email of the week: a new map for the moscow metro


(Updated with final version of map.)

From Ilya Petoushkoff in Moscow, explaining this remarkably beautiful map (download this draft version here, or the final version here):

Moscow 2014 draft

Here I'd like you to see a beta-version of a result of a zillion-year struggle.  Moscow finally is going to have a transit map with not only metro, but also regional rail and bus/trolleybus/tram connections between adjacent metro lines.
From the beginning of 20th century and till nowadays there hasn't been any kind of common map. Presently we still have a metro-only map inside the whole metro system, and regional-rail-only map inside some 30-50 percent of all regional trains …. Even the transfers between metro and rail are not announced on the trains! Until 2010s, city politicians simply didn't understand that it is a significant problem, many of them believed in 'who the hell will have a ride on a regional train when we have our metro'.
Sounds like the conversation Paris had a decade or so ago.  Many US cities are just starting to think about how regional commuter rail can be repurposed to form useful links within the core city.
Most of the city inhabitants … are not aware … that many destinations in the city are covered with regional rail services.  Now it's to be that everyone finally becomes much more familiar with what our transit is capable of.
The regional rail trains are quite frequent, running from 4 a.m. till midnight with a frequency of 6…10 [trains per hour] (sometimes more) and a strange 'technical daylight break' between 11 a.m. and 1 or 2 p.m. (except Sat.& Sun.), when there is no service at all.
Sounds like one of those clauses that make labor contracts such a dramatic read.
This very map is extremely important, finally bringing citizens and authorities to the fact that city has much more lines of rapid rail than those 12 of the metro system, and the regional rail should be developed as soon as possible, while certain areas of the city do not need new metro lines at all, they already do have rails and trains to use. …
Also the interesting fact is that connecting services between metro lines have been put onto this map. Many people are just unaware … that they don't have to stuff themselves into metro and have a ride to the center and backwards to get to adjacent lines, stations and city areas. Now it's a first significant attempt to make it clearer.
The color codes on those links are about technology, rail/bus/tram, but of course those don't tell you which is fastest.  Frequency, I'm assured, is not an issue, as all of these services are frequent.  
Still, I perused this map with great pleasure, and respect it not just as a clear diagram but a work of art.  

guest post: the transport challenger (by adham fisher)

Adam-fisher-metroHere's a fun weekend read, by British transit-marathon champion Adham Fisher, shown at right in the process of conquering Madrid.  You know you love your transit system when your community can honor exploits such as his.

I admire rail fans. Though I am sure that other nations have people who yearn after trains, I almost consider it a typically British pastime. Individuals take a day out to descend on a station where they know lots of weird and wonderful trains will pass. Notebooks in hand, they write down the numbers; cameras on tripods, they take photographs of the carriages, and a different train in an unusual location is always a bonus. At these platform picnics can be a good social atmosphere. And the amount of knowledge rail fans have is astonishing. But I don’t like public transport to that extent. I wouldn’t want to stay in one place all day documenting things. I like to move.

Rail magazines here might deal a lot with main line intercity and heritage trains. But I like city trains, specifically urban rapid transit. I try to go around underground rail networks as quickly as possible in one day, visiting every station. There is actually an official Guinness World Record for doing so on the London Underground – currently 16 hours, 29 minutes, 13 seconds – which I have attempted 11 times, often completing the system but not touching the record. I have also undertaken similar challenges on buses and trams.

This is not easy. Notebooks are required for this exercise to write the route down station by station, the arrival and departure times at/from each and the operating numbers of the trains. Cameras are required to take photographs of every station. Every so often, a challenger must ask a generous member of the public to sign a witness statement, saying they were where they say they were. Basic fitness is useful; if one wants to travel as quickly as possible, they must run when they transfer. Just one train missed could mess up the schedule entirely. Running is not restricted to stations, and neither are the participants. Guinness rules allow running or the use of other scheduled public transport to travel out of the system between adjacent stations, which can save time; the train need only arrive at or depart from the station for it to count. It is physically and mentally demanding, being up extremely early, probably not going to bed until very late, with no guarantee of success due to service delays, line suspensions and signal failures which can occur any time of any day, as regular commuters know. One of these can mean the end of an attempt if it slows you down enough and prevents you going further. And the average commuter who hates the Tube and tries to spend not one single second longer on it than absolutely necessary, will surely ask: why? Why would you want to waste a whole day underground doing something that pointless?

