frequent network maps: baltimore

Another unofficial frequent network map, this time via Human Transit reader and Envision Baltimore contributer Marc Szarkowski: 


Baltimore Frequent Network

You can see the full size version here. This map uses color to differentiate between linear and loop routes, and line weight to denote frequency. Compare this to MTA's current system map, showing the same part of the city:

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 11.45.04

Existing Baltimore MTA map

MTA's map uses a variety of colors to depict individual routes, but without assigning them significant qualities (though green and blue appear to be reserved for different kinds of commuter expresses). The seemingly arbitrary assignment of colors to local routes creates a cluttered, confusing visual effect, and obscures the quality of service provided by each route.

On the other hand, Marc's map distinguishes which routes on which roads provide which level of service, using a simple 5-color scheme differentiating linear and circulator routes, rail, rapid bus, and ferries.  Frequent service is clear as a dark wide line, with its color indicating technology.  This visualization is very information-rich,  offers a clear improvement to the MTA map in its utility as a description of the service available to MTA riders.The image below is a snapshot of the legend from this map:

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 12.12.27

Marc writes:

The radial nature of the network is also why I decided to group services into a limited color palette, like the WMATA map. Originally I intended to assign each route its own color, as in the Leeds or Portland maps, but so many routes crowded together in so many areas as they headed downtown that it was difficult to fit the whole "spectrum" on certain streets/corridors. (I think this is why even the MTA regional map, which does use a wider color range, still has to resort to using a single line for all buses in central Balto.) If the network was more emphatically organized on a grid, as you advocate, assigning individual route colors would be a lot easier since the map wouldn't have to display as many redundancies.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 12.02.01 In the image at left, for example, the visual prominence of the blue lines for Route 5 clearly communicate its higher level of service, compared to Route 91 several blocks north. The directional arrows attached to the route labels are also a nice, unobtrusive touch; transit maps can often become unecessarily cluttered with these symbols, particularly in systems with many looping routes.  Marc's map does a nice job of providing this necessary information at a relatively low level in the visual hierarchy. 

Intelligently designed maps like this one show opportunities for connection, and the relative importance and usefulness of the system's transit routes These maps work by exposing the degree of freedom of mobility available to a transit rider.

10 Responses to frequent network maps: baltimore

  1. MetroDerp September 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    The real problem her3, of course, is considering 20-25 minutes “frequent.” With headways like that, EVERY line should be pencil-thin.

  2. TransitDB September 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Very nicely done!

  3. Jeffrey Bridgman September 26, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Beautiful! Unfortunately, the nature of the bus network still makes downtown quite a tangle of bus lines… simplifying that and moving resources towards a high-frequency grid would be nice… and much simpler to map 😉

  4. Eric September 27, 2013 at 5:39 am #

    One important thing the MTA map does better is the directional arrows. In Mark’s map, they are too small, and it’s not clear if they apply to all routes in a given cluster of route numbers. Arrowing the streets, as the MTA does, seems to me more effective.
    And given the complexity of the routes downtown, I think coloring routes by direction/origin is the best strategy (the MTA map does this to some extent with the route lines, which is good, although its coloring of route numbers is very confusing). No matter what, it will be a challenge to find your route downtown in a system like this, and adding colors based on the route frequency makes it more confusing. Outside of downtown, Mark’s system works better, but still I think the contrast between “frequent” and “non-frequent” routes is overdone, particularly since the “frequent” routes often aren’t actually so frequent.

  5. Marc September 27, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    Jarrett, thanks for posting the map here! BTW, for anyone wondering why I chose to display things a certain way, I discuss my process here:
    To clear up some confusion:
    1.) Routes that have >15 min midday service (i.e. 20 or 25 min) are *not* listed as frequent; they’re in the standard service category. Sure, most “frequent” routes have reduced service on evenings and weekends, so the distinction between “frequent” and “standard” may seem trivial right now, but you have to start somewhere: see Jarrett’s post on Spokane Transit’s frequency map a while back.
    2.) I did originally intend to assign each route its own color, like the Leeds map and the current MTA regional map, but since the system is so radial it was difficult to get a massive spectrum of redundant routes to fit on certain corridors. If the system was gridded, as Jeffrey pointed out, using individual colors would be easier. I therefore decided to color-code by frequency, akin to the WMATA map featured on GGW a while back.
    3.) I actually prefer Eric’s suggestion for using road arrows instead of arrows next to route badges, and I initially did do this, but I discovered that on some streets some routes traveled in different one-way directions. The MTA’s downtown map thus resorts to using both kinds of arrows in certain areas, so I decided to simplify the appearance by just assigning arrows to route badges. I’d appreciate any suggestions for a more elegant solution.
    Thanks all for the feedback!

