New Official Map: MBTA Rapid Transit, Based On Winning Contest Entry

First sightings are coming in of Boston’s new rapid transit map being deployed on trains and stations, and prints are also available from MBTAgifts.com. For now, the map on the actual MBTA website is still the previous version.

The blurb about the map on MBTAgifts.com says:

The 2014 MBTA rapid transit map was the result of an international competition for designs. This map is based on the winning submission and has been complete[ly] redrawn and updated by Central Planning Transportation Staff for the MBTA.

Completely redrawn. Based on. Uh oh.

So here’s a side by side comparison between Michael Kvrivishvili’s contest entry (left) and the final map that the MBTA has ended up with (right). It’s clear that the final map is based on Michael’s entry, but with a lot of changes.

Some are necessary (the use of standard ADA accessibility symbols), some are improvements (SL 1 and 2 are shown properly as loop lines, and the treatment of the airport shuttle buses is one of the best I’ve seen so far), but the majority of the changes dilute and harm the very strong and graphic design themes of Michael’s original map. 

Michael’s entry focussed very strongly on straightening out the routes as much as possible, reducing the number of curves to the bare minimum required. His Red Line was perfectly straight, apart from a last flick down to Braintree. The Ashmont-Mattapan branch was similarly straightened out. Not any more: the Red Line has pretty much reverted to its previous shape, with more twists and unevenly spaced stations.

Similarly, Michael’s Green Line, which ran in a beautifully clean straight line from Haymarket all the way to Heath Street, has also gained extra curves, all seemingly because of a “need” to show that the line changes direction after Boylston.

Other changes that affect Michael’s original design balance: the reintroduction of “blobby” interchange markers, the thinning of commuter rail lines in relation to their (now oversized) station markers, smaller station labels, more labels that cut across route lines, abbreviations for station names (“Gov’t Center” just looks terrible) the use of ALL CAPS for terminal stations (bold text alone is enough differentiation, and easier to read), the elimination of the visual “hook” of the perfect diamond in the centre of the map… and worst of all:

The replacement of Michael’s elegantly stylised coastline that matched the design of the route lines perfectly with the god-awful “pseudo-geographical” background of the previous map. It looks hideous.

It seems to me that there’s a battle on this final map between Michael’s original diagrammatic approach and a desire from someone at the MBTA for something more like a “real map”, and it’s these competing interests that harm the end result so much. Realistically, a Boston transit map that has to fit into a square is never going to be even remotely geographically accurate (as this image from Wikipedia shows). Michael’s well-considered design approach to this inherent problem was to eschew geography and create a diagram of services, reducing the number of curves in each line to make them easier to follow and evenly spacing stations as much as possible. That approach has been compromised by this final map, which really can’t decide what it wants to be — the old map or the new one.

Happy Easter from Transit Maps!

(Bet you never thought I’d find an appropriate image for this!)

(Source: zhujianxun/Flickr)

Historical Map: Map of Glasgow Corporation Transport Services, c. 1934 

A handsomely drawn map that does some sterling work with just three colours (a very modern combination of black, cyan and magenta!).

Of particular note is the clever way that a solid magenta line (bus service), can be combined with a dashed black line (trams) to indicate where both types of transportation share the same route without having to draw two separate lines. Interestingly, buses appear to have route numbers, while trams are designated by their final destination only.

Glasgow’s single circular subway line is shown in nicely contrasting cyan, as are neighbourhood labels and the River Clyde.

(Source: mikeyashworth/Flickr)

Historical Map: Working Sketch for 1979 New York Subway Map by Nobu Siraisi

As you might probably guess, I’m not really that fond of the current New York Subway map, although its longevity is certainly to be respected. It was first revealed to the public in 1979, and — despite revisions, service changes and disasters — has remained pretty much the same ever since.

However, this preliminary sketch by designer Nobu Siraisi, collaborating with Michael Hertz on that map, is nothing short of delightful. It looks like it was made in an effort to untangle the web of route lines around the busy Atlantic Avenue station with an eye on label placement as well. Note that the label for Grand Army Plaza station has been erased from the right hand side of the route lines and redrawn to the left. It’s also interesting to see just how much cleaner and legible even this spaghetti-strand map is without the underlying street grid of the full map.

The interview in the Gothamist that this image came from is definitely worth reading, although Michael Hertz certainly has a very rose-tinted view of how his map replaced the Vignelli diagram that came before it.