Admittedly, I’m not quite sure. After all, public transport is merely a mundane and functional thing, no? Designed to ferry people from home to work, A to B, and nothing else. But the beauty of something like this is that I can make the ordinary extraordinary. I can buy a travelcard and the amount of single journeys I make per attempt add up to many times that cost. An unorthodox exploitation of the system. I have been greeted with incredulity and called eccentric by some for doing what I do. Of course, it is not a normal activity; I admit that straight away. But neither is climbing a mountain. Mountains are in far away places with treacherous terrain and tangible danger. People climb mountains because they are there, and the same reasoning applies to those who choose to make much more out of something ordinary on their doorstep. Mountain climbs are many times more demanding, and I don’t think I could do one; I would rather spend several hours underground on trains than eight miles up Everest in temperatures well below freezing and extremely thin air. 

No other official world record is considered for traversing a transit system apart from in New York, so the fact I have performed the feat in other cities will no doubt seem even more pointless. Having attempted the London record several times without success, I began to look at other maps, realising it could be even better to plan a route around a system where perhaps few people might have done the same. With a wealth of European metros just across the Channel, I have visited every station in cities including Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Lille. The challenges are worthwhile when completed, but being recognised for it is also a major bonus. I have been interviewed on radio, been the subject of a museum story, but the best reaction was to my first attempt out of Europe, on the Chicago L. I told one or two people I was doing it and was asked to contribute to the main CTA blog. It became perhaps the most debated story of 2011 in the comments section. A while later, three students read about what I had done and tried to do the same thing, but were slightly slower. Articles were written about them and my name started to be dropped as the “record holder”.

Fisher L 3Next thing I know, I am contacted by the CTA to be informed its President, Forrest Claypool, wants to write to me personally. Which he does, also sending me a special Chicago-styled station sign with my name on. Such recognition is, in many ways, better than a world record. Has any other transport authority honoured an individual for riding its system to extremes? No Guinness certificate but I can joke about having a station named after me.

Paris yielded another special run, and led to my other public transport project. At the same time as planning the excursion, I happened to be writing a song with my friend Annanem called Métro, which listed every station in alphabetical order. I was being discussed and thought that if we finished the song in time, it could be another promotional tool. So we put it on YouTube the week before I went out. A short clip was played on French radio to accompany an interview I gave them.

Metro EP coverAfterwards, I thought of returning to Paris to play the song live, having been told it was very off the wall. Only having the one tune and hoping to secure a gig, I asked several people if they would like to write songs, poetry, anything, about a rapid transit system of their choice. Enough material was submitted for an album, which I compiled and called the Metro EP (cover at left). All artists were given the collective name 1000 Stations.


Metro LiveI and two other contributors launched the album in Paris, playing it in an arts venue and also giving out CDs to a few people on the Metro, explaining what it was about. We have just played the first UK gig with the project and hope to release it very soon.

That is an example of public transport creativity. An album was born out of my tendency to use public transport in an unorthodox fashion, which I think itself is a bit creative – devising the potentially quickest way to go around a rail network, poring over maps, plans and timetables, making transfers that would seem silly to a local. And it’s incredibly exciting to do, especially when you don’t even know the city. I had never been to Madrid before, and with the route drawn up at home, had just one or two days to research properly and become accustomed to the Metro before I attempted to visit all 235 stations.

Doing this is an interesting way to see a city. I talk to people who wonder why I have just jumped onto a train at full speed, taking photographs and writing furiously. I do make time to experience some culture and sights, but that has never particularly bothered me. Landmarks may be seen from metros as several run above ground. And just as interesting to me are the local areas; from the built up blocks of inner Chicago …


 to the vast plains beyond Madrid’s city boundary …


The Tube Challenge has gained popularity in recent years; there are a few websites dedicated to it and an entire online forum bustles with record holders and hopefuls. The New York Subway’s Ultimate Ride has had followers for decades; the Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee was founded in 1966. Moscow has had English teams flying out to tackle its architecturally magnificent Metro. Others have tried Paris, and I am sure several people have been all the way round on small networks like that of Glasgow.

