Maps

defending new york’s subway from british sneers

Guardian journalist Bim Adewunmi recently traveled from London to New York and slammed the subway as compared to her beloved Underground.  The blowback has been delightful.  She seemed especially angry about the information system that isn't exactly what Transport for London would do.

The city’s subway map is dense and needlessly complex. Where in London the Central line (red) is distinct from the Piccadilly (dark blue), which is markedly different from the Hammersmith and City line (pink), New York’s map has designated the same forest green to the 4, the 5 and the 6 lines. The B, D, F and M all rejoice in exactly the same shade of violent orange. … Why would you do this? The whole thing resembles a child’s approximation of a city transit system: it makes no sense.

She's talking about branching lines.  If she were from Paris, whose elegant Métro is nearly branchless, she'd have a point.  But what a comment for someone from London!

In New York's map, the common color helps you navigate the core part of a line while the numbers or letters help you sort out the branches.  This is a very common way of making branching lines clear.  Meanwhile, in London, where transit is presumably designed by sober adults, we have this:

Northern Line map

No 4, 5, and 6 to confuse you!   No, just a beast called the Northern Line even though it's both northerly and southerly, consisting of two entirely different lines through the central city.  Is there a direct train from Waterloo to Mill Hill East?  How would I know? As Clive's Underground Guide helpfully explains:  "The pattern of service … tends to change with each new issue of the timetable."  

You see, Bim, Americans like maps and nomenclature systems that actually indicate where their train will go!   In London I'm sure you just somehow just know what the next Northern Line train might be up to.  But all that aristocratic just knowing that you Brits do is exactly why you lost your Empire!  

😉

indianapolis: upcoming meetings on your transit system!

Last spring, Jarrett Walker + Associates was contracted by IndyGo, the transit agency serving Indianapolis and Marion County, to lead an update of their last Comprehensive Operation Assessment. This project involves consideration of the design, performance and mobility outcomes of IndyGo's existing network, followed by an extensive public engagement and redesign process. Next week, we will be on the ground in Indianapolis for a series of meetings, asking stakeholders and members of the public to share their views on the future of the network, including one very fundamental question: to what degree should IndyGo pursue each of the competing goals of high ridership and high coverage?

As always, one of our first steps was to draw a map showing IndyGo's midday route frequencies. To the agency's credit, it already incorporates frequency into its general purpose map (along with a lot of other useful information).

Frequency - Midday - Existing '14-08-25

 Next week, IndyGo and JWA will be hosting three meetings to discuss the future of the network at The Hall, 202 N. Alabama Street:

  • Thursday, Sept. 18: 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. 
  • Friday, Sept. 19: 9 – 11 a.m. 
  • Friday, Sept. 19: 4-6 p.m. 

We'll be discussing immediate changes to the network responding to the 2015 opening of the new Downtown Transit Center, as well as long term priorities and plans for future rapid transit lines. For more information, and to take a survey on these questions, head on over to IndyGo's site for the events: http://www.indygo.net/news-initiatives/indygoforward.

Transitmix: a new tool for armchair transit planners (and pros too?)

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Another interesting web transit app, this time from a group of Code for America developers:

Transitmix is a sketching tool for transit planners (both professional and armchair) to quickly design routes and share with the public. 

Transitmix is simple way to think about transit in terms of bus requirements and real costs. Basically, the user draws a route on a map and plugs in span and frequency. The app then calculates a vehicle requirement and cost in both hours and dollars, factoring in an adjustable layover ratio, average speed and dollar cost per service hour.  

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Transitmix is very similar to (though much simpler and prettier) the sort of cost estimation methods used in transit design processes , and as it stands is a fun sandbox to think about transit in your city. It's still very much a beta, but the prospects are intriguing. 

Its clear that the developers of Transitmix see it as much more than a curiosity. They've actively sought feedback from people in the industry, and are working hard to build an app that could one day replace some of the tedious documentation work of network design with an interactive, visually attractive interface. Apparently functions like summary tables, GIS file exports, and the ability to save multiple iterations of one design are all in the works.

