Delaware Valley Transit Map and Signage

We don’t need no wooder, let the motherfucker burn…
Do you even know what a Wawa is?

I’m moving to Indianapolis in a few days. Couple of reasons for that.

  • Most of my friends live in the Midwest, either there or in Chicago, and the pandemic made me realize who I want to be with in a crisis. I feel stuck and powerless here on the East Coast, and I want to be able to support my loved ones.
  • I lived in Muncie and Anderson a long time ago, in another life, so Indianapolis is the large Midwestern city I’m most familiar with.
  • Indy is dirt cheap. To move to Philly the way I want to I’d have to make twice my current income, whereas I can manage living in Indy with what I make now.

I don’t plan on staying in Indy forever–I’d like to eventually wind up in Chicago or back on the East Coast once I’m able to do so–but it’s one of the few places in the Midwest I can stand living in, so it’ll do for now. And, again, all my friends are there, so there’s that.

Anyway, before I left I’d wanted redo the SEPTA map and wayfinding system, because SEPTA’s mentioned they’ve wanted to do a redesign so now that’s what we’re all thinking about. Much of the conversation I’ve seen revolves around this article proposing some basics a successful redesign could be built on. Here are my thoughts, some of which are responses to the stuff in the article, some of which aren’t.

The signage in general is a pretty shameless ripoff of the New York Subway wayfinding system, with some adaptations pulled from the TTC signage so it can work with Philly’s specific needs and also hopefully forge its own identity. I picked New York’s because it’s minimalist but precise in ways that are germane to the needs of a rapid transit network like Philly’s, and also because it’s quite frankly the only wayfinding system currently in use that looks good in a grubby, industrial early 1900s American subway. (Also white text on black is way more legible than white text on colored background, for the record.) My biggest concern is that SEPTA’s signage is generally weirdly verbose and redundant (e.g. “westbound to 69th Street instead of just “westbound”), and my draft signage strips away a lot of that additional information, and I’m not sure how much the average SEPTA user depends on all that extra stuff to successfully navigate the system.

To ensure travelers get on a train going the right way, for the subway and trolley lines I used cardinal directions because they’re already laid out on cardinal directions, so it was a no-brainer. The Regional Rail lines use “outbound” and “inbound” because that’s what they use anyway when it isn’t “to Philadelphia” or “to [outer destination].” Routes 100, 101, and 102 would get terminal names because their routes are just circuitous enough that cardinal directions don’t work, and 69th Street is too far away from Center City for “outbound” and “inbound” to make sense, and their identities are tied pretty heavily to their terminal destination.

In addition, I almost to a fault avoided using train pictograms under any circumstance. Three reasons why:

  • Kneejerk annoyance at the existing signage’s overuse of indistinguishable train pictograms.
  • The belief that if a train (or bus!) pictogram is used in one place it must be used everywhere for the sake of continuity, which given the existing signage’s aforesaid over-reliance on pictograms defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do here.
  • The existing signage is quick to distinguish between individual services, even before that decision is going to be made, if it’s going to be made within the station at all. The 13th Street MFL station has signage pointing toward “Routes 10, 11, 13, 34, 36 Trolleys,” for instance.

It is, in my defense, no less awkward than what’s already there.

Moving on, line names. If you try to officially rename Philly’s transit lines something other than what they’ve been called for years—like, say, their colors—you are going to fail. The thick orange line on the SEPTA map is the Broad Street Subway. Period. Problem is, “Broad Street Subway” takes up way too much space on the signage, so we need a shorthand.

You have three options, there: colors, numbers, or letters. I don’t like colors. Calling it the Orange Line is going to be problematic for colorblind users, and doesn’t address the other consistent issue with how the subway’s been depicted on the map: its service patterns. The subway has four tracks for most of its length in an express-local configuration; local trains use the outer pair, and express trains use the inner pair. In addition, there’s technically two express services: one which bypasses the North Philadelphia station, runs through Center City, and terminates at Walnut-Locust; and one which stops at North Philly, splits off from the mainline south of Girard, and runs down the God Damned Spur to 8th and Market. This needs to be communicated quickly and easily in a way that doesn’t make people’s head spin, and calling all of that the “Orange Line” and letting people sort it all out once they’re actually in the system doesn’t help.

