The Blog: My blog, my rules, my shifting interests. It started as a travel blog way back when; then I got Inkscape. Now I mostly use it to post transit maps.

The Man: Theo Ditsek is the alias of an aspiring travel writer/photographer/transit map designer/cultural critic who previously lived in Australia, Indiana, and Hong Kong. Right now Ted is based in a suburb of Philadelphia, home to the best commuter rail system in the country. I know. I know. I’m scared, too.

Statement of Transit Planning Philosophy: In no particular order:

  • If you’re not willing to commit fully to a project, don’t commit at all. It’s all or nothing. Don’t ultimately give us terrible service because so much of the project is expendable.
  • Corollary: the cheapest alignment/mode is always the worst.
  • SEPTA is the best commuter rail network in the nation. The Washington Metro is the best rapid transit network in the nation. This should depress you.
  • There is no reason a new subway line should cost a billion dollars per mile. And it certainly isn’t because of the unions.
  • All new tram and (frequent) mainline rail lines should be double-tracked. No exceptions.
  • BRT does not equal “express bus without 24/7 dedicated lanes.”
  • You can fit an entire European town center in the Greenbelt Metro park-n-ride lot. Guess which would be a better use of that space.
  • The Kansai region of Japan is about as dense as New Jersey. There is no reason we can’t do here what they can do there.
  • Phase One of your project or network should not be a downtown circulator or serve an inconvenient/sprawly/generally not dense area or go from Point A to nowhere or just generally be The Cheapest Possible Option. Your long-term plan will only come to fruition if people actually use it.
  • The Washington Metro may have opened with five stations, but it would serve large, dense chunks of DC and Arlington just eighteen months later.
  • Transit should not be used as a way for rich people to colonize poor districts. With an increase in transit access comes an increase in property values. This is bad.
  • More generally, transit should not be a front in the class war. You are not done planning, designing, and engineering until you can answer the question “will this project inconvenience or disenfranchise poor people?” with a resounding, unequivocal no.
  • If you can’t justify at least 2 or 3 tph off-peak service on your new commuter rail line, or moving toward that goal in the very near term through (for example) double-tracking, you can’t justify having a commuter rail line.
  • BRT/trams must have signal priority. Always.
  • Likewise, if you can’t justify at least 4 tph off-peak service on your new rapid transit/tram line, you can’t justify having a rapid transit/tram line.
  • When branding your contactless farecard, give it a name that doesn’t sound stupid when used in the sentence “I have to go refill my _____.”
  • Don’t name your new service anything twee or kitschy. I get an aneurysm every time I see or hear the words “All Aboard Florida.” The tram in Phoenix gets by just fine as the “Metro Light Rail.” Litmus test: when used in the sentence “I have to take the ______ downtown,” does it sound stupid?
  • When in doubt, learn from France, Germany, and Japan. I cringe every time I hear planners sing their praises of Latin America, not b/c Latin America has nothing to offer us, but because I know they’re learning the wrong lessons from what they do there.
  • Don’t put rail lines in freeway medians.
  • Don’t make your contactless smartcard too complicated. Octopus works because it’s basically a standalone debit card that’s not connected to a bank account or online profile.
  • The number of routes that can fit on a certain heavy rail/light rail line is equal to the number of tracks on that line.
  • Segregate passenger commuter rail services from freight whenever possible. Corollary: be like the Shinkansen: separate high-speed rail services from regular rail services whenever possible.
  • Don’t wring dry people who use your airport rail link. Airport staff have to commute to work, too. There is no reason a trip from Midtown Manhattan to JFK Airport should cost $8.
  • The experience of the driver takes precedence over the experience of the passenger. The trains running on time is not worth putting your drivers through hell.
  • Finally, give me plenty of reasons to use transit. Don’t give me plenty of reasons not to.

3 Responses to About

  1. Ryan says:

    Hi Theodore!

    I really like designing metro and subway maps on my own and yours look phenomenal. Can you tell me, please, what software you used and how you did it? I especially like the Hong Kong one.

    • theoditsek says:

      Hi Ryan!

      I use Inkscape, largely because I’m too cheap for/ideologically opposed to a Creative Cloud subscription.

      Once I get the basic structure of the map in my head, I’ll create a stock bank of things like symbols and labels and line curves from which I copy-paste as needed. I try and connect line curves together whenever I can so each line is one long stroke as opposed to a bunch of small strokes right next to each other. I’ve been told this system is inefficient, and it probably is, but it’s what works for me and at the end of the day I’m too lazy to change it.

      Everything else is lots and lots of practice.

      The transit map tutorial Cameron Booth has on his website was a big help for me when I was starting out, so if you haven’t seen it yet I’ll link to it here: http://www.cambooth.net/how-to-design-a-transit-diagram/. He also has some more involved Illustrator-specific tutorials on the Transit Maps blog right here: http://transitmap.net/tagged/tutorial.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Joe says:

    Thank you for the maps Theo. We are planning a trip to The Netherlands and these are very helpful. Have a great Sunday, Esther and Joe

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