Montreal Metro Abomination

montreal metro vignelli

My mom likes it.

I’m suffering from mapper’s block (that’s a term now) with the Ottawa thing I owe you, so I made this instead. You can thank the newest iteration of the official map for bringing this monstrosity into the world; the big thing I noticed about that one in particular was how aggressively evenly spaced the stations were, like they were dots on an imaginary grid. Thus, the general design language of Vignelli’s old sketches for the DC Metro map, via Cam Booth’s lovely hexalinear reconstruction of same, this time ported to a completely different city with a beautiful map of its own.

So naturally this meant deliberately ignoring everything that made the Montreal Metro map iconic—the tilt, the black background, the thick route lines—in favor of something that looks like it was constructed on a pegboard. I still like to think it has a certain charm on its own, though.

I might abstract the design language a bit more and inflict it on another city someday…

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Modesto Rapid Transit

modesto rapid transit

For Emily.

Back in June, when I did the California make-me-crayon-a-map poll, I had my own ideas about which map would produce the most interesting network, and, well, here we are.

Lines K, M, and N are on the old Tidewater Southern Interurban, while Line L runs on the Modesto & Empire. It’s not super-visible on the map, but the suburban/regional rail service patterns are pretty much identical to what’s shown on the old Bay Area map from 2016, which I would really like to redo someday to show through service from SF and a few other places.

Like all these little crayon maps, I obviously don’t think the city could actually support a rapid transit system this size, but I like to think Lines A-G and L could form a halfway decent BRT/high-frequency network.

Next map will be Canadian. Poll either tonight or tomorrow.

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Santa Barbara Rapid Transit

santa barbara rail

Needs more pineapple.

Another map created by poll. These are a lot of fun to do because the networks are smaller and they’re less of a headache to work on. Usually. Line B around the airport was a pain because somebody had the gall to plonk an environmentally sensitive slough right between the airport and UCSB.

Anyway. I’m going to draw another small network of my choosing next, and then after that another poll, this one for our friends in the Frozen North.

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Lehigh Valley Metro

lehigh valley rail

Insert Billy Joel reference here.

In an attempt to remember why I liked drawing transit maps in the first place, I asked the internet to pick a mid-size city for me to crayon a metro network for. The hivemind picked Allentown, and this is the result.

The network is a Copenhagen-style light metro, almost entirely underground because in my experience most of the rivers in the Lehigh Valley run through veritable gorges. So, in essence, too expensive to be worth it. But! The exercise got the juices flowing again, so in that respect it was a success.

I wanna do this again with a different city, so there will be a fresh poll on Twitter tomorrow afternoon.

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Transit Map World Cup: Postmortem

My excuse this time is continuing computer trouble, this time involving an issue with my login information and my iCloud account that culminated in a multi-day phone conversation with tech support that itself culminated in having to reinstall my operating system. That’s the shortest version. (It’s fixed now, thank God.)

The problem with doing blow-by-blow recaps like this is that eventually you run out of things to say about maps you’ve gone over three or four times. I’m looking at the rest of the Elite Eight and the Final Four matches and the most substantive things I could cough up are “Good choice” and “So which one are we sacrificing to Moscow in the final?” Which is…kind of a shame, because now I feel like I’ve ripped you all off in the home stretch. So I’ll try and make up for it by offering something polysyllabic for the final.

I voted for Moscow. I do believe it’s objectively the better map. I love the way it handles the two circle lines, interchange stations, and that stretch where Lines 8A and 11 share track. It’s the closest thing we have to a perfect transit map. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the true inheritor of Harry Beck’s legacy, and that if he were to design a transit map today, it’d look an awful lot like the Moscow Metro map (okay, the lines would be much straighter, but still). The Santiago map is generally simple and clean, and does what it sets out to do quite well, but there’s not a whole lot about it that’s remarkable the way the Moscow Metro map is remarkable. So, naturally, I and every other Moscow supporter believed that its superiority was self-evident and it would coast to coronation under its own power.

