greater seattle: loving the new sub-network maps

Now this is a clear map!  It's by the Seattle area agency King County Metro.  First the legend:

KC metro legend.png
RapidRIde is King County Metro's new rapid bus product, with widely spaced stops, high frequency, special stations, but usually no exclusive lane.  Note how cleanly this legend distinguishes services that are useful for different purposes.  Note too that it omits peak-only commuter express services, because if they were present they would be lots of confusing overlapping lines that would make the basic network impossible to see.

So here's a piece the map.  Click to enlarge, but more important, go here (that's an order) to see the whole thing.

KC metro eastside map

The distinctions on this map are entirely about what matters to the customer, especially the person who wants to see the all-day transit network that is ready to liberate your life, not just your commute.  Red means fast and frequent.  Blue means frequent.  Green means all day but not frequent.  And if you want to see peak commuter express services, which would obliterate the legibility of this map if they were included, see another map or individual timetable.  

To be fair, many good maps do show peak only services and visually de-emphasise them as faint dashed lines.  That works too, but the key design principle is this:  The network of any particular layer in the hierarchy of service should be clear without being obscured by lower levels of service.  This map does that perfectly:  You can see just the red Rapid Ride line, or you can focus easily on red plus blue to see the frequent network, or you can notice the paler green and see the all-day network.  All in one map.

To get to this kind of customer-centered clarity, note what they had to omit:  Two transit agencies' services are presented here with no differentiation at all.  Bus routes numbered in the 500s belong to Sound Transit while the others belong to King County Metro.  Most multi-agency regions would focus on highlighting this distinction first, on the assumption that the customer's loyalty to a transit company is much more important than their desire to get where they're going.  The distinction should arguably be at least a footnote if you don't have integrated fares between the companies, as it could imply fare penalties and different fare media.

Some multi-agency maps do show all operators, but still visually distinguish them, as the Los Angeles Metro map does, for example.  But if you want a really simple map, reduce the transit company's identity to a footnote, or something that can be inferred from a route number*, or don't even show it at all.  Instead, show the customer what matters to them: frequency, speed, and duration of service.

*Can you spot the one place on the LAMetro map where they do that?  The answer is in "Joseph E"'s comment below.


16 Responses to greater seattle: loving the new sub-network maps

  1. Justin N August 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    I’m guessing here, but I think that the place where you can infer a different operator solely from the route number in LA is around LAX. The two LAWA shuttles, C and G, are represented and colored just like the Metro circulators.
    I think Seattle is a special case when it comes to multi-agency networks. They have strongly integrated regional fare media that are basically the only sort of fare media available, and are accepted on all regional operators. If I tried to use a map like this in, say, the Bay Area, it would really matter that I was waiting for one agency’s service rather than another– and differences between routes can’t be inferred from route designations, generally speaking.

  2. Eric August 2, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Overall, I think the map is great, but I do see one significant deficiency, which is a lack of information about the route’s stopping patterns.
    For the B-Line, the stops are explicitly stated on the map and where you can get on and off is very clear. However, routes 545 and 566 each have long express sections with no stops at all, yet because they’re not “RapidRide” routes, the map provides no information about where these buses actually stop. In fact, for people who don’t realize that route 520 is a freeway, the map might even be construed as misleading, in that it conveys the false impression that you can get on or off routes 545 and 566 anywhere along the line, like you can for most other routes.
    I do agree that differentiating routes based on the agencies that operate them is not warranted, but differentiating between local and express routes absolutely is warrented – at a minimum, the map should place a white dot everywhere the express buses stop (there aren’t that many of them, so it would cause minimal clutter), so you can look at the map and know where you need to get off and on to use them.

  3. Rob August 2, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    I wholeheartedly agree – a great improvement in mapping, and a triumph to set aside agency branding as the primary discriminator. I like it a lot!
    That said, it’s hard to distinguish why RapidRide and the 550 are different purely from the perspective of service characteristics. The 550 is also frequent and all day with limited stops, on an even more express right of way. Sound Transit doesn’t want to consider their services as BRT (so they won’t inflame the BRT vs. LRT wars), but really, in terms of service characteristics they get pretty close on that route. So my sense is that despite the agency-neutral intent, Metro is still trying to emphasize their agency-specific RapidRide brand here.

  4. Joseph E August 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    “Can you spot the one place on the LAMetro map where they do that?”
    The Rapid lines are shown with a letter next to them, when they are operated by a different transit company, in Culver City and Santa Monica. “R3”, “R6” and “R7” are operated by municipal bus companies, not Metro.

  5. Jonathan August 3, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    This map (legend) makes me cross. ’15 minutes or less.’ Or less! So it could be every 45 minutes, then, could it? Or every two hours?
    And what about ‘most portions of the day’? I could go along and draw back in all the commuter lines on that basis.
    The point of this map as I see it, is that you should be able to take unplanned trips using the network using just this map. I don’t see how you can actually do that with this map, because you don’t have any guarantee of frequency on this supposedly-frequent network, and you don’t any guarantee as to what time this frequent network remains frequent.
    Anyway, I think it probably represents a good attempt to map a bad network – for example, wouldn’t it be worth adding or moving around a few extra buses to some frequent lines, such that, say, all blue lines have minimum 30 minute frequency between, say, 7am and 7pm, so that you could then draw a more useful map.