I can imagine all sorts of possibilities for a tool like this, particularly if secondary data sources were incorporated. How about a public or stakeholder  involvement process that would actually give people a way to view demographic and ridership data and make real, financially constrained transit choices with a familiar, modern toolset? Or an update to our transit network design courses, where participants are given the same information for a fictional city and asked to design a transit network from the ground up? It's great to see transit concepts picked up by a talented group from an organization as reputable as Code for America. A project worth keeping an eye on!

visualizing transit: subway operations made beautiful

Grad students Mike Barry and Brian Card have produced an impressive new set of interactive visualizations of Boston's subway system. It's worth having a look for yourself here; much is lost when these are reduced to a screenshot. They've looked at key transit metrics like travel time, passenger volume, vehicle delay, and station congestion among other topics, all drawn from MBTA's open realtime data, in a style inspired by the content-first approach of design guru Edward Tufte.

 The image below is an example, showing the time of point-to-point trips of individual trains through the day. In this chart, the steeper the slope of the line, the longer the trip took. Scrolling through the day, the effect of the peak periods becomes apparent as the quantity and steepness of lines increases. 

Another example of the type of work skilled information designers can produce when public agencies make their data available. 

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looking for structure: the metro maps of Jug Cerovic

Paris-based Serbian designer Jug Cerovic tipped me off a month ago to his remarkable work on subway maps, collected at his website and since hailed at Atlantic Citylab.    If you want to geek out on beautiful detail, go to his website now.  Here, I'm interested in looking from a fuzzier distance.

 

Moscow-metro-subway-map-1000

His work interests me because I'm always trying to help people see underlying principles of network structure, such as the high-frequency grid in all its forms, and often contending with the seductive allure of its opposite, the seemingly endless loop.  

Cerovic's eye has picked out these forms, and fondles their contrast expertly:  He picks out a central loop in every city that provides a hint of one, organizing map after map around a geometrically perfect circle or oval.   Berlin:

Berlin-metro-subway-u-bahn-map-1000

His maps of comprehensive East Asian metros call out the circle line in most of them.  Beijing and Shanghai are both rigidly circle-and-spoke like Moscow, but Beijing's outer circle is far enough out to create orthogonal grid effects in relation to the straight lines it crosses.  Cerovic, perhaps sensing this, renders the loops as rectangles:

Beijing-metro-subway-map-1000

But it's hard to resist the beauty of the circle.  Tackling Paris, Cerovic seizes on the ellipsoid loop formed by Metro lines 2 and 6, rendering them as a perfect circle that seems to unify the image.  Only the color change signals that you can't go around forever.

Paris-plan-metro-subway-map-1000

I have long argued that the Paris metro is mostly an orthogonal grid system, with most routes in north-south or east-west paths that intersect to form logical L-shaped travel opportunities.  In fact, it's a great example of a grid system fitted to a gridless city.  Lines 2 and 6, and the more recent T3 tram that Cerovic renders as a quarter-circle, are really the only predominantly arc elements and even they function like east-west grid elements in the actual geography, 

In Madrid, Cerovic reveals the Expressionist quality of the metro network:  lots of emotive scribbles and personality quirks but without a clear structuring idea.  

Madrid-metro-subway-map-1000

The gently collapsed loop at the center reminds me of a Jean Arp sculpture.

In London, he ignores the obviously potential of the Circle Line, which despite its new tadpole shape could easily have been made into a perfect circle or oval.   Instead, the perfect circle that anchors his map is an emerging, ghostly London Overground, bristling with spurs:

London-metro-subway-tube-map-1000

I like Cerovic's maps for their stripped-down emphasis on the drama of line vs. loop.  Lines are from Mars and loops are from Venus.  They will never understand each other.  The challenge — in all the dimensions of design — is in making them dance, and helping both impulses succeed.

 

more maps of your freedom: job access and transit

The Regional Plan Association, the New York-region planning think tank, has produced a great new map as part of their Fragile Success report:

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http://fragile-success.rpa.org/maps/jobs.html

This map takes the travel time methodology regular readers of this blog know well, but then within that area of access shows all of the jobs, categorized by sector, as a dot density map. The effect is to visualize the quantity and number of jobs that can be reached from a give point in a given time, by walking, transit, cycling, or driving. The map is also able to quickly calculate the number of jobs inside the AM peak travelshed on the fly, and even allows the user to toggle on and off different job classifications. If you want to see all of the education jobs within a 30 minute walk of a given location, now you can. 

