Official Map: Southeastern Rail Network, England
Southeastern’s website contains the following blurb: “Our network covers London, Kent and parts of East Sussex. With 179 stations and over 1000 miles of track, we operate one of the busiest networks in the country. We also run the UK’s only high speed trains.”
They should really add: “We also have a network map that makes it almost impossible to work out where our trains actually go.” I mean, what is actually going on here? Leaving out the networks of connecting rail companies, there are two main Southeastern networks – the magenta Metro routes (London and surrounds) and the lime green mainline routes that extend out into Kent and East Sussex – but that’s about as much as this map really tells you.
You could probably assume that most Metro services start at one of the four London terminus stations shown, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. If I get on at Victoria, where can I actually go? What happens at the apparent Y-junctions east of Barnehurst and Slade Green? Which way do trains go and could they actually loop all the way back to London? Nothing here tells me otherwise, so that’s an assumption that could be made by a user unfamiliar with the system.
Do the mainline trains start in London as well, or do I have to catch a Metro train out to, say, Sevenoaks and change trains there? The lime green routes are only shown outside London’s perimeter, after all.
It’s all just horribly ambiguous and unclear. It’s only after poking around on the Southeastern website that I found an alternate “lines of route” interactive map that makes some sense of things. There are actually six Metro routes and five mainline routes, four of which originate from London. The fifth – the Medway Valley line – runs from Tonbridge to Strood. Try working that out from the map.
Our rating: A prime example of style over substance. The map looks cool and all, but it doesn’t actually help a user plan a trip at all. Eleven routes isn’t that many: show them all from end to end so that people can easily determine where to get on a train, where to most efficiently interchange with other services and where they can get off. It’s really not that hard, people. One star.
Source: Southeastern Rail website
Official Map: South East Queensland Train Network
Requested by quite a few readers, this is an new version of this map that I reviewed back in March 2012. Unlike that previous map, this one does not show Brisbane’s bus lane network, concentrating solely on the rail system. In my eyes, this is a wise move, as the scale of the map (it’s some 240km – or 150 miles – from Nerang on the Gold Coast at the bottom of the map to Gympie at the top!) is really too great to allow a peaceful co-existence between the two networks.
As a result, the map has been simplified a lot and has much better coherence in general. The central part of the map, in particular, is much easier to follow. There’s also been an interesting operational change: the Cleveland line used to be indicated in purple and run through downtown and become the Doomben Line, but now it’s blue and interlines with the Shorncliffe Line instead.
While the routes are drawn better than the previous map, this version still has some of its failings: small, difficult to make out icons being the most obvious one. 23 separate fare zones seems to be bordering on the ridiculous, but I’m not convinced a zone number next to every station is the best way to indicate them in any case.
The newly drawn background that the map is placed on is – for me at least – way too detailed. Look at the myriad little islands shown off the coast at the end of the Cleveland Line, or the detailed twists and turns of the Brisbane River to the east of Indooroopilly. On a diagrammatic map like this, this is fussy and unnecessary: like the route lines themselves, keep the geography simple.
Our rating: Six steps forward, five-and-a-half back. Ever so slightly better than what came before, but not enough to lift it up half a star. Still a three.
Source: Official Translink website
Official Map: Transit of Magdeburg, Germany
Submitted by keks63, who says:
I really enjoy your blog, so I thought I would submit the transit map of my nearest German city.
The network features 9 tram lines (1 to 10, they did not make a line 7 for some reason), and several bus and ferry lines. The city has about 200,000 inhabitants, and the tram serves all the important areas, you do not need a car to live in Magdeburg, which is very nice. I find this map quite good to use, however there is some confusion going on around “Alter Markt” and “Allee-Center” stations. But all in all, I think it’s a good transit map for a medium-sized German city.
Transit Maps says:
This is almost the archetypal German transit map: clean and clinical design that conveys a lot of information without any fuss. The trams are given the highest priority, followed by the bus lines and then the S-bahn, which has its station names highlighted in the distinctive green used almost universally across Germany for such services.
While I don’t necessarily find the Alter Markt/Allee-Center area difficult to understand, the way the routes seem to overlap randomly as they cross here is a little odd. There’s also one glaring mistake: the icons cover the station name at Jerichower Platz on the east side of the map where tram lines 5 and 6 join.
Our rating: About as German as a transit map can be. Three-and-a-half stars.
Source: Official MVB website
Official Map: Daytime Transport Services of Budapest, Hungary
In addition to the Metro/suburban rail only map that was introduced with the new Metro Line 4, there’s also this more comprehensive city map that adds tram, key bus routes, ferries and more to the mix. It’s more directly analogous to the old Budapest map (July 2012, 2.5 stars), and is also highly reminiscent of this Prague integrated transit map (August 2012, 4 stars).