(Also that thing I see on SEPTA’s #transitmaptuesday redesigns where the subway’s local service is red-orange but the express and spur services are yellow is, to put it delicately, hideous.)

This leaves identifying individual services with numbers or letters. I used letters on my map, to emphasize that the rapid transit lines are distinct from the largely numbered bus and trolley lines. I went alphabetically based on each line’s opening date, not caring so much if the assigned letter corresponded to anything from the line name, although the “B” for “Broad” is a nice touch. This is because a few of SEPTA’s further-afield bus lines are lettered, starting with G and going up, and if I want to avoid conflict there, that limits the available letters I can work with.

(One could argue that “D” is already taken by the branding for the Boulevard Direct bus to the Neshaminy Mall, but I don’t think that’s embedded itself into the Philly Native’s consciousness the way some of the other line names/designations have. It’s called the “14D” here because it follows and supplements the less frequent 14 bus for pretty much its entire length.)

(As a consequence of lettering the subway lines, though, for the sake of simplicity the signage I whacked together never spells out any of their names, trusting that users will be able to intuit which service is which based on context, including strip maps. That’s more or less what happened to the Toronto subway’s signage when they numbered their subway lines, and it seems to have worked fine there, but I can see this backfiring spectacularly in this case, which is great when simplifying the line names so they’re not so cumbersome to put on a dang sign is part of what this is all about.)

Now for the services that have or previously had numbers assigned to them. I decided against messing with the trolley route numbers because if you’re taking the trolley west you’re going to one of two places:

  • Someplace beyond the reaches of the trolley tunnel, in which case you’re gonna need a specific trolley and can’t just catch the first one that happens to rumble on by, or:
  • Penn.

Either way, you need a certain granularity in the way the trolleys are described on the map and the signage, and you already have a perfectly good shorthand that meets your needs just fine. You’re set. It’s for similar reasons that I brought back the “Route 100” designation for the NHSL (easy enough, some of the signage on the NHSL still calls it Route 100) and the R-numbers for the Regional Rail (which conflicts with the R bus line, I feel, but okay). We’re already scrambling local brains plenty through assigning letters to the subway and the el, so we should probably go easy on them with everything else.

(I should point out here that I don’t necessarily object to renumbering the trolley lines, e.g. T1, T2, T3, or having lettered branches e.g. A, B, C like on the MBTA Green Line, but it’s just not what I chose to do here.)

Finally, the frequent buses. I knew I wanted to show the full route of all the trolley lines, but since they behave like buses when they’re on the surface, I felt I could only justify doing that if I included the frequent buses as well. The problem is, even at their thinner line weight, they also clutter up the map enough that certain parts are made more difficult to read. To mitigate this, I switched out the dark red that SEPTA uses officially (which also conflicted with PATCO red) for the bright pink I used for frequent buses on my IndyGo map from a few years ago. That de-emphasizes the bus lines slightly for clarity purposes, but not so much they’re rendered invisible.

(Good news though is that using a thinner line weight for street-running surface transit means it’s easier to get away with not showing every stop. When the map insists on keeping the trolley lines the same weight underground as on the surface, it invariably looks like something’s missing, even though trolley stop spacing is really dense on the surface and showing each stop is wildly impractical.)

(Speaking of transit lines whose stops aren’t always shown, Routes 101 and 102. I don’t have a problem with having every single station stop for each line listed on the map, even though there’s a lot of them spaced really close together, because unlike the city trolley lines both routes spend much of their length on a dedicated right of way. Also, they should be brown on the map. Not green. Brown. They’re distinct. C’mon.)

