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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Transit Map World Cup Match 4

Right. Let’s sort this quickly.

Red Line Match 4: Montreal v. Boston

Let’s be honest here, the Montreal map is not as good as it was. The odd 37-degree tilt is gone…and yes, that particular tilt was essential, as it formed a meaningful compromise between Actual North and the absolutely bizarre local north they have over there. The straight 45-degree tilt just looks weird. But there’s still a lot that remains distinctive about this thing, such as the black background, how it handles interchanges with the commuter rail, and accessibility information, and the general sense that if a Boards of Canada song were a transit map, this is what it would look like.

Boston, meanwhile…I’m pretty sure most people outside of Boston just think Cam’s redesign is the official map, because it honestly might as well be. And that, in and of itself, is quite telling. Winner: Montreal

A Good Alternate Map

Speaking of maps Cam redesigned, we’re all familiar with the one he did of Montreal that was his Twitter header for the longest time, the one that strikes a perfect balance between the refined aspects of the new map and the unique aspects of the old map.

Green Line Match 4: Hong Kong v. Budapest

I’ll be honest here, both of these maps are pretty equally matched, but there’s one particular aspect of the HK MTR map that’s worth singling out here. The Beijing and Hong Kong maps use similar design languages. The route lines have similar thicknesses and the station symbols look very similar. The thing is, Hong Kong knows how to use that particular transit map style well, whereas Beijing doesn’t.

Now, about those little symbols they have in the interchange stations. They’re there to show passengers which station they should change at if they want to go in a particular direction on a particular line, and to be fair they aren’t as insulting as the ones of the Beijing map, but the network is simple enough that I think someone going from, say, Kowloon Tong to Tsuen Wan would know to change at Prince Edward. Those little symbols used to show where a cross-platform interchange was available, and they would be much more useful if they were pressed into that particular service again.

The Budapest map has a snazzy logo for the Metro and HEV and is very well done but is otherwise unremarkable. I wanna see a Cerovic redesign of that sucker. Winner: Hong Kong

A Good Alternate Map

I feel like the idea of a map showing the networks of both Hong Kong and Shenzhen is relatively unexplored, so now that he has a Behance I’m really excited to feature Bernie Ng’s map of both the MTR and the SZ Metro. What’s interesting about this one in particular is how the HK side and the SZ side are just ever so slightly different; different fonts, different colors for the water, a few other small things, so it in its own way reflects the complex relationship between the two cities.

Blue Line Match 4: Singapore v. Santiago

Let’s talk about transit map typefaces for a second. A good transit map typeface will not just play well in different contexts and be legible at a distance, but also encapsulate the city it’s being used in. Most bespoke typefaces do this: there has never been such a quintessentially London typeface as the one used on the tube, for instance. There’s also the elegance of Parisine, the angular art deco of the Toronto subway font, and the solid retrofuturism of the CDMX Metro font. All wonderful.

The LTA Identity Font used on the Singapore MRT is excellent, conveying a very tropical, business-casual atmosphere that suits the city very well.

The Santiago map is very nice too, but it does lack that particular local touch that pushes it over the edge. Winner: Singapore

A Good Alternate Map

Andrew Smithers’ redesign of the Singapore MRT map has gone through several interations but gets better and better each time. I personally (brag time) that I think it’s interesting to consider in conversation with my own Beck-esque redesign of the MRT map, in that using two different design languages result in prioritizing two different things. I valued keeping the lines as straight as possible, where Smithers valued maintaining the integrity of the small Downtown Line loop and making sure the map was as balanced as possible in the city center.

Orange Line Match 4: Paris v. Taipei

I want, so very very badly, to like the Taipei map. The lines are straight, the station numbers are well-integrated to the design, the map is very clean and easy to follow.* We should be good here.

But. I still have serious problems with the way they implemented the station numbering system, switching back to a color-based system for line naming (R Line, BL Line, &c.) that doesn’t translate exceptionally well to something nice and consistent, from a system where the lines were numbered sequentially, that would have worked just fine.

I still do like the Paris map a lot, mostly on the grounds of the distinct typeface and design language, as well as the relatively simple way the map gets tariff information across, even if one gets the impression that Paris had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept even this level of diagrammatic simplification. Winner: Paris

*Usually. I get the sense that the way the Red and Green Lines interact at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall would be confusing to colorblind users.

