Recently I posted on the importance of frequency mapping in network maps. Most transit network maps, I argued, show all the transit lines but make it impossible to sort through them to figure out, quickly, which are likely to be useful. The bottom line: A map that makes all the lines look equally important is as useful as a road map that makes a freeway look just like a dirt road.
Ever since then, we’ve seen a burst of creativity from Human Transit readers. I’ve featured some of the most interesting experiments on the blog over the past couple of weeks, and hope to have more to share. But Zef Wagner was right on with this comment:
You know, we can make great transit maps all we want, but transit agencies might not use them. However, there is nothing to stop the folks here from making smartphone apps! I use google transit pretty often, but it only tells me how to get from A to B, it doesn’t show me all the possibilities. I would love to have an app that gives me several options–frequent network, night-time service, peak-only, etc. The most popular transit app in Seattle is called OneBusAway, and it doesn’t come from the transit agency. It was written by a University of Washington student and is free in the app store and shows real-time arrival for every bus stop. What I’m saying is, the smart folks here shouldn’t just mess around with map-making–take it out into the world, even if transit agencies don’t have the will or resources to buy into these ideas.
I couldn’t agree more. Why does the world wait for transit agencies to draw transit maps, anyway? Would you expect your highway department to make the only valid map of the highway system?
Think widely about everyone who would value a Frequent Network map, for example, like this clear and beautiful map of Montréal’s by Anton Dubrau. Just one that comes to mind: tourism. Tourists need to figure out a city fast, and the Frequent Network is just the right level of detail for a lot of cities, especially in the New World.
Guidebooks to cities usually reproduce the map of the rapid transit system, and then mention that there are a lot of buses wandering around. This may be fine in a European or East Asian city where the rapid transit network is comprehensive, but it’s deeply misleading for a city where rail transit is fragmentary and buses are doing the rest. Shouldn’t a guidebook to Los Angeles or Brisbane or Auckland show a map of the Frequent Network, rail and bus? This network, after all, is by definition frequent enough to be used spontaneously. And there are plenty of tourists who aren’t afraid to ride buses, if they can figure them out.
Perhaps you’ll pitch a map to Lonely Planet, or perhaps you’ll find your own marketing angle. Maybe you’ll just create the definitive online source for Frequent Network maps, or automatically-generated system maps, or maps with layers that you can turn on and off, or phone apps of all of the above. Once you’re online, sell some ads along the side.
Many readers of this blog have shown they have the tools and skills to create excellent map products, not just the phone apps that Zef mentions but also a range of other online and even — gasp — printed maps. All you need is a little business skill, some time to invest, and maybe a trusted transit consultant looking over your shoulder.