And then something funny happened on the way to Moscow’s inevitable crowning as Transit Map Queen: it got stomped 75/25 by this spunky little Chilean upstart that had the full power of a countrywide media blitz behind it. This is itself pretty interesting, because up until the final I thought this whole business was a little niche thing for us transit/map/transit map geeks to amuse ourselves with…an illusion that persisted even after Vancouver and Sao Paulo both mounted serious get-out-the-vote efforts. And then Santiago got the Mayor and the Ministry of Transportation involved. Thus: a good old upset.

The Moscow people who’re up in arms about the result need to understand something very important about polls like this. Each poll may have asked us to consider which map was “the best,” but in truth it was never about that. Brackets are about upsets and early knockouts and underdogs clawing their way to victory. In our case, it’s about cities and transit agencies trying to tip the scales in their favor. Stuff like Cam having to say after each poll that people shouldn’t vote based on local pride or something while the Mayor of Santiago tweets about the contest in an attempt to influence the result is exactly what should be happening. If you’re irritated because, say, London whupped Berlin in the Elite Eight, even though the tube map is a hot mess and the Berlin map is a tightly-wound Swiss watch, good. That means these polls are working the way they’re supposed to. If Moscow coasted to a win on Tuesday that would have been the most boring, pedestrian result imaginable.

Or: if you’re complaining that this whole thing turned out to be a popularity contest…well, duh. Of course it is. That’s why these things are fun. If you’re gonna try and seriously consider which map out of these 32 strikes that sweet balance between usability and aesthetics, you’re not gonna do so via a series of Twitter polls. I understand the impulse to jimmy with the voting structure for next time so we don’t have any surprises, but at root we do these things for the surprises.

Cam has a writeup on his blog which has some more technical reflections on the contest that was, and which comes highly recommended (obviously). Hopefully there’s similar lunacy when we do another one of these bad boys in 2020.

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Transit Map World Cup: Elite Eight, the Rest

This thing will be updated with each match as they happen.

Elite Eight Red Line: New York v. Boston

See okay here’s what I mean when I say that nothing coming out of the left end of the bracket is anything special. The New York map sucks. It so, so very obviously sucks. The important information is hidden and the unimportant information is amplified. And what makes it even more galling is that the good people of The Big Filthy Apple had a map that was demonstrably fit for purpose and they junked it for this thing.

You people demolished Penn Station. And you killed Jesus.

Now, Boston. I want so very badly to like the Boston map, largely because it’s not geographic and the design language actually fits the network it’s mapping. Problem is, the way the thing outlines individual Green and Silver Line services can be…rather confusing. (The Silver Line moreso since SL3 opened.) That said, in the main, I still have a pretty good idea of where each line actually goes, which is more than I can say for its Gothamite counterpart.

However, if you think either of these can seriously go toe-to-toe against London, Paris, or Moscow, you’re nuts. And, now that I have a better idea of how people who aren’t me are voting in this thing, I’m in the inenviable position of wishing New York would have won because the Name Recognition alone gives it a better chance in the final. That’s messed up. Winner: Boston.

A Good Alternate Map

Thesis: the Vignelli Weekender map.
Antithesis: Max Roberts’ famous New York circles map.
Synthesis: Max Roberts’ other famous New York circles map, done Vignelli-style. And is much more successful for it, because it separates out each individual service. This is important. A lot of NYC amateur maps smoosh all the services together into one line in Manhattan, or only separate them out into express and local, and given the complexity of the network even that makes it too much work for the average user to figure out where everything goes. Be like Max, people. Keep everything separate.

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Transit Map World Cup Sweet Sixteen / Elite Eight Green Line

Hurrah, I have a new laptop. I can blog again. Let’s do a quick postmortem on the Sweet 16, shall we?