  6. Robert Wightman September 27, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    I bought a 1920s street car and bus map of Baltimore in 2011 and got a current transit map. Most of the routes were the same. If you don’t change many of your routes in 90 years then you are living in a very static area or you aren’t adapting with the times. I am afraid that the latter is true. The system definitely needs a grid system.
    The other problem I had was that the schedules on the map were different than the once posted on the stops which were still different than the ones the operators followed. The other problem was that lines that branched did not use different numbers such as 13, 13A and 13B. All 3 branches were 13 which got me totally lost until a sympathetic driver said I might as well stay on his bus because that was his next trip and by the time I transferred to the correct route it wouldn’t make any difference.
    Baltimore does not make transferring (connecting to a different rout Jarret) easy. It is a long walk from the LRT to the subway and I have no knowledge about their policy on transfers. It seemed like a system that was just falling short of its possibilities.

  7. Frosty September 27, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Jarrett, Seattle is just up the road but I don’t believe it’s received the benefit of your analysis. Should I needle the City Council the Mayor is lost in space) or the County Executive who is ultimately in charge of METRO bus system? The city is building streetcars, METRO is cutting service, and the I-5boa constrictor at the Convention Center has a complex merge of six lanes. The city & the county need help!

  8. Jeff October 4, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    I’m impressed with the clarity of this map, and how easy it is to follow routes. A challenge for FTN maps is how to show route continuity when a route provides FTN service on its trunk but not on branches/extensions, and this map does it well in my opinion. See for example the transition of the 36 where some trips short turn near Carroll Park, or where different branches of the 13 come together to create FTN level service on Washington St northbound from Madison St.
    A similar challenge occurs when multiple routes combine to provide FTN level service for a portion of their route. I think the ‘highlighter pen’ approach used here (see e.g. the 20 & 30 running east of downtown on Baltimore St) is clear, but the graphic style is so different from the rest of the FTN representation that it loses the unity of network presentation.
    In Vancouver BC, TransLink’s approach has been to show the entire FTN with a similar ‘highlighter’ style <,”>>, attributing FTN-ness to streets, not routes. This has the benefit of consistency, and making the entire FTN visible at a glance, and also allows routes to be shown consistently across branches or short turns. Useful for land use type decisions (city planners, developers, homehunters, etc.), but these people could probably just as well use TransLink’s map that shows the corridors without the actual bus routes on them <.”>>. For transit users though, I think customers are heavily conditioned to think in terms of routes rather than corridors, so it’s not clear how well this highlighter approach resonates with users. Anyone have insight into this? Or can perhaps recommend another bus map that addresses all of these FTN design problems in a unified and useful way?

  9. Nathanael October 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    It’s a good map! Hooray for good maps!
    Unfortunately, you’ve just discovered that a good map can reveal an incomprehensible (illegible) network.
    In this case, it would be benefited greatly by a line renumbering. All the lines sharing the same “trunk route” should have a related group of numbers — stuff like that makes a big difference. The map is cluttered by the long lists of arbitrary route numbers.

  10. Marc October 15, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Jeff, great points! I’m still not satisfied with the differentiated frequent routes/frequent corridors tactic myself (i.e. heavy lines for frequent *routes* vs. highlighting for frequent *corridors* hosting two or more infrequent routes) and will probably change it in the future.
    I admit I’m one of those people who still thinks in terms of frequent *routes* rather than *corridors,* so I guess my map reflects that bias. The WMATA map uses only heavy lines to indicate frequent corridors, and the Vancouver map uses only highlighting to do the same. But the Spokane map does a decent job combining both tactics (heavy lines for frequent routes and highlighting for frequent corridors).
    But in the context of Baltimore’s transit, sticking to only one of the two seemed a bit awkward (for me at least): virtually all infrequent routes currently overlap downtown to offer frequent service, so if I used the thick line/solid badge technique to merge them into the FTN in the downtown inset map, wouldn’t that feel a bit misleading? It also wouldn’t be of much use, since there’s little need to use overlapping infrequent buses to traverse downtown Baltimore – it’s easier (and faster) to just walk. Same goes for most of the short overlapping stretches in other parts of the city. I got the same impression when looking at short FTN segments in the WMATA map – is there all that much benefit making the short stretch of Porter Street in NW look like a frequent route analogous to, say, Pennsylvania Ave?
    I suppose I could abandon the highlighting method altogether and use thick lineweights only on infrequent routes deliberately designed to overlap for frequent service (like the 20/30 and the Light Rail). I’d love to hear more suggestions on this!
    Nathanael, I think there used to be a numbering strategy – some crosstown routes have easy-to-remember numbering like 22, 33, 44, 55, 77, and 99 in which the higher the number is, the further out the crosstown route is. But you’re right, after years of additions and changes there otherwise seems to be little coherence to numbering anymore – mainly because new routes can’t appropriate numbers already taken by older routes that, in many cases, have inherited numbers (and routing) from the streetcars that preceded them.