Also, I just think the red/teal/gray color scheme SEPTA uses for bus frequency is kind of ugly, so using my IndyGo map’s pink/light blue/light green color scheme instead made more sense aesthetically as well. To the extent this affects the signage, that meant I could also do the Toronto thing of placing the bus’s route number in a colored box, which I just think looks cool and emphasizes that buses are big boys too and are a full and integral part of the city’s transit network, and not just an afterthought.

Anyway, that’s the thinking behind these. I reserve the right to change my mind on this stuff at any time, especially with the signage because I’m less experienced with designing wayfinding and so my thoughts on that are far from final. See ya on the flip side.

[thanks to Cameron Booth for help with the legend]

Posted in maps, philadelphia, urbanism | Leave a comment

Strasbourg Tram Map

strasbourg tram

Bischheim, Mundolsheim, Hœnheim, Lingolsheim, Duppigheim, Geispolsheim, Wareheim…

This is the second map (and first non-strip map) I’ve completed in about four months, of a system I’d wanted to draw for a pretty long time. TER service patterns come from Wikipedia and date from 2017, so no guarantees of accuracy there. Since Inkscape doesn’t really play nice with my computer anymore, something like this is probably the upper limit of my maps’ complexity for the forseeable future.

Also the Tube Map Central guy decided COVID denialism was the hill he was going to die on, so that’s fun. I’ll be brutally honest: I was kinda expecting a meltdown like this in Max’s future, given his history of behaving like a Karen over stuff like train delays, or that time he read Jug Cerovic the riot act because his INAT map book got dinged in transit. That said, I thought it’d be because he revealed he held some… retrograde views about trans people or something, an increasingly popular way to out yourself as a crank in the UK, not this.

I at first tried to look the other way as best I could in an attempt to keep the peace, I know some others quietly muted or unfollowed and went on with their lives, but then he posted this tweet that was like “unfollow me if you’re a Sheep who doesn’t Question Authority” or whatever and things just sort of spiraled downhill from there, with him hurling insults and blocks around with reckless abandon to anyone who dare challenge him. I distinctly recall in response to someone mocking him about supposedly failing high school biology he was like “I got some very high marks in biology thank you very much” and then posted his professional qualifications all the way back to his GCEs, as if we’re supposed to (a) be impressed, or (b) believe having a Ph.D. in psychology and acing high school biology means he’s qualified to hold forth authoritatively on virology and epidemiology. Big deal. Stuart Ashen also has a Ph.D. in psychology, and I don’t see him tilting at windmills and pretending he knows anything about coronavirus the way Max is.

I got some sarcastic yuks out of this whole thing as it was all going down but it’s actually kind of sad, really, watching someone who was once a pillar of the transit mapping world self-destruct like that. Max probably perceives himself as some sort of heroic crusader against what he feels is authoritarian pseudoscience, but from here it feels like watching Richard Dawkins have a breakdown over having his honey confiscated at the airport, or Dave Sim asking anyone who interacts with him professionally to sign a form saying he’s not a misogynist: small, petty, and pathetic.

But at the same time, look: I got a big mouth too, and it’s gotten me in trouble more than a few times, and so I can say that if he wants, as he’s explicitly stated, to shrink his audience down to COVID-denying crackpots just like him, he can do what he likes, but later on he can’t feel bummed that he’s isolated himself from the majority of his former audience. That’s his choice, and those choices have consequences. He made his bed, he can sleep in it. It’s hard to watch, but at the end of the day my sympathies lie with the people in the transit mapping community he’s hurting first and with Maxwell Jeffrey Roberts second. He’s done some fantastic academic work on the psychology and design of transit maps, and that work is still there for anyone who wants to learn from it, but it looks like it’s time to move beyond him as a primary authority on this stuff.

Also, when you go outside, wear a stupid mask. If nothing else, do it because it makes people like Max angry.

Posted in maps, strasbourg | 2 Comments

A Whole Bunch Of Adelaide Maps

Okay, so it’s been a few months, and the psychological effects of the plague plus an software update that rendered Inkscape basically unusable have made it very difficult to draw new maps lately (which is great when I owe youse one of Portland, Maine), so here’s some stuff I’ve meant to post for a while.

