Melbourne: A Frequent Network Map

Peter Parker of Melbourne on Transit recently sketched some frequent network maps for that city, the second largest in Australia.  You can find a range of efforts for various cities using the Frequent Network category.  My original post arguing for the value of frequent network maps is here.

Although Melbourne is mostly flat and its street network is mostly gridded, it’s striking how few crosstown or “orbital” services they are.  Over the past few years the main government initiative in this area has been the SmartBus program, a set of new frequent orbital routes.  Yet compared to comparably dense parts of Los Angeles, say, the grid is thin. 

Melb N
Downtown is right off the southern edge of this map, so much of this map’s area is pre-1945 dense inner city, a mixture of apartments, terraces, and small-lot single-family.  The north-south green lines are the famous tram network, while the blue lines are the electrified commuter rail — usually, but not always, at 15 minute frequencies or better.  In general, though, many destinations in this inner northern area have intense north-south service but little or no opportunity to circulate east-west.

Melbourne is coming late to grid network planning in part because of its own planning history, but also because it is such an exceptionally centralized city.  Its huge commuter rail network is totally radial and its extensive tram network also has only a few non-radial elements, all in the inner east and south.  The regional information provider, Metlink, does not attempt a frequent network map, so I’m glad that Peter did.  It helps me form an understanding of the underlying structure of how bus, rail, and tram work together on a citywide scale.

As an aside, Peter shares a bit of his struggles with the available media:

I started with scribbles on taped scraps of paper. Plain shower curtains from discount shops were then tried. Windows Paint worked but smeared badly with each alteration. Finally Power Point was found workable.

Commenter Evan suggests Visio is the right tool.  What do people think?

In any case, it’s rare to get this kind of glimpse of an artist’s working process!  I too have struggled with shower curtains in the pursuit of beauty, but would be too shy to write about it here.

18 Responses to Melbourne: A Frequent Network Map

  1. ant6n November 30, 2010 at 5:46 am #

    I’d say use Inkscape, if you want to make it visually appealing (or use Adobe if you have the money). It takes a while to get used to, but it’s probably worth it in the end. Also, save often.

  2. Brent Palmer November 30, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    Dia is a free open-source program based on Microsoft Visio. Although it took me a while to learn ways of working around its idiosyncracies, it’s quite useful for schematic diagrams. Snap-to-grid facilitates 45-degree angles.

  3. hallam.jon November 30, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    I was also going to say Inkscape, although I’ve never used Dia. Inkscape is a free, vector based graphics package (infinitely scalable, and will never pixelate – ‘smudge’). It can handle pretty much whatever you want in terms of colour, line-styles, text, and outputs to a wide range of formats, most usefully .svg, .pdf, .eps, and .png, .gif or .jpeg.
    Given the amount of money these packages cost, it’s hard to imagine springing for them except as part of employment or as an investment towards employment. With open-source packages at least the cost of trying something new is low.

  4. Eric November 30, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    Seriously, Powerpoint? …Impressive.
    Definitely, if you don’t have Adobe Illustrator, go with any free vector graphics software. I sometimes even resort to Google Sketchup. Even though Sketchup is for 3-D modeling, if you are a stickler like me you will appreciate Sketchup’s great dimensional controls. You might even be able to incorporate some three-dimensionality with ease in your figures.

  5. Alan Robinson November 30, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    There is a big difference between raster graphics programs (like Photoshop and Paint) and files (like jpeg, png, and tiff), and vector graphics programs (like Inkscape, Visio, Dia, and CAD programs) and files (like postscript and some pdfs).
    By definition, raster graphics define images by their value at every pixels. This is appropriate for photographs, or for images in the context of a fixed size pixelated display. Vector graphics dispose of pixels and define the image algebraically in space. This is what most typesetting and diagramming require.

  6. John November 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Inkscape is the correct answer.

  7. Jeffrey Bridgman November 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    Inkscape is good. I have access to Adobe Illustrator which I’m using right now to work on a subway map for Tokyo. It has awesome things like the ability to automatically round corners, etc. I can draw two lines and have then meet a sharp angle and it will round it for me so it looks all professional like 😀

  8. anonymouse November 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    I’ve been using inkscape, but it has a number of problems that bother me. Maybe I’ll just start editing SVG directly, or creating it in inkscape and fixing it up with a text editor.