A Good Alternate Map

Constantine Konovalov’s redesign of the Paris Metro may very well be the best one ever made, because it manages to both introduce some structure to a map that sorely needs it (in the form of the Line 2/6 loop and the T3a/b semicircle) and also use a complicated system on angles without once seeming needlessly chaotic…all while still managing to look unequivocally Parisian. Fantastic.

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Transit Map World Cup Match 3

It is at this point traditional for your author’s laptop to crash right before the thing’s supposed to be written. Grumble grumble. These will be brief.

Red Line Match 3: Chicago v. Los Angeles

How the crap is this match as close as it is? The LA Metro map is simple and clean and has a distinct design language and is in general everything the Chicago ‘L’ map isn’t. The Chicago map doesn’t know if it wants to be geographical or diagrammatic. The Chicago map’s design language is chunky and hideous. The Chicago map has a freaking inset.

I hate insets. They introduce needless confusion and ambiguity to preserve some sense of scale, because when we look at a transit map, we all know that what we’re really worried about is making sure the dense area isn’t blown up too much. God forbid.

I exaggerate. Insets can serve a useful purpose when you have a really complicated bus network and you need to untangle the city center. I get it. But the ‘L’ has only eight lines and is structured very simply. There’s no excuse. Winner: Los Angeles.

A Good Alternate Map

Ever since I saw Her articulate a vision of a dense, car-free Los Angeles (that also made me want to get on a plane and visit Shanghai), I wanted to see a Metro system that could plausibly exist in such a city. Essentially, whenever I look at a map of the LA Metro I always think, there should be more. Much more. Steve Boland’s map of what the system could look like over the next few decades gives us much more.

Green Line Match 3: Stockholm v. Prague

When I posted on Twitter that my laptop conked out, Cam replied with the following:

Do a summary all in emoji on your phone! For example:
🇸🇪: 👍
🇨🇿: 🤢

That…sums it up pretty well, I think. I could talk about the cleanliness of the Stockholm map versus the chaos of the Prague map. I could talk about how I’m a sucker for non-white backgrounds and how Stockholm comes through in spades. I could compare the different ways Stockholm and Prague differentiate between different modes. But nothing I could say encapsulates my thoughts better than that tweet up there.

On the upside, though, since someone else thought of it first that means I can’t go back to that well as a cop-out later on. Winner: Stockholm

A Good Alternate Map

Just because the Prague Metro’s design language is iffy on a proper map doesn’t mean it can’t work well in other contexts. For instance, this strip map, which (well) strips away all the unnecessary bits and gives us something every bit as clean and easy to follow as Stockholm’s, while also working well with the system’s utilitarian yet ludicrously boldfaced wayfinding system (which, in case it wasn’t clear, I love to pieces). This is the Prague Metro design language’s natural habitat.

Blue Line and Orange Line Match 3: Seoul v. Buenos Aires and Tokyo v. Vienna

Hello from Indianapolis. It’s nice here.

Taking the two of these at the same time because I’m writing this half of the post on a friend’s Chromebook and I find non-Apple laptops lard to work on. (Not my friend’s fault, it’s what was available.) He’s letting me commandeer this machine till Saturday, and then it’s a week between then and when I receive my laptop, so after this weekend I’ll be completely dark until the next weekend. It is what it is.

Anyway, I said on Twitter that Buenos Aires and Vienna should both advance because they were competently made whereas Seoul and Tokyo are a hot mess. Tokyo, to be fair, is less of a hot mess than Seoul’s. It’s not eye-searing to look at, and the station numbering system is excellent and makes up for a lot w/r/t its utility as a wayfinding system.

In response, I got a few responses on Twitter implying that Seoul/Tokyo are being judged on an inherently higher standard because their networks are more complicated and have to convey much more information than the other two. I don’t necessarily buy that.

For example, some maps that manage to convey information on a complicated network cleanly and efficiently:

  • The Vignelli Weekender map.
  • The Bullet Map of New York City’s bus and subway networks.
  • The Vianavigo Ile-de-France railway/key bus route map.
  • Pretty much any Jug Cerovic map that covers multiple modes or a dense service area, like his maps for Luxembourg, Utrecht, Takamatsu, Berlin, Osaka, and yes, Seoul and Tokyo.
  • Toei’s map of the Tokyo Subway. No, seriously.

The point is, maps of complex and extensive transit systems can be done well, and having a complex network isn’t an excuse to not at least attempt to make your map comprehensible. Winners: Buenos Aires and Vienna.

Some Good Alternate Maps

See the relevant maps above.

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