There’s no question that the most beautiful network maps will continue to be those made by hand, with great care and thought, by people who know the city. I’d like to say “most useful” as well, but that will be true only as long as they can be kept up to date.
Anton agreed, but now he’s not so sure. He emailed me today:
It feels like a long time ago that Google Maps started publishing their transit maps generated by algorithms. You wrote about it, and I actually made a map by hand of Montreal’s frequent transit that you used in this discussion of algorithms vs humans for maps, on your blog: Montréal: The Pleasure of Maps Made by Hand, or by Eye.
Even though I advocated for maps made by hand at the time, the question of algorithmically generated but nevertheless pretty and functional transit maps has occupied me since then, for years. Well, working for Transit App, I had the chance to spend a significant amount of time trying to make the best algorithmically generated maps possible. We spent a significant amount of effort on this. Although not perfect, I feel we’ve gotten pretty far.
We published the maps last week, they’re shown inside Transit App. We wrote about our mapping story, telling it as wanting to achieve the prettiness of Apple’s more manual solution, but the scalability of Google’s automatic process. In short, we wanted algorithms to draw beautiful transit maps. Check out Chicago’s Loop as an example.
It’s a bit brash, in true startup fashion, but the response has been pretty positive overall so far. The story is getting shared by tech celebrities like Benedict Evans, NYT data journalists, and quite a number of transit thought leaders (Yonah Freemark, Second Avenue Sagas, Taras Grescoe).
So far we’re only including rail lines, and the odd BRT here and there. That’s a more technical limitation, bus networks are still a bit too complex – we plan to add them later.
Maybe this is interesting for you as well. I’d be interested in your thoughts.