Source: Gothamist interview with Michael Hertz in 2007, via Aaron Reiss (Twitter)

Submission - Unofficial Maps: Redesigned Metro Maps of the World
Submitted by Jug Cerovic, who says:
I completed a set of new schematic metro maps of 12 cities using a common standard. I have tried to make easy to read, memorize and use maps but at the same time pleasant looking. Crowded centers are enlarged and specific features such as ring lines highlighted.
You can see all the maps here.
——
Transit Maps says:
You all know that I love an ambitious transit mapping project, and this is up there with the most ambitious I’ve seen. Jug has taken twelve of the most iconic metro maps out there — New York, Mexico City, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo — and redesigned them all using a standardised design style, font (looks like DIN) and square format.
Despite the common language, the maps still manage to look unique to their city: no easy feat! Jug has managed to impart a very stylish feel to the maps by the use of large, sweeping curves instead of tight angles. There’s some nice information hierarchy too, with Metro/Subway/U-Bahn lines getting full, bright colours while commuter rail/S-Bahn lines are rendered in muted pastel colours.
I would say that some of the maps are more successful than others (Moscow falls a bit flat for me, while New York is incredibly dense and crowded), but this is still an outstanding example of strong unifying design principles applied well across a wide variety of different transit maps.
You should definitely head over to the project website to view and compare all twelve maps; there’s also prints for sale! Submission - Unofficial Maps: Redesigned Metro Maps of the World
Submitted by Jug Cerovic, who says:
I completed a set of new schematic metro maps of 12 cities using a common standard. I have tried to make easy to read, memorize and use maps but at the same time pleasant looking. Crowded centers are enlarged and specific features such as ring lines highlighted.
You can see all the maps here.
——
Transit Maps says:
You all know that I love an ambitious transit mapping project, and this is up there with the most ambitious I’ve seen. Jug has taken twelve of the most iconic metro maps out there — New York, Mexico City, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo — and redesigned them all using a standardised design style, font (looks like DIN) and square format.
Despite the common language, the maps still manage to look unique to their city: no easy feat! Jug has managed to impart a very stylish feel to the maps by the use of large, sweeping curves instead of tight angles. There’s some nice information hierarchy too, with Metro/Subway/U-Bahn lines getting full, bright colours while commuter rail/S-Bahn lines are rendered in muted pastel colours.
I would say that some of the maps are more successful than others (Moscow falls a bit flat for me, while New York is incredibly dense and crowded), but this is still an outstanding example of strong unifying design principles applied well across a wide variety of different transit maps.
You should definitely head over to the project website to view and compare all twelve maps; there’s also prints for sale! Submission - Unofficial Maps: Redesigned Metro Maps of the World
Submitted by Jug Cerovic, who says:
I completed a set of new schematic metro maps of 12 cities using a common standard. I have tried to make easy to read, memorize and use maps but at the same time pleasant looking. Crowded centers are enlarged and specific features such as ring lines highlighted.
You can see all the maps here.
——
Transit Maps says:
You all know that I love an ambitious transit mapping project, and this is up there with the most ambitious I’ve seen. Jug has taken twelve of the most iconic metro maps out there — New York, Mexico City, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo — and redesigned them all using a standardised design style, font (looks like DIN) and square format.
Despite the common language, the maps still manage to look unique to their city: no easy feat! Jug has managed to impart a very stylish feel to the maps by the use of large, sweeping curves instead of tight angles. There’s some nice information hierarchy too, with Metro/Subway/U-Bahn lines getting full, bright colours while commuter rail/S-Bahn lines are rendered in muted pastel colours.
I would say that some of the maps are more successful than others (Moscow falls a bit flat for me, while New York is incredibly dense and crowded), but this is still an outstanding example of strong unifying design principles applied well across a wide variety of different transit maps.
You should definitely head over to the project website to view and compare all twelve maps; there’s also prints for sale!

Submission - Unofficial Maps: Redesigned Metro Maps of the World

Submitted by Jug Cerovic, who says:

I completed a set of new schematic metro maps of 12 cities using a common standard. I have tried to make easy to read, memorize and use maps but at the same time pleasant looking. Crowded centers are enlarged and specific features such as ring lines highlighted.

You can see all the maps here.