To revisit a 2012 post, this sort of map of personal mobility is useful for two reasons:

  • Helping people and organizations understand the transit consequences of where they choose to locate, and thus to take more responsbility for those consequences.  This, over time, can help people who value good transit to locate where transit access is good — something that's very hard to discern from a typical bus map but that becomes very obvious here.  You can even assess access to specific things that you value, based on exactly where the blobs are.  

  • Helping people visualise the benefit of transit — access to your city — as a freedom, and thus to understand more clearly what transit does for them.  It broadens the narrow notion of travel time  – which is often understood for only one typical trip — into a picture of your options for accessing all the things you value.  The percentage of a city's resources (jobs, housing, retail etc) that is in the blobs for a particular location could also form the basis for a meaningful Transit Score that could replace the technologically biased scores now used by WalkScore.com.

email of the week: googling your freedom

From Jeffrey Bridgman:

Google maps is showing me my freedom to stay a bit more and chat now.

It says that this route runs every 15 minutes from 5am to 11:30pm, which means if I get talking with someone, I don't care that I'm missing the 8:27pm bus since there'll be another one in about 15 minutes. That's a great improvement from the "Catch the next bus at 8:27" directions it used to tell you.
Good-transit-directions
 
 
I think we're just seeing the beginning of this.  We don't just want directions, we want options!

 

 

holiday map immersion

If you're hiding with your laptop in the laundry closet because an ancient family argument has broken out over holiday dinner, it's a great time to geek out on how fast mapping is changing.  Go over to Atlantic Cities and explore Emily Badger's great overview of 10 ways that mapping has evolved over the past year.

My favorite: I usually try to be race-blind in my thinking about transit and cities, but I have to admit I was absorbed by Duncan Cable's Dot Map of Everyone in the US, which is color coded by ethnicity.  Not really everyone: You can't zoom in to find your personal dot, but it's still a magnificent rendering of how dot-crowding conveys density on a map more naturally than shaded zones.  Chicago, for example, displays pie-slices of single-ethnicity neighborhoods (blue is white, red is Asian, green is African-American, orange is Latino/Hispanic), but you can also see where the borders are soft, where they're hard, and where highly mixed areas exist or are emerging:

Chicago racial dot map

Houston, where I'm working now, is also made of pie slices, but the colors are more muted, indicating more mixture almost everywhere.  Near the center of this image, the greater Montrose and Heights districts are rainbow pointillism.  The Asian node in the south is student areas near Texas Medical Center.  

Houston racial dot map

And my home town, Portland, with downtown on the far left (as it is), showing the new concentric-circle pattern, as lower income minorities (because of income, rather than race) are forced to settle on the fringes of the old city (top edge and far right) or what we'd now call "inner ring suburbs."   The bike-and-transit-friendly city you've seen pictures of is mostly white with small dashes of color. The exception is downtown, which still has a mix of housing types tending to both income extremes, and the continuing black presence in the neighborhoods straight north of downtown even as these gentrify.  (As a small child in 1970 I remember seeing a cover of the local free weekly that showed a hand drawn line around this district with the title "Red-lining the Ghetto," about the impossibility of getting loans to buy or improve homes in that area.  Now, it's on fire with higher-end redevelopment.)

Portland racial dot map

Of course these are also fascinating simply as density maps.  Did you know that Oregon cities have had Urban Growth Boundaries since 1972?  The hard edges show around many Oregon cities … Here's the north edge of Portland's western suburbs (the "Silicon Forest"):

Wash co racial dots

For contrast, here's a same-scale image of the north edge of Clark County suburbs, just over the river in Washington:

Clark co racial dots

Washington loses farmland to development much more rapidly than Oregon does.  It makes a difference.  

