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.

Posted in wctransitmaps | 2 Comments

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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Transit Map World Cup Match 2

Welp, three days in and the laptop conked out briefly and some of our picks lost. I’ll formally update my bracket once the Round of 32 is complete.

Red Line Match 2: Beijing v. Toronto

I am genuinely surprised that Beijing wiped the floor with Toronto yesterday.

The good news is that both maps are comprehensible and can be used to navigate their respective networks without too much trouble, but that can be mostly chalked up to the simplicity of the Toronto subway (two lines of nontrivial length) and the neat orderly grid of the Beijing subway.

Now: the Toronto map generally looks like more thought has been put into which design language to use and how its different elements are put together…with one big exception: the station labels. Having them alternate sides when the route line is horizontal is perfectly fine. Having them alternate sides when the route line is diagonal or vertical is not. It quite simply is too much work for the eyes to dart back and forth to figure out how the stations are arranged. Furthermore, this wasn’t an issue south of Line 2, where the two arms of the Line 1 “U” are so close together that the station labels all have to be on one side, so why is this suddenly an issue north of Line 2? The station spacing is the same on either side, what gives?

Despite this, the Beijing subway map does two things that sink it compared to Toronto’s. The first is the font. I hate Arial with a burning fiery passion. Hate it. Hate hate hate hate it. It’s the Helvetica for people who don’t want to spring for Helvetica, and its success mode is “cheap storefront” or “internal office document,” neither of which are appropriate for, you know, the rapid transit system of a major world city. You may say it’s the English localization, and you’re partially right, the Chinese version of the map isn’t quite so horrible, but they use Arial in the signage as well, so that excuse only gets you so far.

The second thing is that interchange symbol. Those little arrows are so condescending. I think people who use the subway know exactly how to change lines within it, my dude. Winner: Toronto.

A Good Alternate Map

I can’t find an updated version of it anywhere, but lighthunter’s MetroMan Beijing map is stylish and beautiful, and the interchange symbols don’t insult my intelligence.

Continue reading

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Transit Map World Cup Match 1


Because this is a serious blog, this will be a serious post. I’m participating in the Transit Map World Cup! Here’s my bracket:


I will blog about my thoughts on each map as we go, and hopefully feature some alternate maps—historical, fan-made, both—that are worth showcasing. Let’s begin.

Continue reading

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A Slightly Better Spoorkaart


The majestic purple mountains of Noord-Holland.

  • I was in the Netherlands in December, and had a very good time. People rightfully rhapsodize about the country’s bicycle- and pedestrian-friendliness and well-developed rail transport network. However, the country’s official railway map does that annoying thing where it’s less a useful guide for going from Point A to Point B and more of a brag about how extensive the network is.
  • In addition, the country doesn’t number its railway services, instead identifying them by final destination, which can be an adventure when that’s what your station isn’t. What I’m saying is I got on the wrong train from the airport and had to use the Metro to backtrack, which was fun.
  • There is an unofficial Spoorkaart for 2018, which is generally quite good, albeit somewhat disorganized. I saw quite a few places where they had to squash and stretch the route lines so it could fit in their finite canvas. So basically my main goal here was straightening out and organizing the Spoorkaart a bit more.
  • I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a map where the railways around Amsterdam are shown as a square.
  • I threw in a line numbering system, because the Dutch railway network sorely needs one.
  • Also included are the rapid transit systems in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, and Utrecht, because with the Rotterdam Metro taking over the Hoek van Holland Line and offering an alternate service between Rotterdam and the Hague, it seemed necessary.
Posted in amsterdam, maps, rotterdam, the hague, Uncategorized, utrecht | 4 Comments

Repeating Myself

The logic goes something like this:

  • I say “my YIMBYism will center renters or it will be BS” because renters, esp in cities w/ severe housing crises, are precarious. Some moreso than others, but I believe this statement is generally true.
  • Centering renters requires, y’know, actually listening to renters. Here and here are examples of what that’s like in practice.
  • Actually listening to renters then requires seriously engaging with rent control.
  • And seriously engaging with rent control requires realizing that the precarious renter in Boyle Heights worried about being forced from their home has a wildly different set of concerns than the posh Beverly Hills jerk who doesn’t want the subway rolling through their neighborhood because they think the disgusting plebeians would lower their property values. One’s worried about an existential threat to their livelihood. Another’s worried about their investments.
  • Those two people’s concerns are sufficiently different that describing both as NIMBYs stretches the definition to the point where it loses all meaning.
  • The Surly Urbanist articulated the problem with this quite clearly: “If you assume anyone who may challenge a pro-Development agenda is a NIMBY and unreachable then you’ve cut off most renters in the country.
  • Regardless of its political expediency, any YIMBYism that writes off most renters in the country by definition does not account for a very precarious segment of a city’s population…which sort of deflates the idea of those YIMBYisms advocating for “everyone.”
  • Or: unless those YIMBYisms openly center developers and landlords over renters, they’re BS. And then they’re a different kind of BS.

