, tickets, the works! Four stars!
Official Maps: Transportation at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
A few requests for these very topical maps, so here goes!
The XXII Winter Games are now in full swing, but how do spectators get around? The Games are divided into two very distinct zones: the Olympic Park down by the Black Sea in Sochi itself for all the indoor sports; and the Mountain Zone, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) up into the Caucasus Mountains, where all the sports that actually require snow are held. Access to the Olympic venues by private transportation is strictly limited, so the Games’ transportation network is absolutely vital to moving people around. Buses and trains shuttle spectators between the suburbs of Sochi (a long, narrow strip city wedged between the Black Sea and the mountains behind it) where they are staying to the Olympic venues. Once in the Mountain Zone, more buses or ski resort aerial cable-cars take spectators to the different venues. Or — perhaps optimistically — there are also walking paths up the side of the mountains!
The maps themselves are pretty bare bones and angular, although this does at least work well with the general design aesthetic of the games. There’s only single route line for each transit mode, so you have to refer to the route number boxes at each station to work out which trains travel between the places you want to go. It’s not an overly complex system, so it’s not that difficult, but something a little more intuitive might have been nice.
Our rating: Probably getting away with the absolute bare minimum of effort and detail required. Two-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official Sochi Olympics website)