  9. David Arthur November 30, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    I too have always used Inkscape for maps, and been quite pleased with it.

  10. jack horner November 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    ‘Metlink does not attempt a frequent network map’
    Actually, Metlink (the agency specifically tasked with ensuring integrated network information services) does not have ANY bus network map. How’s that for incompetence?
    Individual route maps are diagrammatic only, so the infrequent user will find it impossible to get accurate mapping to answer questions like ‘at railway station X, which side should I exit to catch bus Y?’
    The online trip planner has more information; but I would argue that it is not satisfactory for such information to be located only in a trip planner, not least because when I’m about town I’m more likely to have a timetable in my pocket than a laptop.
    A further curiosity of Melbourne printed bus timetables: the timetable from Alphington to Betaville will have a few pages headed up with the single word ‘Betaville’, and a few pages for the opposite direction headed up ‘Alphington’; but the information that this is a service FROM Alphington TO Betaville does not appear in a heading ANYWHERE on the timetable.
    Needless to say there is plenty of room in the heading banners to include the missing information, so the current practice is presumably just some idiotic fashion of graphic design.

  11. Felix the Cassowary December 1, 2010 at 12:38 am #

    Jack, I’ve heard from one of the various transport blogs that the reason there’s no bus network map isn’t because they’re too incompetent to know they should have one, or be able to produce one. It’s because the coordinates for some of the bus routes is just completely wrong. This sounds completely incompetent, but (a) they know it’s stuffed up now (b) they’re working on fixing it. So they *have been* completely incompetent, but whether they continue to deserve that title, only time will tell. Although I gather the new premier Mr Baillieu wants to reduce the number of organisations dealing with PT, and in the merger some clever chicken will probably move the old data across and lose the new stuff.
    (In any case, the infrequent traveller getting off a train will look for the signs pointing to the bus stop. They’re pretty good nowadays.)

  12. Peter Parker December 1, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    @Jarrett – many thanks for the write-up. Just so readers can visualise the character of the area, suburbs south of the thick red line (Route 903 or Bell St/Murray Rd) is roughly the extent of pre-WWII housing and the tram network. There’s also some older areas north of that around some of the stations – eg Reservoir.
    To the south (around the dashed horizontal orange line) around Brunswick there’s higher housing densities. Though apart from 1960s housing commission blocks very little is more than 2 or 3 storeys high.
    The main compromises made for this map reflect the service levels, where there was a conflict between correctness and practicality. ALL railway lines shown run at 20 minute intervals off-peak weekdays but it would have looked odd not including them. And that dashed orange bus route linking the densish suburbs of Brunswick and Northcote had a thickness indicating a 15 min service frequency but is actually every 16 minutes.
    @Jack – In your comments on maps, I’m wondering if you’ve seen the local area maps that show all modes – eg
    I’d agree that these (as well as detailed pedestrian-scale maps) are deserving of much more widespread distribution – eg permanently posted at railway stations and interchange points.
    Having said that, an incidental gain of our bike share scheme in the central city has been that each station has a comprehensive map that includes public transport.

  13. Peter Parker December 1, 2010 at 1:42 am #

    A couple of other points about the northern suburbs shown on the map.
    The inner areas south of the thick red line generally have lower car ownership and higher public transport modal share than most other parts of Melbourne, with the latter increasing towards the city. This area is fairly left-wing, with strong Green political sympathies (fairly high student and arts populations).
    I think bicycle’s modal share is also fairly significant given the proximity to the CBD and certain advantages over trains and trams.
    There are many east-west routes not on the map, some closely spaced. These typically run every 20 or so minutes on weekdays and (say) every 30 or 40 minutes on Saturday. Some run after approx 7pm and have a Sunday service. Hence they did not make it onto the map. But if I loosened the frequency criteria to ‘every 20 minutes weekdays’ the inner-north would be many more east-west routes.
    There was a government plan for a ‘blue orbital’, which ran east-west through the inner north. This would have provided an extra thick east-west line on the map. It was not carried through; priority instead went to boosting ‘safety net’ services in outer suburbs rather than completing the network for gentrifying inner-suburbanites already near trains and trams.