In the end, what I love most about these maps is that they're beautiful.  As in art, patches of a bright color are beautiful, but so are intense mixtures of color.  So I look at these maps and feel good about both single-ethnic communities and mixed-ethnic communities, and my eye enjoys the patterns of density, hard edges here, soft there, even more.  These maps take an emotive kind of diversity and render it as serene.  The perfect geek-out for serene holidays. 

should transit maps be geographical or abstract?

In some agencies, it goes without saying that transit maps should be geographically accurate.  Many agencies follow San Francisco Muni in superimposing transit lines on a detailed map of the city:

Sf frag

But research out of MIT suggests that we really need to see network structure, and that requires a degree of abstraction:

By putting alternate versions of the New York and Boston subway maps through the computer model, the researchers showed that abstract versions of the maps (as opposed to geographically accurate versions) were more likely to be easily understood in a single, passing glance. 

Here's their example:
Dish_subwaymaps

Geographical accuracy obscures network structure.  Purely geographic maps show where service is but not how it works.  

This is why a number of best practice agencies publish both kinds of maps, sometimes even presenting them side by side.  The geographic map helps you locate yourself and points of interest in the city, but you need the structure map to understand how the system works.

All this is even more urgently true for bus network maps, where complexity can be crushing to the user.  When we streamline maps to highlight key distinctions of usefulness such as frequency, we often have to compromise on geographic detail.  Obviously the best maps fuse elements of the two, but you can always find the tradeoff in action.  The new Washington DC transit maps, for example, highlight frequency (and show all operators' services together) but there's a limit to the number of points of interst you can highlight when keeping the structure clear:  

Dc slice

 

frequent network maps: the challenge of one-way pairs

One-way splits — where the two directions of travel are on different streets — are often the scourge of transit: on the map, for example, they appear to cover more area than two way service, but actually serve less.  And they certainly make transit maps confusing:

Indxmaps2

Still, they're frequently mandated by one-way traffic couplets.  Those, in turn, are usually mandated by the goal of flushing traffic through a city, though there are cases, notably Portland, where one-way couplets are perfect for creating an intimate and walkable downtown.

Transit agencies may not be able to avoid one-way couplets, but they can control how they describe them and think about them.  WMATA (and its map designer, CHK America, have made a major step in their new network map.  We covered the development of this mpa previously. Here's what it looks like today:

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Red represents the most frequent bus lines, blue the infrequent ones, and black the DC Metro system. Other colors are used to depict services of other transit agencies. This basic, clear symbolization quickly communicates the relative importance and usefulness of each type of service.

Marc Szarkowski, who contributed his own frequent network map of Baltimore to the blog last week, asks: how do we show a single route that runs as a two-way couplet on separate streets, without introducing too much clutter or confusion? 

Marc writes:

I think they can work if presented effectively, but overall I often find them confusing, especially if I'm taking an unfamiliar route to an unfamiliar area (all the more you have to remember, particularly if you take multiple such routes). For example, whenever I ride a bus to an unfamiliar area, I tend to assume that the stop I get off at in one direction is just as good for boarding in the other direction. It's frustrating to return to the stop just to discover that you have to walk a block over (or sometimes more: see the 10 in West Baltimore!) to catch the same route in the other direction. 


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WMATA's map uses one line to show both branches of route, and labels either side with the couplet streets. This effectively reduces the amount of clutter on the map, but also excludes which direction the bus travels on each street. This information is less crucial in the case of the B2 shown left, where no other routes travel on the same pair of streets, but where multiple routes use the same streets, in different patters towards different destinations, combining paired one-way streets can become very confusing. Marc's map does not employ this method of simplification for the same reason: 

In Baltimore's case multiple overlapping routes were sometimes offset across a series of three or more one-way streets; i.e. Route 1 up on street A and down on B, Route 2 down on B and up on C, Route 3 up on C and down on D, and so on

Ultimately, desiging this type of a map is about balancing information density and comprehensibility. The user needs to know that line B2 runs on both 14th and 15th streets, but for a map at citywide scale, it may be more important to communicate that B2 is a frequent line serving a long, straight corridor on the eastern side of the city. The map already distorts direction and the exact shape of the streets in favor of a simpler visual effect. WMATA's map uses the same approach to one-way street pairs, downplaying accuracy in favor of ease of use.