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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About theoditsek

I like going places.
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