  6. ComradeFrana August 3, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    “This map (legend) makes me cross. ’15 minutes or less.’ Or less! So it could be every 45 minutes, then, could it? Or every two hours?”
    No, I’m pretty sure ’15 minutes or less’ means 15,12,10,7,5…

  7. Tom West August 3, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    “Every 15 minutes or less” is ambiguous because it could mean “every (15 minutes or less)” or “(every 15 minutes) or less”. Personally I would say “every 15 minutes or better”.

  8. Jarrett at August 3, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    The "15 or less" vs "15 or better" question seems to flummox language-sensitive minds like mine and those of a few commenters, but I've never heard of anyone failing to figure it out.  Much as I love digging into semantics and rhetoric, this one is just a non-problem.  I find "15 or less" easy to read as "0 to 15" esp when that's the only interpretation that makes any sense in context.  (Context is part of signification!)  If you don't, train yourself to not be bothered.  There are bigger battles.

  9. Erik Griswold August 3, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Jarrett, Sound Transit buses that operate within King County are operated by King County Metro.
    Sound Transit buses that run from Seattle to Snohomich County are run by Community Transit.
    Sound Transit buses that run from Seattle (or other points within King County such as the Seattle-Tacmoma International AIrport) are run by Pierce Transit.
    One can determine who’s bus it is by looking at the coach number: If it ends with a P it is Pierce Transit’s, ends with a K it belongs to King County Metro, ends with a C it belongs to Community Transit.

  10. Jarrett at August 3, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Erik.  Yes, I know all that about the operations.  But the two agencies remain separate agencies with separate planning control, funding, fare structures, and branding.  So it's significant that this distinction is not emphasized on the map, as it's emphasized everywhere else in the passenger experience.  Jarrett

  11. Ted K. August 4, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    The King Co. map comes across as a barrier breaker. If I lived in that county I would feel comfortable exploring parts of the county that are away from my usual haunts. The samTrans (sic) map below has a whiff of brimstone (“Here be dragons …“) near the county borders.
    “Maps” (San Mateo Co. Transit page)
    Note : samTrans (sic) is sandwiched between San Francisco’s Muni and Santa Clara’s VTA. Several other agencies (BART, Caltrain, AC Transit, etc.) are also represented.

  12. Al Dimond August 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    So… what about the 550 and 545 (and the 535/532 and the all-day expresses going south from Bellevue)? It seems wrong to draw them in the same color as any of the other routes on here.
    Is there another place that has as many frequent, all-day freeway express buses as Puget Sound? Or even, generally, frequent all-day transit of any sort with such wide stop spacing? The 550, 545, and 511 have multi-mile stop spacing and weekday daytime frequencies of 15 minutes or greater; I think the combined Tacoma-Seattle routes come close to that, too, and they have even wider stop spacing. The ST express service pattern (along with KC routes like the 150, and CT routes like the 201/202) isn’t local bus service, isn’t BRT, isn’t commuter service, it’s something different.
    I’m not sure it’s close to any ideal service pattern… in some cases they’re just overgrown commute buses, in some they’re what you can build of a regional transit system without a real capital budget. They seem to be their own thing and probably need their own color.
    ST has its big system map, but it omits the handful of CT and KC routes whose service pattern is very similar.

  13. Alan Tanaman August 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm #
    On the “15 minutes or less” topic, it should be “every 15 minutes or fewer” if the agency means that it could be every 7 minutes. Otherwise, the “less” can only refer to the frequency itself, meaning “worse”.
  14. Alon Levy August 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    No, “less” is perfectly fine here, because 15 minutes is a unit of time and time is non-countable. I would find “fewer” very awkward here unless time had to be an integer number of minutes.

  15. Rob August 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    @Al Dimond: Sound Transit introduced Regional Express service as a way to offer something of value to places that rail would take longer to get to – but they purposefully did not brand that service as BRT. My impression then was that ST didn’t want to suggest that buses can be a substitute for rail service. But on several routes they provided most of the attributes of BRT (frequency and priority right-of-way) including direct ramps into HOV lanes, but stopped short of station improvements and BRT branding.
    Most all of the ST regional express routes connect more than one of the five subareas in the ST district. If the maps are subarea-oriented (like the example shown), the ST routes that meet the service criteria could be shown in a similar format to RapidRide, but in another color, with an arrow pointing off the map and a note indicating the regional destination served outside the map boundary. That would keep the focus on RapidRide, but do a better job of showing the service types and connections consistently.

  16. Al Dimond August 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    I don’t think ST routes are really like BRT at all. BRT, like all good rapid transit, connects the destinations along its corridor with a straightforward service pattern. ST Expresses are as notable for what they skip as what they serve (the 545 goes right around the bulk of Capitol Hill and skirts the U District; the 511 skips Northgate and skirts the U District; the Tacoma buses blow right by many intermediate suburbs). Bound to the freeway, they cannot help but provide extremely wide stop spacing, both in the urban core and in the suburbs.
    I guess I’m more interested in other cities with similar service patterns and what kind of success they’ve had. It seems to me that people that work in car-centric suburban office parks in greater Seattle have substantially better transit options than those in other US cities. I’ve worked in suburban campuses in Chicagoland, the Bay Area, and a couple out in “the 425”. Only here has transit been a realistic option.
    So… are there other cities with lots of frequent all-day regional bi-directional freeway express runs? Is the ST Express model based on successful services elsewhere (I can imagine something like it in other smaller cities with economically powerful suburbs, especially in places with high gas taxes)? Are any other US cities trying something similar (building out a comprehensive though deeply compromised regional transit system quickly and cheaply)?

Leave a Reply