spokane: a very clear network map

Spokane Transit (Washington USA) has a new network map out that is one of the clearest I've ever seen. It carefully delineates not just frequent services from infrequent ones, but also presents cases where basic infrequent lines combine to form frequent segments, and ensures that peak commuter express services are visible but can't distract from the clear all-day pattern. The whole thing in its full glory is here: Download Spokane 2011 map.  The legend, too, is both clear and wonkish at the same time.

Spokane map Spokane legend
Congrats to Spokane Transit for designing this map for the public. 

Full disclosure: I was the lead planner on a restructuring study for Spokane Transit back around the turn of the century, and if I remember right, our project invented the continuous two-way frequent loop of Lines 33 and 44.  (The loop is closed on the west side as Line 20, as shown on the full PDF.)  Despite many excellent improvements (and some sad service cuts) since then, it's great to see it still operating.  

This kind of two-way loop is often useful as a way to combine radial lines and grid elements into a single service.  Line 33, for example, intersects Line s 24, 25, and 90 in a grid manner, one line north-south and the other east-west, allowing for a range of L-shaped trips via a connection at this point.  However, Line 33 also flow through so that the same segments can also be experienced as radial; if you stay on the bus, you'll get downtown eventually, and to a lot of other useful destinations. 

I sometimes caution against excessive attachment to loops.  In some contexts, with far more financial resources, I might applaud the breaking up of this loop, as I did of London's Circle Line.  Given the extreme financial pressure on US transit agencies, though, I would contend that Spokane's frequent loop was an efficient solution, maybe even an elegant one.

UPDATE:  The next post on the Spokane map, looking at colorblindness issues and comparing the map to Portland's, is here.

17 Responses to spokane: a very clear network map

  1. zefwagner September 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    Wow, that is a really good transit map. Color is a very powerful way to show levels of service. I just want to particularly praise the decision not to use the color green–red/green colorblindness is pretty common, and way too many transit agencies use red and green on their transit maps.
    The only reason this scheme might not work in some transit agencies is if they have too many bus lines combining in certain segments. Any transit agency that uses a grid approach could use this, though. Portland would benefit from this, as I think TriMet does not highlight the Frequent Network nearly enough on its map.

  2. Matt September 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    Recently I noticed playing around with Scribus, the Open Source Desktop Publisher (http://www.scribus.net) that “Scribus has a well developed tool, the Color Wheel plug-in, which helps to guide you selecting complementary colors, as well as visualize colors seen by folks with certain kinds of color-blindness.”. So turning on an option for the three or four different types of colour-blindness lets you see what the colours look like for someone with each type.
    Perhaps there is a chance that in the future a pdf viewer could incorporate something like that, such that bus maps (mostly they’re rendered into
    pdf) and anything else in pdf could be seen as if you were colour-blind. Then the bus companies could experiment and release colourblind friendly maps.

  3. Rob September 12, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    It sure beats *this* map, of the Washington DC Metro (supposed to be funny):

  4. Karl O September 12, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    It’s nice to hear some positive feedback. Our new system goes into effect September 18. Today’s local news coverage summarizes some of the changes: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/sep/12/major-sta-route-changes-take-effect-sunday/
    In addition to cuts made last year, the system displayed on the map represents 10% less than two years ago.
    Besides taking advantage of the service change/reduction to create a new system map, we have also revised the look of our printed schedules to include a line diagram indicating timepoints and major destinations, similar to a rail line. PDF versions can be found here, by following specific route links and referring to the PDF links on the right-hand column: http://www.spokanetransit.com/routes-schedules/view/service-changes-september-18-2011/

  5. Zoltán September 12, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    Few maps make me quite so happy by virtue of their simplicity as this one. Full marks to Spokane.
    As time goes by, I become less and less fond of maps that attempt to assign each line with a separate colour, leaving no space for using colour to distinguish other things, like frequency or speed. An excessive number of colours, I feel, also makes reading the map seem a whole lot more mentally taxing.

  6. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org September 12, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Note, everyone, that the map always distinguishes by both color and another feature of line, such as width or pattern.  If you reproduced this map in black and white it would still be legible.