Further thoughts in no particular order:

  • To renters, blanketly opposing rent control is a big flashing light that says “I Don’t Care About You Or Your Concerns,” or, “I, Who Does Not Live In Your City And/Or By Occupation Or Family History Is Less Precarious Than You, Think I Know What You Need Better Than You.”
  • It’s on you as the YIMBY to build bridges with renters, not the other way around.
  • Blaming rent stabilization efforts for the scummy actions of landlords makes you sound like a playground bully going “stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself.”
  • Considering how much housing they’re [not] building in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I don’t ever expect to make the money I’d need to live in either of those places, with or without rent control. And when most of the housing that is being built there is out of my price range, the signal I get loud and clear is “This City Is Not For You.” So my focus w/r/t rent control automatically shifts to the effects it has on existing renters b/c (once again) it’ll never affect me personally because I’ll never be able to move there.
  • Quite frankly, if you dismiss renter concerns as part of your YIMBYism, what is the point of you?
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Thirty Things Make A Post That Has Nothing To Do With Maps

Fifteen Unpopular Opinions

  1. Examples of The Trains Running On Time should come from Switzerland instead of Japan.
  2. Moana is just okay, and is the kind of movie we’ll regard as howlingly racist in twenty years’ time.
  3. European urbanism is overrated, East Asian urbanism is underrated. Not for nothing were the foremost postwar documentarians of urban/suburban alienation and isolation English and French. (Exceptions: Swiss urbanism is excellent, Singaporean urbanism is terrible.)
  4. The Venn diagram of “men with blue Twitter ticks” and “men who are creepy toward women” is a small-ish circle that has been almost completely absorbed by a much, much larger circle.
  5. Anything built in Japan prior to ~1990 > Los Angeles dingbats > Identikit Hong Kong housing blocks >>>>>>> North American Gentrification Moderne condo towers. I legitimately don’t understand people who think Japanese architecture is ugly.
  6. “Problematic” is only an appropriate adjective when the Bad Thing is about as severe as telling an off-color joke.
  7. Alon Levy’s proposal of mandatory genderqueer conversion therapy for cis people, only 100% sincerely.
  8. Although the impulse is understandable, it’s uncool to cheer when a Bad Thing happens to a Bad Person when (a) the Bad Thing is unrelated to the reason the person is Bad, and/or (b) the Bad Thing will adversely affect Non-Bad People.
  9. The question of whether asexuals can call them/ourselves “queer” does not have a cleanly-defined answer and is not a question any respectable ace person should be asking until the community forges solid ties with [the rest of] the queer community.
  10. Manhattan and Annie Hall are the film equivalent of those lit fic novels that are incredibly detailed thousand-page ruminations on the author’s junk.
  11. The Anglophone left is an open sewer, yes, but it’s not a unique open sewer. Most internet gaming communities and religious organizations are just as bad or worse. I’ll take Jacobin over Christianity Today any day.
  12. The problem with streetcars is not the mode, but the application. The streetcar in Portland is successful because it actually goes somewhere.
  13. 90% of Mental Health Discourse is crud. 99% of Autism Spectrum Discourse is crud.
  14. My YIMBYism will foreground lower-income tenant/renter concerns and be nuanced about rental markets or it will be BS.
  15. The true unpopular opinions are the ones that you keep to yourself.

Fifteen Things I Love

  1. The fact that you can walk two blocks on more than a few city streets in Hong Kong and suddenly find yourself in the wilderness.
  2. The feeling of spiritual ecstasy that comes from being someplace staggeringly beautiful, like a mountaintop.
  3. Unbelievably complicated national borders, like Baarle-Nassau/Baarle-Hertog.
  4. Visiting a place you’ve seen on film/TV specifically because you’ve seen it on film/TV. Rank and consumerist, yes, but the zillions of people who visited that staircase in Your Name can’t be wrong. Conversely, recognizing a place you visited on film/TV.
  5. Empty highway rest stops in the middle of the night. Especially when it’s foggy.
  6. American colonial architecture, despite, you know, the unequivocal horror that is colonialism.
  7. That Diamond Geezer’s comment section is titled “Please empty your brain below.”
  8. The ten-minute live version of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”
  9. Any music video that (a) unashamedly shows off the city in which it was filmed, and (b) takes a local’s perspective. e.g. Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be,” IAMX’s “The Unified Field,” or DJ Shadow’s “The Sideshow.”
  10. Having a passport.
  11. Streets that were designed from the beginning to prioritize people over cars, and didn’t have to be retrofitted.
  12. When a musician who’s disappeared or been in a rut for several years comes back and makes something brilliant. Think “Blackstar.”
  13. That liminal space between “place” and “no-place” that is the secure area of an airport terminal. Doubly so if you’re there for an international flight.
  14. When a plan comes together.
  15. When a transit map comes together.
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