Definitely aimed at tourists (the PDF file even has the word “turisztikai” in its file name) to give them a good idea of transit options within the central city, the map does a good job of that: the river and park areas work nicely to define the shape of the city and the Metro is given good hierarchical prominence. There’s even some nicely executed simple icons for points of interest around town.
Instead of the approach taken on the previous map, where each tram line was given its own colour, here they’re all represented by yellow. It’s a little odd that it’s the exact same colour as Metro Line 1, but the difference in stroke weight makes it immediately obvious which is which. Key bus routes are shown in blue, and the unique cogwheel railway (Line 60) is highlighted in magenta. For those who are curious, the “Children’s Railway" shown to the far left of the map is not necessarily a railway for children, it’s a railway operated by children (apart from adult supervision and the actual driver of the train).
The only real flaws with this map in my eyes are some overly fussy route lines for buses, particularly the 291 just north of Metro Line 2 on the west side of the river and the strangely jarring choice of Times New Roman for neighbourhood names.
Our rating: Excellent overview of transportation options in Budapest. Looks good and is easy to follow. Four stars.
Source: Official BKK website
Official Map: TRANSPO Bus System, South Bend, Indiana
Suggested by Jeff Bridgman.
This is probably a good example of how not to make a black-and-white map. They only get away with it at all because the system is so simple – there’s only 17 or 18 routes, and they have hardly any overlap because of the radial “hub and spoke” nature of the network.
Yes, you can actually work out where the buses go, but it’s all just a bit dismal. There’s quite a few examples of black label type crossing a black route line, which doesn’t really help much. The positioning of labels for roads is haphazard and inconsistent, with a strange partially transparent grey box placed behind some of the type. I guess it’s meant to aid legibility, but doesn’t actually help much at all. Parks and nature centers sit above roads in the layer order, so they butt into the roads and even cross them entirely in some places. Meanwhile, the runways at the airport appear to have been rendered as if they were roads. The map also features one of the most ridiculously oversized north pointers I’ve ever seen.
The other big failing of this map are the icons used for different points of interest on the map. Three of them – apartment or mobile home park, shopping center or mall and point of interest itself – all have quite similar visual shapes (they’re all roughly rectangular within the enclosing ellipse shape) and thus are quite difficult to tell apart at the small sizes used on the map. Bizarrely, the icon used for recreation facility is a comedy cap with a propellor on top! What?
Our rating: Works – just – as a somewhat functional map because of the small size of the network. Still serves as a cautionary tale as it gets an awful lot wrong. One star.
Source: Official TRANSPO website (scroll down to the “Rider’s Guide” section)
Official Map: MARC Commuter Rail Map
Ugh. A terrible JPG of a decidedly ugly map. There’s so much to dislike about this: the blocky label type; the tiny, indecipherable symbols used for the Metro and light rail in Baltimore and the insultingly poor renditions of the logos of connecting services (WMATA, Amtrak and VRE); the ridiculously ornate and garishly coloured compass rose; the soft “glow” effect applied to the MARC routes… the list goes on. Not to mention the mistakes, like the incorrect colour for the Brunswick Line on the legend and the missing “railway line” ticks on he Camden line.
Our rating: Slipshod work with an ugly result. One star.
Official Map: Budapest Metro and Suburban Rail, 2014
With the recent opening of Budapest’s Metro Line 4, there’s been a rethink behind the city’s transit map. The previous version (July 2012, 2.5 stars) tried to show everything – Metro, suburban rail, regional rail, tram and key bus routes – on one map, but it was all a bit of a mess. With so many thin, colour-coded lines (using a strangely limited palette), things became very difficult to understand.
Hence this new approach, where the services are split out into separate maps. This map just shows the Metro and suburban rail services within the city (arrows point towards more distant destinations). Connections to regional rail services are simply indicated by a railway station icon. Another map (which I’ll cover later) adds bus and tram services, but takes a different approach to the previous version.
As a simple Metro map, this isn’t half bad. It’s easy to follow, and the simplified treatment of the river gives some nice geographical context, dividing the city neatly into its “Buda” and “Pest” components. The closeness of the stations on Metro Line 1 makes it look somewhat like a dashed “under construction” line – a drawback of using station symbols that are the same colour as the route line they’re on, but it seems to work well elsewhere.
I do miss the old Metro logo: it was one of my favourites from around the world. The new one is functional enough, I guess, and matches the corresponding new suburban rail “H” nicely, but it just lacks the distinctively East European character of the previous one.
