Frequent Network Maps: Ideas from Vancouver

Fsn-map-vancouver-web-500x420 Inspired by my post on the urgent need for frequency mapping, Vancouver’s transit agency TransLink, via its blog The Buzzer, has been encouraging map enthusiasts to draw their own ideas for what a frequency-coded map might look like.

The most nuanced so far is this one by David M.  He’s sketched a bit of southern Vancouver and Richmond as an example.   Look at the original and note all the distinctions he’s tried to draw. 

The most interesting idea to me:  He uses width to capture the three frequency/span categories I suggest (frequent, infrequent, and peak-only) but then he uses dashed lines (at these various widths) to indicate a nonstop segment.  I’m not sure whether I like that or not; I find it a little hard to follow a line that turns dashed and then solid again, but I might get used to it.

He has an interesting idea for colors, too.  The colors generally represent the same distinctions as line-widths, but with some additional nuance.  It would also be possible, of course, to use linewidth for frequency and then the full gamut of colors to distinguish lines.  This is what the old (early 00s) map at Portland’s Tri-Met did:

Trimet old

A little busy, maybe.  A scheme with fewer colors, using the colors to mean more than just different routes, seems to be cleaner.  What do you think?


21 Responses to Frequent Network Maps: Ideas from Vancouver

  1. rhywun August 18, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    I like when color has meaning. It’s such a bold signifier (maybe more than line width or dashes), it seems a little disappointing when color is used just to make the lines a little easier to trace – as on e.g. the NYC bus maps. It’s a shame to waste that “information” on something so trivial. Even if all your lines are the same color, it helps if you draw individual lines for each route – like Toronto does. In fact, the Toronto map manages to convey more information with all its (bus and tram) routes the same color (by using dashes and dots) than does a NYC bus map with all those different colors signifying nothing important. On the other hand, if your routes are all the same color but not drawn separately, you wind up with every map of a British bus service, which I find impossible to read.

  2. voony August 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    the David map works well also because it has used a judicious color code in harmony with the color psychology (see ):
    red associated to speed (Canada line)
    blue associated to reliability/dependability

    We can see the dashed line for express service work less well, because dashed line usually expresses the notion of slowness: may be drawing parallel line instead (like for the freeway) could help.
    (and dashed reserved for peak hour service)
    also, the map represents the pros and the cons of having (or not) an individual line per bus route:
    -In Vancouver where basically bus route are either along horizontal or vertical line: it is self explanatory, but in Richmond the things become more confusing: who is understanding the route of the bus 405?
    At the end, the night service representation could be improved:
    the map convey visually the idea that the 10 offer better service than the bus 3 (more saturated blue, and overall fewer line), when the reality is opposite:
    I could suggest to just “edge” the line of routes serviced by night bus (color purple because well associated with the night).
    That said, this map is very inspiring

  3. Phil August 18, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    I wonder if it would be possible to represent the most frequent lines with bright attractive colors and the lesser lines with varying shades of gray. It would easily differentiate between the levels of service and because most ridership is found on the more frequent lines,easier for the customer to navigate. Perhaps something like this with the lines with the greatest frequency taking the place of the subway lines:

  4. David M August 18, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    David M here – thanks for posting and your comments. As I said, it was a first go and I tend to get carried away with things. I’m not sure on the dotted lines either; as someone pointed out on Buzzer Blog, expresses are either on the highway (where it’s obvious there are no stops) or running the along a route served by a local and thus difficult to show the dashed and solid lines. I do like the idea of showing the location of the express stops though. Why not advertise them and make the focus points, especially frequent network express stops (such as the B-lines or rapid bus lines). Current Vancouver map only shows the B-line stops, but does not show the express stops for other all day routes, like the 43,301, 430 to name a few.

  5. Joseph E August 19, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    @David M: Vancouver has ] all-day “express” (or limited stop?) buses, numbered 43, 301 and 430? How are you supposed to recognize those numbers as belonging to an express/limited bus?!

  6. Tom West August 19, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    Colour alone shoudl never be used to convey meaning, because of the problems for colour-blind people. I think line thickness and type is far more useful.

  7. anonymouse August 19, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    I like the way the Muni map from San Francisco represents limited-stop and express lines: limited stop lines have dots for the stops all along the line, while the express lines have dashed segments (with a longer line and shorter gap) to represent sections where they do not stop. Actually, all lines that have non-stop sections have that, which is good to remind people that there’s no possibility of stops along freeway ramps and the like.

  8. David M August 19, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    Joseph E – the onyl way you know a bus is express in Vancouver currently is to read the bus schedule booklet. It will have “stopping procedures” for express and limited stop buses. This requires one to read through a rather tedious description of stops from one end of the route to another; in some cases buses will only observe stops for “pickup” or “dropoff”
    On the experimental map shown above, I tried to show express portions by a dashed line and by using an astrisk after the route number (eg 430 denotes observes all stops, 430* denotes express, stops only at the express stops marked on the map.
    Better would be a numbering system that makes it clear the bus is express. In Vancouver, they us a “C” to denote Community Shuttles (eg C72) and and “N” to denote NightBuses (eg N10), so it would be logical to us something like an “X” or “E” to denote an Express bus (eg X43 or E43).
    I also think the numbering should extend to the Frequent Transit Network. Note sure how exactly, but something to say “this is a frequent bus route”.

  9. Paul C August 19, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    There is also the cases like in the 43 that only run during peak hours. So while yes it is an express route. You wouldn’t find a bus at noon for it.
    @David M. They could have a route designation of F for frequent. So the 99-B line might have a designation of FX99, Frequent, express, route number. For routes that only operate peak hours like the 43. Have a P designation. Now I don’t consider the 43 to be frequent. So it would be PX43, Peak Express route number. Frequent to me would be 7 mins and lower head ways.
    There is also the problem where a route might be frequent during peak hours but not frequent during midday. Example the 41 at peak is about every 5-7 minutes. But mid day it is only every 10-12 minutes.

