Official Map: Portland MAX Horizontal Strip Map
The newest rolling stock used on Portland’s MAX light rail (Siemens S70 cars, known as “Type 4”) has enough room above the doors to display a horizontal version of the system map. Types 1 through 3 don’t have this space, and instead display an unwieldy portrait-oriented version of the map that bears little resemblance to geographical reality.
Interestingly, this map is not the same as the official system map found on TriMet’s website or ticket machines (despite sharing the same orientation and very similar proportions) but instead is yet another completely different layout. Wisely, the information on the map has been simplified down to the essentials — route lines and stations. Even the WES Commuter Rail has been omitted: there’s simply a note at the Beaverton Transit Center station noting that transfers to the weekday rush-hour only service can be made.
However, the map is also arguably the most geographically accurate version that TriMet has made: the Red and Blue lines take a big detour southwards from Sunset TC to Beaverton TC on the west side, just like in real life. Similarly, the Blue Line’s realignment from alongside I-84 to E Burnside St after Gateway TC makes an appearance. Even the slight changes in direction at either end of the Blue Line are reminiscent of actual geography.
Finally, of particular interest to me is the map’s striking use of 30- and 60-degree angles. Hmmmm, where have I seen that before?
A Better Denver RTD Strip Map?
People have already asked me what I’d do to make the Denver RTD strip map better. Well, here’s what I’ve come up with in five minutes flat. Even from this quick little “art director’s sketch”, I’m pretty certain that this concept would work better than the current iteration.
Once a transit system is past a certain size or complexity, some level of abstraction on these narrow oddly-shaped strip maps is a necessity. Once the rider is actually on the train, the most important information that they need is “how many stops until I get off/change trains”, not the physical reality of the system. Extraneous information like fare zones and street grids can be stripped out, leaving only the vital information behind.
Lessons in how NOT to adapt your map to a different shape, Denver edition
When I reviewed the new West Line Denver LTD light rail map (April 2013, 2 stars), I wondered how the new landscape format would work on trains and on station fittings. Well, one half of that question has been answered: this is what it looks like on the trains, and it ain’t pretty.
Basically, they’ve just taken the map and compressed it vertically to squeeze it into the allocated space. The loop around the city, which was already a pretty poor excuse for a circle, has now become a weirdly distorted oval, and all the inaccuracies where routes run concurrently have been magnified. Even in this angled photo, you can see huge differences in the spacing between the C, D, E, F, and H lines, especially between the I-25 & Broadway and Alameda stations.
The format also leads to huge amounts of empty, wasted space and teeny-tiny labels for the stations: not exactly useful. I will say that the map looks a lot better without the grey background and street grid (which would probably just look ridiculous in this horribly distorted version, anyway).
P.S. How do you make this map better? Here’s what I came up with in five minutes.
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: Old M1 Signage, Bucharest Metro, Romania, c. 1989
The Gara de Nord to Dristor 2 section of the M1 line opened in 1989, and this signage certainly looks like it’s from that era. The design is pretty rough and ready, looking almost like the sign makers made it up as they went along, but it does have a certain brutalist charm about it.
Of particular interest are the two patches at each end of the map that keep this old map somewhat up to date: “Preciziei” at the left end covers up the previous station name of “Industriilor”, which was changed in 2009, while “Anghel Saligny” has been added to the right side to reflect the new M3 terminus that opened in 2008.
(Source: Marcus Wong from Geelong/Flickr)
Kermit takes the train in Tokyo; my heart swells with joy.
Okay, perhaps not the real Kermit — it’s a stuffed toy that’s taken around the world by its owners, but a small green frog navigating the Marunouchi Line is still pretty darn cute.
(Source: Kermit the Frog’s Kickass Vacation in 15 Epic Photos/Mashable)
A lovely little slice of Tokyo life, complete with a very compact but informative strip map for the Yamanote Line: current station, connecting services (both in two languages), and estimated time to other stations on the line. It’s basically the analogue version of the digital map that’s on the trains themselves, as seen in this post.
Brussels Metro Line Map and Next Train Countdown
A companion piece to the official map (Dec. 2012, 3 stars) on the platform at Rogier station. The look of this map marries with the official map quite well, showing an admirable consistency in application.
Rogier station itself is clearly shown with a nice big arrow and stations before it on the lines are clearly indicated against greyed-out route lines. There’s also a nicely legible countdown for the next two trains, indicating their route number (2 or 6), final destination and estimated time in minutes to arrival. It even looks like the position of all the trains on the line headed in the same direction are shown on the strip map as bright red lights. Now you can see where that train you just missed has got to without you!
The only thing this map fails to show is the circular nature of the routes that the station serves. Routes 2 and 6 form Brussels’ “circle line”, and the two terminus stations for Route 2 — Simonis (Elisabeth) and Simonis (Leopold II) — are really just two different levels of the same Metro station.
(Source: Ian YVR/Flickr)
Red Line L Train
Rather lovely strip map for the Red Line at Lake station. The Cubs logo in place of the station dot at Addison station is a very deft touch — providing useful information without detracting from the simplicity of the map.
The tiles in the station are rather nice too,
although having a big “L” for “elevated” in one of the few subterranean stations in the system is a little ironic, don’t you think?
EDIT: Oh, of course… it’s “L” for “Lake”. Silly old me.
Unofficial Map: Crosscut’s Seattle Link Light Rail Strip Map
Crosscut, a non-profit news website centered on Washington State’s Puget Sound Region, has been talking about Link light rail’s signage for a while now. Their point about the minimal directional signage at SeaTac Airport to guide you to the train is valid, but their problem with Link’s own in-car strip map is less well founded.
They recently called for new designs as part of a competition, but unfortunately didn’t receive any. So they took it upon themselves to design one, and came up with the map at the bottom of the image above. They seem to think it successful, but I have to disagree in just about every respect.
The main problem with their redesign is that it doesn’t take into account where the map is to be used. It’s meant to sit above the door of a light rail carriage, which means it’s around six-and-a-half feet off the ground. Unless you’re very tall, you’re never going to get closer than about a foot to it. The train will often be crowded, and that means you may have to read it from even further away than that, while the train is moving. Simplicity, large type and ease of use are paramount.
I chose the image above because it simulates those typical viewing conditions. The top image shows the current strip map, the bottom one is a hastily composited version of the Crosscut map onto the same picture. At the same viewing distance, almost all of the extra information Crosscut has included is absolutely impossible to read, and even the station names are smaller. The huge lists of every bus route that connects with Link are useless, as are the points of interest listed at each station. If bus routes had to be included on a map like this, I would advocate that only frequent or rapid routes be shown.
The twists and turns in the route line on the Crosscut map make the one really vital piece of information that a traveller needs to know — how many stops until I get off? — that much harder to find. It’s much easier to visually scan along a straight line than a bent one. A straight line also acts as a subtle guarantee of directness and speed, while a bent one implies a circuitous and longer trip. Yes, it’s propaganda (and sometimes close to a lie), but that’s one of the reasons that route lines are straightened out.
Crosscut also mention (but don’t show) the possibility of adding QR codes to the map for further information, but really — who’s going to hold their smart phone up to a map mounted above the door to scan a QR code?
The one part of the Crosscut map that I agree with — the deletion of the awful “Constellation” icons — may not even be possible. I seem to recall being told that their inclusion was mandatory as a visual aid for illiterate transit users.
Packing an in-car strip map with all this extraneous information is poor information design, and would be much better left to a unified system of system maps, locality maps, and wayfinding signage. Which already exists at most Link stations.
(Source for original “before” photo: Alex Abboud/Flickr)