make your own transit maps! a success story

Frequent Network maps, which show you the transit network that's useful if you're not willing to wait long, have been a good idea for a long time, but it takes a while for ideas to move through bureaucracies in even the most competent and well-intentioned transit agency.  So bravo to the agencies that now produce these maps in some form, including those in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Adelaide, and Montréal.1 

Fortunately, you don't have to wait for the transit agency to do it.  Today anyone can create, promote, and perhaps even sell their own maps, and now people are doing it.  A few had already gone down this path, like Brent Palmer in Brisbane and Steve Boland in San Francisco.  But my post on this topic seems to have started (or at least encouraged) a barrage of local innovation in cities all over North America and Australia.  Within weeks I had a feast of map samples and ideas from Seattle, Vancouver, Melbourne, Columbus, and many others.  The most beautiful of them was certainly Anton Dubreau's map for Montréal, but all showed interesting ideas on how you could attack the problem.  They ranged, for example, from artistic hand-drawings to automated outputs (Los Angeles by Routefriend, Chicago by Jeff Wegerson) that could update automatically. 

Back in January, Nathan Wessel of Cincinnati contact me to share an early draft of his proposed Frequent Network Map for that city.  He had done this on his own, initially for fun.  But since then, floodgates of opportunity have opened.  Here's his story from an email to me.

Cincy slice Jarrett,

I thought you'd be interested to see how this all turned out.

The final version of the map is here:

A blog post on the launch event for the map at the Contemporary Arts Center:

I spoke to about 100 people came out for the event, including a board member from the transit agency and two city council candidates. Lots of designers, young folk, and activists.

I managed to print 30,000 maps with the money I raised and will add about 500 posters!:

About 5,000 have been distributed so far-to the library system, a transit agency and the people at the event and who donated.

The main transit agency has acknowledged on their website that their map is inaccurate (they hadn't before!):  And they are looking into paying me to make a map that includes all of their routes with park and ride locations.

And Cincinnati's largest university, the University of Cincinnati is printing 6,000 of their own maps for next year's freshmen class. Right now I am distributing maps to orgs and businesses with customers who ought to be riding the bus and being clear that if they want more, they'll have to(and can) print their own.

I even inspired someone in Dallas to do a similar project with their downtown pedestrian tunnels:

Anyway, I wanted to share all this with you because your blog gave me the idea to start this project, and I want you to know you're helping to start good things 🙂

Moral:  Don't wait for your transit agency to take the initiative!  In our distributed and wired world, initiative can come from anyone, and that means you! 

1 Portland's TriMet was an early leader in this trend, but budget cuts have forced them to undermine the meaning of "frequent" to the point that Portland would be misleading as an example.

7 Responses to make your own transit maps! a success story

  1. Glenn May 25, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    This is a lot like the creative process for the modern tube map was created by Harry Beck.

  2. 23skidoo May 25, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    I tried this for Calgary, and made a (crude) map using the tool at At first I considered “frequent” to be at most 20 minutes mid-day (between peak times) and evenings. The problem is there are only four bus routes, plus the two LRT routes, that meet those criteria, and one of the routes was a shuttle that does a 5-block loop!
    In order to make the map interesting I redefined “frequent” as 20-minutes mid-day and 30 minutes evenings. I used data from which does not include the new (but non-frequent) #302 BRT route yet.
    Here’s the city-wide map: And downtown:
    The first thing I notice is that while Calgary has pockets of grid streets, the city pattern overall is not a grid – there are river or creek valleys and large or linear parks in the way, and areas where the streets are aligned to railways or old highways like the 1A (Crowchild Trail). There are few non-expressway roads that cross the city. Some roads that do are served by a different routes in different directions, or in pieces (17th Ave SW: #2, #6, #7; 14h St SW: #6, #7).
    The frequent routes are the LRT/BRT lines (downtown-oriented), seven downtown routes (actually six, because the #4/#5 are the same loop in opposite directions), one crosstown route, two suburban loops, and the aforementioned Chinook Centre shuttle. The BRT lines are largely on streets also served by other frequent bus lines (301: routes #2/#3; 305: route #1).
    The areas with street grids (north-central, inner southwest, Bowness, Forest Lawn) seem to be well-served by frequent routes. The university is also well-served. Except for the two loops in the NE, newer (post-70s?) areas are not well-served, unless they are at the end of a downtown-oriented route. Generally, the far NE has more transit dependence, more immigrants and lower incomes.
    Except for Forest Lawn, the SE is completely missing from this map. Much of the SE is industrial parks, and newer communities, but Ogden is an older, lower-income area, so I expected to see the #24 bus on there.

  3. Anon256 May 25, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    @23skidoo: If only a few routes in a city are anywhere close to frequent, I don’t see the point in weakening the definition of “frequent” to the point of meaninglessness in order to encompass more. 20 minutes midday and 30 minutes evenings is pathetic – at that level most riders will already need to use and plan around a timetable, so it’s only marginally better than even less frequent service. It looks to me like the only routes I could rely on in Calgary without a timetable are the LRT lines, so the C-Train map is already the best frequent service map for Calgary’s system.

  4. Eric O May 26, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    This map is great! I love the appropriately quiet technique of demarcating the business districts. For those of us who don’t know Cincinnati that well, and would love to know where we can travel with ease and explore on foot, having this map in hand would be a gift. …For that reason, getting a rich interactive version of this on the web for mobile devices might be a business savvy decision to encourage greater travel among tourists in Cinci (maybe tell Nathan to explore some ArcGIS Web Mapping APIs or find someone who knows Flash well).

  5. Alex May 26, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Brilliant! I love the 10-min travel time dots!

  6. Neil May 26, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    @23skidoo — thanks for generating that for Calgary, I was interested in doing that myself! I would be curious what an am/pm peak frequency map might look like, but with a maximum headway of 10 minutes. (Most routes have no worse than a 15 minute headway during peak time, so relaxing that to 15 minutes wouldn’t tell us much more than the normal system map.)
    @Anon256 — I think you’re right, or very close to it, the Calgary LRT routes are the only routes you can rely on without a timetable. Some of the “BRT” routes might qualify, but I don’t have experience with those.
    I think that even 15 minutes is pushing the definition of “frequent”. At 15 minutes headway, I time my home/work departure to hit the schedule. It would likely have to be 10 minutes before I would stop caring about the schedule.
    I would put 15 minutes in a grey zone where it might be “good enough” for casual use of unusual routes, but for daily use of the same route, I still want to optimize that.

  7. Zoltán May 28, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Frequent network mapping does a lot to tell you about the network you’re looking at.
    Cincy appears to clearly have sufficient buses to run every route very frequently if only it encouraged transfers in a few cases where there are low-frequency direct routes, and gave up on low-frequency routes providing excessive coverage in certain areas.