Our rating: Solid, clean and clear. Not amazing, but better than some. Three stars.
Source: Official BKK website
Future Official Map: Pearl River Delta Rapid Transit
Sent my way by David Edmondson of The Greater Marin, this is an incredibly large (the dimensions of the PDF are 145” x 101” or 386cm x 256cm!) and very comprehensive map of the planned Pearl River Delta Rapid Transit system. Currently under construction, the idea behind the system is to have every major urban area in the region to be less than an hour away from Guangzhou (the huge urban area in the blue part of the map) by rail.
The map shows not only these planned regional rail lines, but also the extensive Metro systems that many of the major cities have (or will have in the near future – Macau’s people mover as shown in the detail above is not yet built, for example). Interestingly, the map doesn’t seem to make any distinction between the regional services and the Metros: all are depicted by route lines of equal weight, meaning the map lacks a decent informational hierarchy.
Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, the map is also retina-searing bright. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a transit map where the background uses multiple colours that are all as intense and bright as the route lines themselves. It creates a lot of visual dissonance – that effect where edges almost seem to shimmer or vibrate because the clash of colours is so strong – especially where red or magenta meets blue. On the other hand, we also have blue rivers passing through a blue province, which is also a problem.
I also think that the map can’t really decide if it’s a diagram or a geographical map – it has elements of both: simplified route lines versus incredibly detailed waterways that seem to show every twist and turn, for example. The map probably could have benefitted from some further expansion of the denser areas: there’s plenty of empty space in other parts of the map that could have perhaps been used more effectively. As it is, I’m wondering whether a standard topographical map with the routes overlaid wouldn’t actually have been more informational…
Our rating: A grand scope (which I love), and it’s certainly unique, but it hurts my eyes to look at it. Two stars.
Submission - Official Map: Stadtbus Gmünd, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany
Let’s continue our recent look at small- to medium-sized German bus networks with this network map from Schwäbisch Gmünd in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, submitted by Bert.
I find this map interesting, because it really shouldn’t work as well as it does. While simplified, there doesn’t seem to be any real logic or unifying design principles behind the angles used for the route lines: they just seem to be drawn to make the routes fit together. Despite that, the map is pretty easy to follow and use. Part of that comes from the fact that there’s only ten different routes to show – it’s always easier to make a comprehensible map for a simple system – but some thought seems to have been put into making the labels as legible as possible and the route lines as easy to follow as they can be. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a bajillion times better than the awful effort from Marburg, and probably even as successful as the map from Göttingen.
Our rating: Somehow better than the sum of its parts. Three stars.
Source: Stadtbus Gmünd website
A Note on the Making of Oklahoma City’s Transit Map
I recently had a pleasure of designing a system map for EMBARK, Oklahoma City’s transit agency. The network is being made both more frequent and more direct to meet a growing demand. Oklahoma City is often compared to Austin, Texas for their effort to re-imagine the state’s biggest city to be less car-depended and more human-scale and user-friendly. I’m proud to be a part of that evolution.
I didn’t want to move away from geographically-accurate representation completely, but rather settle somewhere in between: The map is not quite a GIS-overlay, but neither it is a subway-style diagrammatic map. This hybrid approach had already been deployed by Kick Map (http://www.kickmap.com/) and CHK America elsewhere (see the map CHK America created for Spokane Transit). I wanted to replicate the simplicity and usability of those maps.
Oklahoma City’s gridded geography naturally fits that format.
The map’s layout is based on a modular grid. Each module is about 100 points across, which roughly corresponds to the city’s one-mile mega block, which consists of regular-sized blocks bound by arterial roads:
Taking advantage of the existing geography, I started it out with 45 and 90-degree angles, but had to add additional increments to follow the geography more closely:
Because buses do not run on every street, it made sense to only label the transit streets and the streets leading up to them. Rest of geographic features were allowed to “fade away”:
Finally, icons play a major role in calling out major destinations located along bus routes. Visually unified with the brand style, they work just as well at small sizes as they do at big sizes:
Can’t believe I haven’t reblogged this already. Great overview of the process behind a new, stylish, modern, usable system map for a smaller transit agency.
My favourite thing – and something map designers need to always bear in mind – is the beautiful, simple icons used. Icons on a map often have to work at very small sizes, so each one needs its own distinctive “shape” to quickly differentiate between them. The “squint test” is always a good thing to do: print your icons out, put them a decent distance away and look at them through half-closed eyes. If you can still identify each icon’s basic shape or outline, you’re in business. If they all just start looking like a generic blob… it’s time to redesign and refine!