  14. Barry W December 1, 2010 at 4:59 am #

    For those that find Adobe products expensive, consider Corel products which do exactly the same thing at lower price. I’ve been using CorelDraw for 17 years, including bus network maps, and it’s like an extension of me now.

  15. Gavin December 1, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    Another vote for CorelDraw here, it has very good object snapping and precise dimensional abilities, so knocking together something clean and readable is very easy.

  16. Zian December 17, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    I’ll throw in another suggestion for Visio, especially for quick diagramming work.

  17. Julian Wearne December 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    @Felix the Cassowary
    Metlink are almost certainly incompetent, but the you’re right about the missing bus maps. Metlink isn’t responsible for designing the routes, nor does it seem that they receive accurate information from the people responsible for designing the routes. I’ve enquired about the lack of a map from them numerous times, here’s some quotes from their responses.
    “The private bus operators work together with the Department of Transport to depict changes of bus routes and services. The Department of Transport is the authority which determines the final details of planned alterations and/or timetable changes to bus routes and services.”
    Then there is this:
    “I am informed that we have experainced some difficulties in regard to the accuracy of bus route data for the online public transport map.
    When we audited the data we found that the accuracy of the GPS location data was poor – there are about 500 unique route paths in Melbourne and about 25,000 stops to be checked and updated.
    As a result we have deployed teams with GPS devices to capture the stop locations and bus route paths. It is anticipated that more work for the online public transport map and local area guides will continue and that we may have a Beta version of the online public transport map available in later in the year.”

    So it seems that instead of receiving and keeping some kind of record of where the lines travel and where the stops are located, the “face of public transport” has to manually pay people to travel the network with GPS units and tag each stop individually, which to me seems like an insanely inefficient exercise. Given the time its taking I’d wager this assumption is probably correct, the quote before about a Beta version of the map being available by the end of the year was provided in August 2010, a year and 4 months later there is still no Beta version online. The original network wide map was removed in 2006 because it was considered outdated and inaccurate.
    In one of the many exchanges I had with Metlink I did get some amusing emails though which was fun. In one the employee had obviously meant to forward an email to a colleague asking for information whilst referring to me as cheeky (“Could I enquire on whether the nature of the hold ups have changed since 2006?”), instead she must have hit reply and I received it instead.

  18. Peter Parker July 28, 2012 at 12:52 am #

    Many thanks to those who suggested Inkscape. It’s proved an excellent solution and work is advanced on an improved, geographically based metropolitan-wide map.
    Key features of the map include:
    * Three delineations of service. 1. Frequent service/long hours. Every 15 min Mon-Fri & 30 min evenings/weekends. Run until at least 11pm (9pm Sun). Thick coloured line 8 points wide. 2. Frequent weekday service. Every 15 min Mon-Fri. May have some weekend service. Thick grey line 8 points wide. 3. Long hours. Every 20 – 60 min until 11pm. Thin coloured line 2 points wide.
    Colours are used to identify modes, as per normal practice in Melbourne. Blue trains, green trams, orange buses. However the three orbital routes were allocated colours (during the planning stage) and I’ve kept these to differentiate from frequent radial routes.
    If it’s photocopied in black & white, then the bus/tram differentiation will probably be lost, but the frequency / thickness relationship will remain intact. I’m stricter on this – 20 min train services now only get thin coloured lines in recognition of their long hours.
    Where multiple parallel routes combine to form a frequent service only the frequent portion is shown (as a single thick line with routes labelled). The exception is where if an infrequent part of a multi-route combination runs long hours, in which case it earns a thin line extending past the combined portion.
    Freeway express routes have a thin white line running down the middle. If we had more limited stop buses I’d also use a thin dotted line to identify those. Seeing Spokane’s excellent map has put me in two minds – maybe the line would be better used for multi-route corridors?
    I’m much happier with the new map than the draft above and it may be time to look at professional production!