guest post: a reader’s struggle to map tel aviv’s transit network

Alan Tanaman is a transit planning enthusiast who is working to help redefine the perception of public transport in Israel as a service to be used by everyone. Alan was an advisor on transport policy for the Israeli Labour Party during their 1998 election campaign, and more recently has been assisting the Israeli Public Transport Passengers Organisation (an NGO). He is also one of the moderators on the Tapuz Public Transport forum, but his primary interest is in trying to make transit more simple to understand and use.

This blog was the prime motivator for my attempt to produce a frequent-network map for the Tel Aviv Metropolitan region. The area lacks a rapid transit system, but the slack is generally taken up by a fairly frequent bus system, albeit lacking in priority measures. Although frequent, the network has grown sporadically and without method, and it was decided in 2004 that a complete overhaul of the network was needed, one that would be based on free transfers.

Only in July 2011 did the first major reorganisation phase take place, but it was shrouded in secrecy until about 10 days before the change. Once the change did take place, there was mass confusion. Suffice to say that the information was insufficient and the implementation was poor.

People resented having to make changes, but in this case the change was poorly explained; the benefits of the new system with high-frequency core sections were unclear. It is incredible that one of the missing pieces was a complete network map. The government website included only individual line maps along with maps of individual areas. But if you wanted to get from one end of the city to the other, it was pretty difficult to work out the best way to do so.

I wondered if some of Jarrett Walker’s principles would work – was there a clear network of high-frequency lines running all day? During that month, curiosity got the better of me, and I put together a map of the highest frequency routes. These were to be called ‘fork routes’: Routes with a high-frequency trunk, forking out into two or three branches at each end. I also added a few of the other high-frequency routes and published the map on a public transport forum. The reaction was very positive, but the network coverage was sparse, so I was urged to add lower frequency routes.

At this point I decided that the map was going to become a mission to produce a complete network map, excluding only the very lowest frequency routes. This seemed impossible – the network is so complex and there are far too many line numbers to fit. Worse still, the agency was now backtracking on some of the changes that had simplified the network, and had announced that it would bring back some cancelled routes, and revert some to their old meandering ways.

But by combining two bus mapping systems, often known as French and Classic, it could be done. The French system uses coloured lines for each route, whereas the Classic (or British) system marks route numbers along the streets. By using coloured lines for groups of high-frequency routes and marking the rest of the numbers along the streets in black, everything fitted in, and the high-frequency routes were still clear enough to follow. 

The first network map was released on 23rd August. You can see this archive map in Hebrew at  Here is a slice:

Tel aviv old hebrewOnly a week later a bunch of (bad!) route changes took place, which led me to release a second map as soon as I could. This map included routes every 20 minutes or better (in black) and 15 minutes or better (in colour). Routes running every 10 minutes or better got thicker lines and solid coloured number discs.

For the final map, in English map see here:  Here is a slice of it.

Tel aviv slice

In the final English version, I also decided to incorporate some high-frequency commuter lines, but only when they were similar to the coloured lines that were already on the map. For example, route 166, which branches off route 66 at its eastern end, and also runs slightly differently for a short portion within Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, this does have the effect of making the all-day frequent network rather less clear.

11 Responses to guest post: a reader’s struggle to map tel aviv’s transit network

  1. Fedemit July 17, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    I was looking for a clear way to mapping my city network and maybe this could help me since our city network is very similar to this one…
    One suggestion: try to put the map with the east on top of it. It would be more practical for netbooks and tablets users.

  2. John July 17, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Wow. Great job with a complex system. It reinforces my believe that if the transit system is too complicated to show on a map clearly, then the system is too complicated. I also like to say that if there are too many stops to show on a network map, then there are too many stops.

  3. Lior July 17, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    As a keen reader of this blog, I’m glad to see a post dealing with my city!

  4. Nathanael July 17, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    What on God’s green Earth are the route designers thinking?
    It’s a nice *map* but it’s still extremely unclear — because the *bus routing* is inherently confusing!
    One thing the map makes *most* clear is that the route changes were bad changes — the second map is much *less* clear than the first map!

  5. Eric July 18, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    Tel Aviv doesn’t really have a grid system for major streets, unlike most North American cities.
    Also, the number of routes is extremely high, because there is not yet rapid transit on any of the main corridors (unlike most other metro areas with 2 million or more residents).
    Both of these factors make the task very hard for the route designer, not just the map designer.

  6. sabre23t July 18, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    Hi Alan,
    I’ve just colour laser printed the telaviv pdf map onto 4xA3 sheets making a nice A1 wall map. Now how do I do the same for Kuala Lumpur bus/lrt routes? 😉

  7. Misha July 19, 2012 at 5:54 am #

    A while ago I made a hypothetical suggestion for a grid-based transit system for the Tel Aviv metro area, inspired by Jarrett’s ideas. It follow existing main streets as much as possible, and adds some new ones when necessary.
    P.S. I apologise there is no text yet, I added this project just now since I felt it’s relevant to the discussion. Feel free to ask me anything here. Also, if you feel like it have a look at the rest of the site (it’s an architecture portfolio).

  8. Alon Levy July 27, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    What John said. The Tel Aviv bus system is really complex. As you can see on the map, some routes run one-way on two-way streets. Dizengoff is two-way for buses but the 66 only uses it in one direction. Arlozorov is two-way, but the 22 runs on it one way and on Jabotinsky the other way. Yehuda Maccabi is two-way, but the 5 runs on it in an incomprehensibly convoluted way.
    And Misha: why does your grid drop the dense service to Central Tel Aviv? Dizengoff, Ben Yehuda, and Even Gvirol Ibn Gabirol can all support frequent routes independently, something that’s quite normal for a downtown region.

  9. misha July 28, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    I think having to close parallel routes (like Dizengoff and Ben Yehuda, about 150m apart) might dilute the service, especially at off peak hours.
    To avoid dilution a better solution might be to tie two parallel lines when they enter the center to double the frequency.
    I do think running the westernmost line further from the shore (eg on Dizengoff) might be better than what I suggested.

  10. Alon Levy July 31, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    I don’t remember what the frequency is on Ben Yehuda, but on Dizengoff, the 5 has 7-minute off-peak service if I remember correctly.
    But at any rate, Dizengoff is a more important street than Ben Yehuda, and vastly more important than Yarkon, so you should have service on it. In general, I think the busiest routes can be left relatively intact, superimposed on the grid. If enough people want to go from the train station to Dizengoff and from Dizengoff to Central Bus station, why not?

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