The first thing is a crayoney map of Adelaide’s suburban and regional rail network. The second thing is the same map but pared down to actually existing services, drawn for a challenge between myself, Cameron Booth, and Chris Smere. The third thing is a discarded idea, yet another stab at doing an isometric map, an idea which never turns out well, but we keep trying because the old Stuttgart U-Bahn map looks really cool and maybe if we did something in that style some of its coolness would rub off on us (psst: it never does). The final products still have a Germanophone influence, tho, because it’s another one of those maps done in the house style of the Swiss S-Bahn maps.

The Portland map will likely take a little while longer. I’ve been preoccupied with real life stuff lately and I also have to get used to how Inkscape works now. Mea maxima culpa.

Posted in adelaide, maps | 4 Comments

Omfattandestad Airport Wayfinding

KI airport sketch 2

Many years ago when I did a whole bunch of maps about the Koana Islands, I also worked off-and-on on a wayfinding system for the country’s main international airport. This airport has an extraordinarily complicated passenger traffic circulation system because it’s the primary port of entry for the capital of the first among equals in an EU-like bloc of states. So that means you have to sort different passengers based on where they came from and where they’re going, because they all require different sets of customs/immigration/quarantine checks.

(It’s all white and yellow on black because that’s my favorite airport wayfinding color scheme, and it’s similar to what they use at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. The “Koanian” here is just Swedish run through Google Translate.)

I left it sit for a while, and then I came back to it recently because I needed some inspo for a different wayfinding project I’m working on, and I discovered it…still held up pretty well. So I’m posting it here because why not. These are raw sketches, and I never really had a solid blueprint of the airport in my head, so these aren’t exactly internally consistent, but it still gives a general idea of what the signage could look like. I might salvage this general wayfinding design for other projects in the future, maybe.

Posted in omfattandestad, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Louisville Metro/Suburban Rail Map

louisville crayon

Muffled Bernard Parmigiani playing in the distance.

So while I was working on the Texas map I thought to myself, self, you’ve been digging SB Nation’s history of the Mariners, what if you drew a map in the general style of a Jon Bois infographic? And Jon’s from Louisville, whose baseball team’s colors are red, navy, and white, and so here we are.

I’m not sure how successful it is as a map, considering I had to label each rail line with which services run along it, which I hate doing, but it was interesting trying to communicate a wealth of information using a limited color palette and a really minimalist design language.

Drawing the shuttle buses running through the entertainment/special event complex between (the decadent and depraved) Churchill Downs and the airport was more fun than it probably should have been.

Posted in louisville, maps, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

San Antonio-Austin S-Bahn

san antonio austin commuter rail

Ja. Y’all.

Here’s the result of the Texas poll I did a while back, a little crayon thingy of a S-Bahn network (because the area had a lot of German immigrants, see) for San Antonio and Austin. I originally wanted to do something that owed a bit more to German transit map design but it didn’t work out, so I just busted out the design language I used for those old Japan maps again. (Also appropriate, considering Texas Central wants to use JR technology for their Dallas/Houston high-speed train.)

San Antonio’s old streetcar network is preserved and turned into a Stadtbahn, into which the real-world Via Primo routes are integrated, with the 202 extended north and east so it runs around Loop 410. Austin’s old streetcar network is instead replaced with a U-Bahn similar to those long-term vision plans Capital Metro likes to show us once in a while.

I’m working on the finishing touches of another map that should be up soonish.

Posted in austin, maps, san antonio, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Las Vegas Crayon Map

vegas crayon

Of course, lest we forget, once you’re out the front door you’re STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKIN’ DESERT!

Let’s talk about street grids.

Las Vegas has two: the one downtown, and the one stamped on the entire rest of its built-up area. The big one is extremely regular and regimented, subdividing the city into discrete little squares one after the other. This regularity, I felt, was important to maintain as much as possible when I did this thing. The little one, meanwhile, is set at a slight tilt to the big one, and one of its tendrils, extending far to the south, is Las Vegas Boulevard.