  10. David M August 19, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    Paul C – on the 43 my mistake – the numbers and express stops should be red to reflect peak hour only.

  11. Jarrett at August 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    Tom West. As I understand it, color blindness is most commonly a problem of confusing red and green. If you look at well-designed color maps, you’ll notice that they almost never use the red-green distinction as the exclusive signifier of anything. There’s always a secondary signifier, such as a route number, to help the people who have trouble with red vs green.

  12. Jeff Wegerson August 19, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    OK, I’ve done Chicago. Here -> HERE!
    I did this before seeing this Vancouver posting. I’ll have to rethink the red and green usage, eh?

  13. Tessa August 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    I’m glad to see some people with actual mapmaking skills picking up that challenge. I drew the original map that prompted the buzzer article, but that map you link to is absolutely stunning and of far higher quality. It would be nice to see such a map put up at skytrain stations instead of the one they have now, which shows the #84 bus alongside the #99 bus as though they are the same thing, yet makes no mention of other highly frequent buses.
    Thanks for the update. =)

  14. Peter Parker August 20, 2010 at 3:24 am #

    I like Phil’s idea of using bright colour to identify higher service routes than the others (which may sometimes have to be shown if they add frequency to a corridor).
    In drafting my map for a large part of Melbourne I went for:
    Frequency = line thickness
    Span = line type (ie dashed if lower service)
    Colour = different colours for different high-service bus routes, but trains and trams all the one colour. Low service routes shown in grey.

  15. jsonchiu August 20, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    I do highly agree of a frequent network map, and it’s probably not very hard to do for Vancouver, with such a (extra emphasis here) simple bus system. It would definitely help a lot.
    However, is it even possible with a city like, say, Taipei (where I live in now), with its unwieldy system of more than 300 weird bus routes running roads that are already complicated? Unlike other cities, I’ve never even seen one attempt to draw a map of it! Here we just memorize the routes we need and rely on Google maps when we want to go somewhere else, hoping that the next bus come soon enough cuz due to population density supposedly almost all of them are frequent.

  16. EngineerScotty August 20, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    For cities like Taipei and Hong Kong (with its 700+ bus routes), memorizing the bus lines becomes nearly as complicated as…. memorizing the street map itself.
    Yet many manage do to that just fine…

  17. John W August 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    London’s spider maps are the best things I’ve seen to deal with this problem. eg
    There are maps for every major transit node – hundreds in all – which show only the routes that pass through there, making it much easier to see which bus you want to take (though they aren’t much help if you are planning to transfer to another bus rather than the tube or rail). I think having the lines different colours is vital here for wayfinding.
    There’s no indicator of frequency – though I’m not sure if it is really needed as casual users and tourists are likely to just take trips in the centre, which has a high frequency. Further out, residents are more likely to know whether their local buses are frequent or not.

  18. mikef0234 August 22, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    There are a few things that might make frequency mapping easier:
    1) Each route can be given an opacity depending on its frequency
    2) If a few routes share an endpoint and a lengthy common route, they can be given the same colour
    3) Other routes (or groups of routes) are given a different colour and placed alongside the first group of routes, but not over top (that would get messy)
    Using these rules the common route appears either darker or thicker than the less-frequent branches.
    I gave this a test on an idealized Vancouver network map (i.e. with extra B-Lines, some other local bus changes) to see how these might make the frequencies more legible. Richmond and the North Shore are included because they both have a much different type of network.
    This map has a pretty low barrier to entry. Most routes are shown. It could be cut off at any opacity to reduce the number of routes. It tries to do something else anyway: to indicate the frequency of most routes.

  19. Dan W August 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    Los Angeles Metro’s 12-minute weekday map is one of the more very effective ones.

  20. Pete (UK) August 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    rhywun, I think your coments about ‘every British bus map’ are a bit sweeping. I give you an example of Thamesdown Transport, the municipal operator in the town of Swindon. This company has a very good interactive colour coded map, just click on any route for a frequency summary.
    The map is also shown overlaid onto a street map, again in full colour, showing the streets served and all bus stops.

  21. Eric August 30, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Sorry to have missed this post.
    A quick glance, I like the distinction between local and express. I think using dashed lines for express is a good move for psychological reasons…how useful overall that may be, not sure here. The dark and strong blues are a good use for routes, but the color tones are a bit too near, I’m afraid. I’d prefer more distinct colors to be playing on an empty white background.
    The real test is how that route information holds up with the geographic (and navigational layers) you typically superimpose route maps on…It is because of these (typically more muted and lightly colored) layers why careful attention to control of color use is absolutely needed to temper some of that busy quality that leads people to give up on maps. Narrower use of strong colors on the top layer communicating routes is therefore wise, but that is not always the case. Depends on what you are after. Here David has gotten rid of all non-route information so color distinctions can be freer.
    It’s best to call out what you are after first and then make all decisions narrow down on your communicative intent. In this respect, I think David’s map is on a good trail. For the London tube map, for example, geographic information is sacrificed in order to communicate stop and transfer dynamics, along the lines intended by David’s map above. That simplicity was part of the usefulness and iconic appeal of Harry Beck’s Tube map. Color and geometric regularity make it iconic. Here the thinner lines are squiggly and psychological seem faithful to geographic reality or fanciful meandering. Besides being dashed, the express lines are straighter, more regular and direct. Subtle. Very effective for communicating speed visually. But note that the unintended effect is that the limited service lines look slower and more impeded for that reason. Are they that way in reality? Don’t mean to complicate things, these are just things to note…