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)
Official Map: New York/New Jersey Regional Transit Diagram for 2014
Hot off the presses via New Jersey Transit’s Twitter account, here’s a first look at a new regional transit map that (finally!) combines New Jersey Transit rail, PATH rail and the New York Subway onto one map to “facilitate ease of travel between all three systems”.
It appears to be heavily based off the Massimo Vignelli “Weekender” diagram, although I don’t know if Vignelli himself (or his studio) was actually involved in the design of this diagram. I’ll try and track down a PDF of the actual map to do a full review.
Soon-to-be-Official Map: Tram Network of Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine
Submitted by Alexander Zaytsev, who says:
Hey Cameron and Transit Maps readers! I’d like to show you the first transit map that in my portfolio. Here are the tram routes of one of the largest Ukrainian cities — Dnipropetrovsk. This unofficial map is going to be official very soon :) What do you think?
Transit Maps says:
I like it! Clear and easy to follow a route line from one end to the other. The map retains enough information to relate to the city’s street grid, which is more important for trams than it might be for a subway or Metro. The little jogs in the red Line 1 are a good example: I’d hate that kind of fussy detail on a subway map, but here it tells the reader that the line briefly jumps across to another street on its way through the downtown area. The little dogleg that Lines 4 and 12 take is also a nice visualisation of the actual street layout.
Interestingly, while the map shows connections to main line railway stations (denoted by a steam train icon!), it doesn’t indicate the Dnipropetrovsk Metro in any way. While I understand that the Metro isn’t exactly anything to write home about with just six stations and declining ridership, I think that some sort of acknowledgement of it of this map would be useful.
Apart from that, the only thing I’m not too sure about is the thinning of the route lines as they approach the big loop in the centre of the map. While I can understand the desire to save a little bit of space where five lines run concurrently, I don’t think the result is worth the effort. The orange Line 17 looks particularly off-kilter as it approaches the loop from the south, very obviously leaning to the right.
Our rating: A solid, earnest effort that’s clear and easy to use — far better than many maps of similarly-sized tram systems. Three-and-a-half stars!
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)
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: “BUZ” Frequent Service Bus Network, Brisbane, Australia
"BUZ" apparently stands for "Bus Upgrade Zone", a somewhat convoluted way to refer to frequent service routes — every 10 minutes in peak periods and every 15 minutes at other times. That Brisbane has 20 such frequent service routes is actually pretty impressive, but the map itself is not.
What a horrible, twisted, messy, scraggly attempt at a network map this is. Completely diagrammatic in some parts, and overly precise in others: what is with the ridiculous twists in the two routes at the very top of the map? The central part of the map is simply ghastly, with absolutely no thought as to how to group routes together properly. Routes that leave the city headed towards a common direction or destination should all be grouped with each other, not randomly separated as they are here.
Why does the western end of the Maroon Cityglider have a slight non-standard and visually distracting angle applied to it?
Looking at the map, but not the legend, tell me if the last stop at the eastern end of the Maroon Cityglider is Stones Corner or Langlands Park. It’s the former, although the placement of the labels leads you to believe its the latter.
The 90-degree curve on the cyan Route 340 line through the city centre is terribly drawn and — appallingly — runs into the lime green Route 196 terminus at Merthyr.
Station dots that don’t align with the route line they’re on, badly implemented arrows that point at stations that are too far away from their labels, labels that aren’t consistently aligned (there’s a thought for another tutorial!), insipid typography (Arial!), strange spacing (what’s with the giant empty gap in the middle of the southern leg of Route 100?)… the list of awfulness goes on and on.
Our rating: Not thought through at all and almost incoherently executed. It’s like a first draft by someone who’s never made a transit map before. Who signs off on these things? One (incredibly generous) star, and that’s only because I was born there and have a sentimental attachment to the place.
(Source: Translink Queensland 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.
Official Map: Tri-Rail Commuter Rail, Southern Florida
I’ve had a couple of requests to review this one, so here goes…
For me, this map is an excellent example of the overwhelming averageness of a lot of transit mapping here in the US. Yes, it does the job — you can work out how to get from here to there and where to make connections — but it’s just so completely bland and unmemorable.
Everything about the map seems to be completely generic, from the stock ESRI icons for airports and connecting services to the dull and tired Arial used for the labels. The beige background and thick, heavy black route line don’t help matters either. This is Florida here: how about some bright, sunny colours?
For me, the Tri-Rail logo itself suggests that the lovely blue in the central icon could be used as the colour for the main route line — the orange and green have already been used for the connecting Metrorail services, so why not continue with that colour theme and leverage the service’s branding a little more?
Speaking of the Tri-Rail logo, its placement in a white box within the blue header bar is awful — either reverse the logo out in white (if corporate standards allow) or put it on a light background. Similarly, the Interstate and U.S. Highway markers look odd when they’re contained in a white square.
A note regarding labelling: consistency is hugely important to produce an attractive map! Labels for the Metrorail services use all sorts of different sizes — “Douglas Road” is absolutely tiny compared to the other stations for no apparent reason. The names of the three counties that give Tri-Rail its “tri” are almost completely unreadable — light grey against a green/beige background and they also have a little offset drop shadow effect behind them that further obfuscates the text. Yes, this is subsidiary information, but it still needs to be readable.
On a more positive note, it’s nice to see that the map at least attempts to integrate services from different transit agencies, something I wish more maps that serve a large region would do.
Finally, examination of the PDF seems to suggest that this map was at least output from Microsoft Publisher: not a first-choice map/diagram design tool.
Our rating: Bland, dull and forgettable. Could easily be so much better and evocative of the area it serves. One-and-a-half stars.
(Source: Official Tri-Rail website - PDF link)
Also see the similarly dull and unattractive Miami-Dade Metrorail map (Aug. 2012, 1 star). Florida doesn’t inspire great map design, apparently.
Official Map: Public Transport Network of Debrecen, Hungary
Sent my way via a comment left on the website regarding the woeful map of Szeged, Hungary (Sept. 2013, 0.5 stars), here’s another truly awful transit map from Hungary: this one from its second-largest city, Debrecen.
In short, it’s an absolute disaster.
Route lines branch off in any direction (no constraining angles to 45-degree increments for this bad boy!), while labels are jammed in wherever they can fit, at any old angle. The labelling is so bad, that the map has a large part of the legend at the bottom left devoted to defining abbreviations that are used in an attempt to shorten names to make them fit! At least none of the labels cut through route lines, but the means don’t justify the ends here.
Technically, even the curved parts of the route lines are actually short sections of straight paths that simulate a curve (badly), making me think that this has been put together in CAD software, rather than a design/illustration application.
The strangely subdued colour scheme (a lot of pastel pinks, purples and greys) doesn’t help matters either: there’s very little contrast between a lot of adjacent route lines, which makes following them difficult.
Almost apologetically, the text above the legend states: “Attention! Map not to scale.”
Our rating: An absolute eyesore. This style of map is fairly common for bus/tram networks in Europe, and can work when executed well (see Viteks Bariševs’ unofficial map of Riga, Latvia), but this is definitely not working at all. No stars.
(Source: Official DKV site — also an “interactive” Flash-based version of the same map, and an SVG download if you want to open it up in Illustrator for some laughs)