Friday, May 10, 2013

Urban Growing Pains: DC's Metro Map Struggles with Growing Complexity

Hunter Communications recommended reading from:
The Atlantic: Cities

Link to article:
D.C.'s Elegant Metro Map Suffers from Growing Pains

One of the nation's iconic transit maps, from Washington, DC's Metro system, is struggling with how to adapt elegant simplicity to a growing number of lines and termini.  How do you depict stations with three lines on the same track?  With "whiskers", or maybe "capsules" joining the lines on the map?

Excerpt: "D.C.'s Metrorail system is growing. And so is its map.

The Silver Line, whose first stops will open later this year, will eventually — finally — provide a rail connection between the city and Dulles International Airport, a welcome alternative to one of the metro area's more expensive taxi rides.

But the expansion means the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency's iconic rail map, the latest iterations of which were released this week, is starting to look more crowded than a downtown platform at rush hour. The system has been expanding regularly and with grace since Lance Wyman designed the first map in 1976, but the Silver Line poses a new challenge: three lines running on the same track.

Wyman's design prizes clarity over geographic specificity. With thick, vivid cables for routes, the scheme became a favorite for its simplicity and legibility. But now we're confronted with a hefty, tripartite band winding through downtown. After taking suggestions from riders and readers, WMATA put forth two new concepts (split by the slider across the center), neither of which addresses the issue:


It seems the choice, at this point, is between 'whiskers,' shown on the three-line stations on the left side the map, or 'capsules,' shown on the three-line stations on the right. The coiled, tri-colored snake -- and this represents a reduction in thickness from previous iterations -- looks here to stay.

D.C.'s isn't the first subway map to run three lines in one place. The Berlin U-Bahn map has four lines running together, and London easily manages three. The difference is that those maps have much thinner lines, which makes a multi-line-combo more graphically palatable."

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