——

Transit Maps says:

You all know that I love an ambitious transit mapping project, and this is up there with the most ambitious I’ve seen. Jug has taken twelve of the most iconic metro maps out there — New York, Mexico City, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo — and redesigned them all using a standardised design style, font (looks like DIN) and square format.

Despite the common language, the maps still manage to look unique to their city: no easy feat! Jug has managed to impart a very stylish feel to the maps by the use of large, sweeping curves instead of tight angles. There’s some nice information hierarchy too, with Metro/Subway/U-Bahn lines getting full, bright colours while commuter rail/S-Bahn lines are rendered in muted pastel colours.

I would say that some of the maps are more successful than others (Moscow falls a bit flat for me, while New York is incredibly dense and crowded), but this is still an outstanding example of strong unifying design principles applied well across a wide variety of different transit maps.

You should definitely head over to the project website to view and compare all twelve maps; there’s also prints for sale!

Submission - Fantasy Map: The Internet Tube (worldwide submarine cable network)

Submitted by idleberg, smileandburn and others. Idleberg says:

Something I came across by accident, the “Internet Tube”, a map of the world’s network of submarine fibre-optic cables. Looks terrible to me, especially since one of the main point of interest, the geographical context, is barely noticeable.

——

Transit Maps says:

While I feel that the goal of this diagram — the simplification of a vast and complex nodal network down to its basic elements — is a laudable one, the execution leaves a lot to be desired for me. If anything, it’s too simple, leaving out detail that enables you to see how the network of cables actually works.

It seems that the network has been broken down into imaginary  ”route lines” with appropriate (if fanciful) names, rather than showing actual undersea cables. While this helps to group countries together thematically, it also could give viewers the idea (for example) that there’s one single cable that runs from the U.S. to Russia to Japan via the Arctic Ocean. There isn’t (yet), and Russia’s submarine cable connections are actually far more complex than could ever be shown on a diagram like this, relying more on cables under the Baltic and Black Seas than any “super cable” that’s implied here.

My other main issue with the diagram is the use of three-letter ISO country codes instead of actual country names. This makes the diagram unnecessarily obtuse — which country is represented by VCT? Or FSM or MNE? If H.C. Beck could fit “High Street Kensington” onto his original tube map, then a clone of his map should really be able to work with actual country names. Perhaps those names could then be supplemented with each country’s top level internet domain code (.au, .uk, etc), which makes far more sense for a map about the Internet than three-letter ISO codes.

Design-wise, it’s Yet Another Tube Map Clone (YATMC), right down to the route line colours and blue type for “station” labels. Yawn.

If you want a submarine cable network map that actually gives you some idea of how it all fits together and how staggeringly, mind-bendingly complex it all really is, then I highly recommend Greg’s Cable Map. Check it out and then realise how amazing it is that you can send an email to the other side of the world in milliseconds without any effort at all on your behalf.

Our rating: Tries hard to simplify an incredibly complex network, but through thematic and design choices, creates something that doesn’t really tell us much apart from the fact that there are cables under the sea and that some countries censor the Internet. One-and-a-half stars.

1.5 Stars

Source: Information Geographics at the Oxford Internet Institute

P.S. - VCT is St. Vincent and the Grenadines, FSM is the Federated States of Micronesia, and MNE is Montenegro.

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)

Unofficial Map: Los Angeles Metro for the “Analogue Guide: Los Angeles”

Submitted by Stefan, who says:

Hi Cameron,

I thought I’d share the Los Angeles Metro map that we designed for the Analogue Guide Los Angeles.

We always include “alternative” transit maps in our guide books, such Eddie Jabbour’s KickMap or Mark Noad’s Tubemap. In Los Angeles, given the sheer lack of maps, we designed one in-house.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on it!

——

Transit Maps says:

Thanks for sharing, Stefan! This is quite a neat piece of work that would seem to suit your needs very well. The design definitely fits in with the clean, minimalist look of the guide book itself! I’m never too certain about using Futura Condensed on a transit map myself, but it seems to be doing a good job here.

While concentrating on the central/downtown part of the city is probably perfect for what you cover in the guide, I’d personally still like to see some indication of the final destinations of each line: either as arrows pointing off the edge of the map, or incorporated into the legend at the top left. I also would have identified the lines by name in the legend, as LA has that weird mix of colour-named and destination-named lines (Expo and — soon — Crenshaw)

However, I do like the way you’ve incorporated the dates for the future openings of the various lines: it helps bring context to what is still an evolving and developing system.