You might consider having a go at this. Not necessarily at a fast pace, but how you like. I know of someone who visited every Paris Metro station in six months. Break out of the box, make as many journeys as you can, ride on every single piece of track, tell the system what you want to do. You will have a different perspective of a city. Regarding my Chicago journey, a spokesman for the CTA said “We have a lot of people in Chicago who ride the L every day and would never even think of doing anything like this.” So you’ll be one up on the locals and join an elite club. And even if you are thought of as eccentric, someone might say to you “I couldn’t do that”. Like me with mountaineers. And rail fans.


Email of the Week: Enlightenment Through Rotation

Mosmetro2010 Interesting.  From David Marlor:

I’m wondering if I’m the only person that does this. When looking at a city map or any network map, I like to look at it sideways or upside down. Our eyes are designed to see things horizontally, but we’re not that good at seeing things vertically (probably why we like wide-screen TVs). So when we scan a map, we look left and right, more so than up and down. Continue Reading →

Moscow: Questioning the Circle Line

Mosmetro2010 Frequent commenter Alon Levy found a glossy English-language PDF (part 1, part 2) from Moscow’s Metro, showing off the latest stations and performance statistics. He has a question about the Circle Line:

The circular line is not well-patronized by local standards. It ranks 6th out of 11 in ridership. Its problem, I think, is that its radius is too small; it was built as a reliever for the central radial/radial transfer points, but is not as useful by itself. This is different from the Yamanote and Oedo Lines and especially Seoul’s Line 2, which are really multiple lines joined together as a circle.

Do you think my explanation here is correct? Or could there be other factors why some circular lines work better than others?

First things first:  ranking 6th out of 11 in ridership is a meaningless statistic.  All that matters is ridership per unit of service (e.g. per train hour) if you want to evaluate the use of the service itself.  You can also talk about ridership per route km or per station if you want to evaluate the use of the infrastructure.  Ridership figures mean something only when compared to some unit of investment, or when compared to the same service in a different time period.  Transit lines are of vastly different sizes and scales, so the ridership on a transit line means nothing when compared directly to any other transit line.

As usual, you can find lots of cool maps of the Moscow Metro with a touch of Googling.  I like this one.  But the short answer to Alon’s question is this:  Wikipedia gives the circumference of the Circle Line as 19.3 km.  Let’s imagine for simplicity that the line really is an exact circle, and look at the geometry.

A circumference of 19.3 km gives us a diameter of 6.1 km.  So the longest one-way trip you could want to make on the Circle line is 6.1 km linear distance away, though via the Circle Line it’s 9.15 km (half the circumference).  Many of those trips, though, are served more directly by one of the many radial lines, most of which flow through across the city.

So note one geometric challenge of any circle line:  Nobody will ever want to ride more than half of it, because if you ride more than halfway around the circle, the trip would have been shorter if you’d ridden the line the other way.  By contrast, all of the radial lines of the Moscow Metro are useful for long trips as well as short ones.

This is actually a corollary of an even more basic piece of transit geometry, which is that if you imagine an area of even density, the transit line that will cover the largest area with the smallest number of line-km is a straight line, not a curved or bending line.  A straight line also has the unique feature of being the shortest path between any two points on the line, whereas a curved line is always longer than the shortest path.

So the Circle Line will never be ridden more than 9.1 km.  When it is ridden 9.1 km, it will be for the purpose of going a linear distance of only 6.1 km.  That suggests to me that with some armwaving, the dominant tripmaking on the Circle line is probably trips of 3-6 km.  (Less than 3 km, your trip is often faster via surface transit, or even by walking, because of access time at subway stations.)

That’s pretty short, a lot shorter than the average trip on most systems, and I bet it’s a lot shorter than the average trip on Moscow’s radial subway lines.

So yes, successful circle lines (like London’s and Tokyo’s, and the one that Montréal is planning) are much larger than Moscow’s, so that even a trip around 1/4 to 1/3 of the arc of the circle is a fairly long corridor, usually 10 or more stations, which is the most direct link between all of those stations. On Moscow’s 11-station Circle Line, 5 stations is halfway around the loop, so you’re likely to be using the line to go only 2-4 stations.  That’s a pretty limited market for a single direction of a subway line.

And remember, this basic geometry is true of circular surface transit too, whether bus or rail or tram, though surface transit requires less access time than subways and therefore can be useful for shorter trips, thus justifying smaller circles.