  7. Mike September 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    What a beautiful and useful map. Congrats to STA on such a great product.
    I grew up in Spokane during the 80s. During that time, most buses arrived downtown around the same time, waited a few minutes to allow transfers and then all left around the same time. The system has really evolved!

  8. Matt C. September 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I do like the way it shows the way “basic infrequent lines combine to form frequent segments,” but I wonder whether two infrequent routes should add up to the same line weight as one twice-as-frequent route. If you have two lines with one bus per hour, one leaving at 12:00 and the other at 12:15, that’s just not the same level of service as one line with two buses per hour, leaving at 12:00 and 12:30. Maybe they could be 2/3 or 3/4 the width.
    BTW Rob’s DC Metro link above is stale, the real “spider map” cartoon is here: http://www.gocomics.com/tomtoles/2011/09/12

  9. Alon Levy September 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    How would you propose to design such a map for a city that’s so old it has a traditional street pattern rather than a grid? Obviously similar principles apply, but it’s harder to show every downtown street on the same map as the arterials heading out of the city.

  10. Karl O September 12, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    @Matt C. please note that the “basic routes combine for frequent service” line type is only displayed along corridors where the route combination produces 15-minute service. There are several locations where buses coincidentally overlap or some arterial segments where there is technically 15-minute service but there is not a natural, sustained convergence of the routes to suggest to the customer that this may be by design. And with very limited exception most “basic” routes run every 30 minutes most hours on weekdays.
    The real test will be with the customer as the map gets distributed in the coming days as we provide direct outreach efforts before and after the changes effective Sep. 18

  11. Zoltán September 13, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    Just a thought from looking at the full map: If it could be done without compromising reliability, it could possibly be beneficial to project the 27 to Five Mile P&R where it can become the 22 (and vice-versa), to form an East-West grid element.

  12. Zoltán September 13, 2011 at 6:59 am #

    Edit: So it seems, the routes do that now, but are going to stop doing so. That seems like something of a backward step.

  13. Lynnette September 13, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    CHK America is the designer/developer of the STA network map. They really are the leader in the industry. http://www.chkamerica.com

  14. Daniel Howard September 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    That’s a beaty, sure. Might be an approach to take with San Jose, CA. 🙂

  15. Jason Barbour September 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    As a current student at the major public university in Spokane County and a regular STA rider when I’m in the area, I was pleasantly surprised around the beginning of the month when I downloaded the new system map for the first time. Was even more surprised when sites like this one and Seattle Transit Blog are discussing it.
    @Zoltán: Yes, the “North Loop” (routes 22/30/27) is being cut. I attended the public hearing held earlier this year for the service changes taking place next week and it’s very clear that considerations were made for those who currently use that service.
    (To avoid confusion, I’m only a citizen with prior top-of-mind knowledge of the service change process, I’m not in any way associated with any organization involved with the changes.)

  16. GMichaud September 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    The map aside, the loop itself offers many opportunities. While I think the discussion of the map is important, the main failure I see is the execution of the transit system.
    That is why the loop is so important, it creates identity and organization to the transit system, allowing for buses to act in a similar fashion as fixed rail (use of color, double decker buses etc)
    Why is there no discussion of what the loop accomplishes in real terms. No doubt part of that success is an easy to read map that tells you what you need quickly.
    Has the loop encouraged certain kinds of development? What has occurred?
    The loop is a lovely form, but at least in St. Louis, the application of a vibrant, identifiable and usable transit system does not include the discussion of loops or other alternatives.
    To me that is the real value of the loop, not map making, but the ability to organize major transit systems.
    The Spokane map is great, But what is the on the ground reporting concerning the impact of loop transit design?

  17. F Drebin September 16, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    With a loop the layover has to be somewhere along the loop. When a transit agency offers decent frequency, the recovery time could be held relatively low enough as to not inconvenience passengers too much who want to continue on through. Of course, it also depends on the cycle time of the loop. When service goes to hourly on weekends, often that recovery increases and severely inconveniences passengers making them wait through the recovery.Or the paddle instructions state that the driver can continue as far as a certain point then double back. Breaking the loop would allow 2 routes to recover at the end of the line instead of making passengers wait through the recovery. Also, the route on the loop that gets charged the recovery suffers in productivity while the other routes flourish.