Really minor typo: it’s “Light Rail”, not “Lightrail”.

Overall, I really like this map: it places the system on top of just enough geographical clues (the street grid, coastline,river and neighbourhood names) to allow for easy orientation — which is what a guide book should be all about, right?

Reflected Berlin U- and S-Bahn map. I like this photo a lot.

betonon:

You are here.

Official Map: Boston MBTA Government Center Station Closure Bypass

Submitted by Lawrence, who says:

As you’ve probably heard, the MBTA is about to close Government Center at the end of service tomorrow for a 2 year reconstruction. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the detour maps the T created and have put in stations. To me (a self-confessed transit geek), they seem adequate, but all of my friends find them very confusing. This leads to a broader question: how should transit agencies map and market necessary detours like this? What could be done to improve this? Thanks!

——

Transit Maps says:

Lawrence, I think you’re being extremely generous when you say that this is an “adequate” map. For me, it takes a pretty simple concept and obfuscates it with so much confusing and unnecessary information that it becomes difficult to decipher.

The idea behind the map is to show riders alternative ways to change between the Green and Blue Lines while Government Center (the natural interchange between these lines) is closed for the next two years. The MBTA’s own project webpage says this, which actually sums things up pretty succinctly:

The recommended path of travel for Green Line customers desiring access to the Blue Line is to travel to Haymarket Station and transfer to the Orange Line toward Forest Hills (southbound). Customers should transfer at State Station for Blue Line connections.

The recommended path of travel for Blue Line customers desiring access to the Green Line is to travel to State and transfer to the Orange Line toward Oak Grove (northbound). Customers should then transfer at Haymarket for Green Line connections.

It’s not exactly convenient — requiring two connections instead of the previous one — but the concept is pretty easy to understand: transfer at Haymarket and State.

You can also walk pretty easily between Park Street and State to achieve a Blue/Green transfer (I’d suggest it would actually take far less time to do this than to transfer trains twice), but the MBTA isn’t doing you any favours if you do. Unless you have an unlimited weekly or monthly pass, you’ll have to pay again to re-enter the system, which doesn’t really seem very fair in the circumstances. An act of good faith from the MBTA might be to allow out-of-system transfers at Park Street and State for the duration of the project (within a reasonable time frame, of course).

So, now that we know what the map is trying to convey, let’s see how it does.

My first — and biggest — problem with the map is the seemingly random way that it depicts the subway lines: all the lines that leave the central map area are ghosted back, except the Blue Line. Why is it shown differently? Why are any of them ghosted back at all? Ghosting a route line back like that can imply that service on that line is suspended or otherwise not operating, which is not true for any of these lines.

It’s particularly confusing for the Blue Line between State and Bowdoin, because it makes it look like all Blue Line services terminate at State. In fact, trains will continue to run through Government Center (without stopping) to Bowdoin, which will operate full-time during this project, instead of its normal limited operating hours.

The other big problem: the repetition of the station “T” icons to show secondary entrances to stations. For someone unfamiliar with Boston (hello, tourists!) these could reasonably be confused for actual, separate stations (which don’t really exist).

The entrance to State station at the Old South Meeting House is the worst offender: the denoted walking path from Park Street leads directly to a labelled “T” marker that’s almost exactly halfway between Downtown Crossing and State — looks like a station to me! The only indication for the uninitiated that this is an entrance to State is that the ring around the “T” shares that station’s blue and orange colour-coding. To my mind, the walking path should continue all the way to State through the marker. And of course, replacing the entrance “T” markers with their own, unique icon would remove any chance for confusion. An icon should never represent two separate, unrelated things!

The arrows used to represent the possible alternate routes do a solid — if unspectacular — job, but they’re surrounded by so much visual confusion that it’s hard to trust what they’re saying. It’s actually kind of frightening that two paragraphs of text on the MBTA website can do a better job of explaining the bypass than this map can — a visual medium should really be able to explain this so much more clearly than a text-based or verbal solution ever could.

In conjunction with the project webpage, which is actually pretty comprehensive, this map is just about tolerable. But for someone coming across it in a station with no other knowledge of the project — it’s awfully hard work. 

(Source: MBTA Project webpage)