As transit information tools have gotten better, some transit agencies have stopped offering a system map to the public. Often, a website offers me trip planning software and route by route timetables, but not a map. If it’s there, it’s often difficult to find.
We think system maps are essential. They’re not just for everyday navigation. They’re for exploration and understanding. Some people prefer narrative directions, but many people are spatial navigators, and they need maps. They’ll understand details only if they can see the big picture.
Another way to think about system maps is that they show you where they could go, and how. They give you a sense of possibility. (It’s the informational dimension of access to opportunity.) Maps also show visually how different services work together. Finally, good system maps help people make better decisions about where to locate, or even where to build things.
One of our most fun projects this year was a new system map for AC Transit in greater Oakland, California. You can see the whole thing, including its legend, here. (To be fair, we’re not the only people who do these. Our friends at CHK America do them, and I also love the work of the European designer Jug Cerovic.)
The style of this map is very similar to that of the maps that we’ve always used in our planning studies. The key is the visual hierarchy that makes frequent lines more prominent than other lines, and makes all-day lines more prominent than peak-only lines. (In older standard mapping styles in this region, peak-only express lines were often the brightest red, even though they don’t exist the vast majority of the time. It was very confusing.)
As transit planners, we use this style for all of the maps that appear in our studies. In fact, red=frequent in absolutely everything we do, whether it’s a map, a chart, a planning game toy, or a pen used to draw routes inside a course or workshop.
We’re excited to be in the business of public-facing system maps. They don’t have to be this precise; they can be done at various levels of design at various costs.
But if a system map doesn’t exist, people can’t understand all that your transit system can do.