  • New York v. Chicago: Not much of a preference here. I am okay with how this one turned out.
  • Beijing v. Boston: Good choice. Boston’s map may be a stab at greatness that fell wildly short, but at least it’s not the unmitigated disaster that is the Beijing map. (Seriously, if that thing was retooled to look like the MTR map it would look so much better.)
  • Sao Paulo v. Seoul: No no no no no no no a thousand times no. Nein. Nicht. Nyet. Wrong. Incorrect. For the same reasons as Boston v. Beijing, actually. Both maps may be unsalvageable, but the way the lines are routed in Sao Paulo’s map does offer a path forward for the potential redesigner. No such luck in Seoul’s big ole mess.
  • Vancouver v. Santiago: What on earth is wrong with you people.
  • London v. Stockholm: Y’all drive me to drink. We are not reviewing the tube map that Beck personally worked on, right? We are reviewing the tube map as it currently exists, and the tube map that currently exists is an unmitigated disaster.
  • Berlin v. Hong Kong: I like the Berlin map more, but as someone who’s been to HK three times and who loves the MTR to little tiny bits I’d have been happy if HK won.
  • Moscow v. Vienna: Moscow won. Yes. Good. Yes.
  • Barcelona v. Paris: Like I said on Twitter, both maps are messy, but the Paris map is demonstrably better at being messy than the Barcelona map. Insert born-in-it-molded-by-it meme line here…which given Paris’ long history of geographical Metro maps wouldn’t be too far off, actually.

Now for what’s happening right now, today.

Elite Eight Green Line: London v. Berlin

As of this writing the voting is at 56/44 London, which with fifteen hours left to go indicates a pretty strong tilt in London’s favor. This is also the point at which anyone with taste (i.e. anyone whose bracket has Moscow going into the final) should develop the stomach knots.

Berlin’s map is self-evidently superior. David Edmondson outlined a whole slew of reasons why in a Twitter thread, and I cosign pretty much all of them. It’s cleaner. The icons are better integrated into the design. So are the fare zones (that there’s only three compared to London’s 9+ helps a lot). The S41/S42 loop gives the map some structure. I could go on. Basically the only non-nitpicky concern I have about the Berlin thing is how they handle showing lift/ramp access to specific modes, which is by color and therefore could be, you guessed it, rough for colorblind users.

London, meanwhile…whooboy. There’s a pretty good case to be made that its status as The First Map has actually prevented the map from changing as it needed to in order to include things like the Jubilee and Victoria lines, the DLR, the Overground, the trams, the Dangleway, the fare zones, accessibility information, and (gulp) Crossrail while still retaining the level of clarity that made the blasted thing famous to begin with. The thing that made the tube map iconic was not the ticks or the blobs or the font. It was Beck’s obsessive commitment to keeping the lines as straight as possible. It was how the Central line stayed ramrod-straight within what would become Zone 1. It was how the Circle line was for many years shaped like a perfect rectangle instead of a bottle. This is something TfL, in their slavish devotion to preserve the style of the map instead of the substance, seem to have forgotten, to their great detriment. You want to talk about legacy, in the context of this competition? The horrific Franken-diagram you see before you is the tube map’s actual legacy: a diagram perpetually stuck in the past with loads of extra crap stitched on, while maps elsewhere utilize what’s really important about this thing with stylish, impeccable results.

And this dumpster fire is wiping the floor with Berlin, 56 to 44. Good God.

And here’s why this match should give the howling fantods to anyone who wants to see a good map win: based on London’s performance today, there’s a nonzero chance that it’ll similarly pants Moscow or Paris—both objectively better maps in every way—in the semis. Nothing coming out of the Red or Blue lines are quite as good or as recognizable as those two, which means that if London makes the final it’s probably going to win it all. And this victory would not be on its own merits, but thanks to a particular historical accident way back in 1933 that might as well have made it The First. Thanks, Obama. Winner: Berlin

Some Good Alternate Maps

Two from Cerovic here today. His redesigns of the London and Berlin maps are together some of his best work, and a lot of that comes down to his treatment of their respective cities’ suburban and regional lines. The Berlin map’s pleasant pastel red, yellow, and blue are particularly inspired, separating the regional lines out while still keeping them low in the informational hierarchy. The British capital, meanwhile, has that incomprehensible tangle of suburban routes spilling out through South London, and Cerovic very, very wisely organizes them by terminal, the perfect balance between grouping them by train operator (too little information) and teasing out every individual service (too much). If you’re going to take a stab at redesigning the tube map and want to include the South London disaster area, this is how you do it.

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