Furthermore, (a) this tilt is not easily resolvable to 45˚ without seriously distorting a large part of the map, to the point where (b) it wouldn’t jibe very well with the mental map I imagine Las Vegas residents have of their city. The easiest way to square this, I imagined, was to tilt the downtown portion of the map such that instead of diagonals going over one unit and up one unit, they’d go over one unit and up two. That way everything still adheres to a nice neat grid and and things will line up more or less okay.

Here’s the problem: downtown would then be set at an angle that wasn’t quite 30˚ (it was actually something like 26.5˚ and change I HAD TO DO TRIGONOMETRY FOR THIS AUGH) and which therefore made actually drawing curves and making sure they lined up the way I wanted them to a profoundly unpleasant experience. There was a lot of manual rotation and other kludging involved, and even though I got things aligned to the point where you only notice the imperfections if you look at it under a microscope, it’s still really irritating, knowing they exist at all.

So anyway, that’s why drawing this map was unfun, why I usually stick to octolinear maps, and why when I saw Vegas win the make-me-draw-a-map poll by a landslide my heart sank. But here it is.

The monorail was rerouted along the Strip, so even if it remains a tourist shuttle it’s an actually useful tourist shuttle. Six BRT lines, because Vegas isn’t quite dense enough for a good LRT network. Three commuter rail lines, two of which do something I swore I’d never force a rail line to do: run along a freeway median. (Which, well, US 95 connects most of the major and minor commercial centers on the northwest side of town, and one of Summerlin’s commercial centers is stickin’ out right there…)

Because I am a glutton for punishment, there might be a Texas poll soon.

Posted in las vegas, maps | 1 Comment

Ireland Rail Map

ireland crayon

If I should fall from grace with God, where no doctor can relieve me…

Here’s a map of Ireland that speculates what would have happened if so many of the railways weren’t closed, based off the infamous 1906 railway map and whichever lines had maps on Wikipedia. Also includes the following flights of fancy:

  • A politically united Ireland and divided Great Britain. Independent Scotland rejoins the EU and both it and Ireland enter Schengen.
  • The DART Underground/Interconnector/whatever they’re calling it this time.
  • Underground railways beneath Belfast and Cork, in order to conveniently hook up some of the old terminals.
  • Overground railways above Tralee and Waterford.
  • A Dublin Metro, based on the current plans from St Stephen’s Green to Estuary via Airport but extended south to Terenure to hook up with the reactivated Blessington tramway.
  • Whichever Luas extensions are inhabiting pols’ fuzzy little dreamworlds at the moment.
  • The Belturbet-Ballyhaise branch converted to narrow gauge.
Posted in belfast, cork, dublin, maps, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Washington RER Strip Map

washington union station rer strip map

Step back, doors closing.

A little bonus thing I dusted off after finishing the Brisbane map. It’s a [partial] strip map of Baltimore/DC’s crayon suburban rail system, showing all the places that are a one-seat ride from Union Station itself. It uses an earlier, less developed version of the Baltimore map’s design language, and the geography of the Line 3 branches into WV and PA are backward, but I like to think it still holds up pretty well.

Posted in baltimore, maps, washington dc | Leave a comment

Brisbane Tram Map

brisbane stadtbahn

[muffled Zero Punctuation playing in the distance]

Wanted to draw something to see how Brisbane’s tram network would look if it (a) stuck around and (b) was integrated into the busway network, and the result was something like a German stadtbahn. (Hence why the color scheme was ganked from the tram system in Hannover.) Also has a mildly crayoney rendition of the suburban rail network (+ Cross River Rail) that may or may not be expanded upon later.

The Brisbane Metro high-frequency BRT plan is intriguing.

Sources: A, B, C, D, E, F, Wikipedia.

Posted in brisbane, maps, Uncategorized | Leave a comment