A Silver Thread: Washington Metro's New Map

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This past Thursday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority unveiled the new Metrorail map, featuring the first phase of the soon-to-open Silver Line. The map, thankfully, looks very much like the original, only with the Silver Line threaded in between the Orange and Blue Lines, providing a nice contrast and emphasizing that the Silver Line runs on the main East/West core route for much of its run.

Detail of Final Silver Line Map from http://planitmetro.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Final-Map-without-addresses-07-13-600x671.png

While Metro’s map may not be quite as iconic as the London Underground’s map, the relatively clean look of it is unmistakable at a glance. Even video games set in Washington use riffs on the snaking colored lines to conjure up the map without having to get permission to use the real thing, as in Fallout 3.

Fallout 3 Metro Map

Metro brought the original designer, Lance Wyman, back to revise the map, and according to Metro’s blog, PlanItMetro, he and his design team made the following adjustments:

  • Made street abbreviations consistent
  • Improved the geographic accuracy of the stations where possible
  • New icon for stations that are serviced by three rail lines: the traditional station dot with white extenders
  • Made the rail lines 24% thinner to ensure room for the Silver Line
  • Added the Anacostia National Park
  • Added the Metro Transit Police phone number
  • Added a note that the map is not to scale
  • Lightened the Beltway and jurisdiction borders to improve readability

I’m quite pleased with the final result. There’s a high density of information on the map, but it’s not cluttered at all. One perhaps wishes that the station names didn’t overlap the iconography of the monuments, but that’s a small quibble. I look forward to seeing the full-size versions of the new maps on trains and in stations soon.

(Image via PlanItMetro.)

Up and Down in Moscow Town

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I’ve always been something of a transit buff. One of my earliest collecting targets was SEPTA timetables—bus, subway, and trolley, if you please. I live in a city with a good, if, at present, troubled, transit system, and there are cities I want to visit for no other reason than to ride their subway systems. Heck, I would buy a poster-sized version of the Singapore subway system map if I could find one—it’s a brilliant synthesis of information and design.

One city I want to visit primarily for the subway system is Moscow, with its glorious stations and sweeping transit lines. Said trip is not in the cards at present, so I was pleased to visit vicariously via a recent Washington Post article on the escalators of Moscow’s subway system by Will Englund (“In Moscow, escalators to carry the city,” December 14, 2010):

There are 643 of them in the Moscow Metro. This is a system, like Washington’s, with deep, deep stations, but, unlike in Washington, passengers here are rarely left to hoof it on their own up or down immobilized stairways. It wouldn’t work, because people don’t walk fast enough. At rush hours fully loaded trains run on 90-second intervals; it’s up to the escalators to get the passengers delivered, but just as important, to whisk them away again before they start bunching up and spilling off the platforms and onto the tracks.

Escadas rolantes intermináveis do metrô em Moscou on flickr.com by swperman via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike License

The contrast between the subways in these two national capitals could hardly be more striking, as Washington’s Metro has grown notorious for escalator failures. I’ve walked the significant length of a stationary Tenleytown station escalator more than once, in both directions, and that was fifteen years ago. I do empathize with the difficulties facing my local system, though. Tight budgets and an overall infrastructure requiring constant maintenance due to its age (now almost thirty-five years old in the original Red Line corridor) stretch the escalator crews to their limits. Covering the exposed street-to-station escalators was a fine first step.

Washington has a great transit system, and as a resident and a transit fan, I can only hope that they figure out how to fund infrastructure repairs to get more robust escalators in place while simultaneously funding subway expansion. I can’t ride the trains if I can’t reach them.

(Image courtesy of swperman via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike License.)

Station to Station: Bergen to Oslo on Film

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This, then, is the brilliance of publicly-funded television: Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) produced a documentary of the train ride from Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, to Oslo (original, non-translated link), to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Bergensbanen. But rather than an overview of the route, they showed the whole thing — the entire seven plus hour journey.

Bergensbanen on flickr.com by abbilder via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License

This, too, then, is the brilliance of publicly-funded television: more than a million Norwegians watched it.

Or maybe this, then, is the brilliance of publicly-funded television: NRK has released the footage they took from the front of the train to the public under a Creative Commons license.

Now we want to give the material to our viewers, the whole thing, for download.

The documentary had picture-in-picture clips with videos about Bergensbanen, a reporter interviewing people on the train, music and two cameras pointing to the sides of the train. Because of rights, we had to remove the music and many videoclips, so we decided to make a clean frontcamera version for this download.

The footage is a real gift and an example of a public institution serving the public.

(Via Boing Boing, via Espen Andersen)

(Image courtesy of abbilder via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License.)

Sign Me Up: Washington Metro's Sign Shop

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The soul, if you will, of a subway system is in its signage. From the clean lines of the London Underground and its Johnston typeface through the mish-mash of typefaces and styles in New York City’s transit system, signs do more than direct passengers. Subway signs tell a story about the aspirations and history of the system.

Be Smart: Ride Metro by wheelo541 on flickr.com, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license

Today’s Washington Post story by James Hohmann, (“Metro’s Sign Shop Points Riders in the Right Way“, Tuesday, August 25, 2009) details the efforts of the people responsible for keeping the Washington Metro‘s signs updated and functional:

The sign shop provides a glimpse into the aging system that Metro is struggling to maintain 33 years after it opened. The transit system has about 127,000 signs, which need to be repaired or replaced when they become outdated, vandalized or broken. Or when someone asks for them.

“Every time a new initiative comes down the pike, that number is growing,” said sign shop project manager Paul Kram. “We don’t make policy. We make signs.”

Metro’s signs are just as memorable as the station architecture; while perhaps not as grandiose as the vaulting arches of Metro Center, the signage is distinct and legible, even when the station names grow to unwieldy lengths to satisfy various community constituencies (U St/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo might be an accurate description of the stop, but it’s about six words too long for a station name).

Of note is the trend towards electronic signs, with their limited capacity for stylish typefaces. One hopes that technology will improve sufficiently that we aren’t forced to suffer design limited by the lowest-common denominator of the LCD . . .

(Image courtesy of wheelo541 via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license.)

Read at Speed: European Traffic Sign Typography

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Ralf Herrmann’s Typography Weblog has been running an occasional series of articles on the typefaces used in European traffic signs.

Sign Yard 04 by mrjorgen, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License

Traffic sign typefaces need to be legible under varying light conditions, from different distances, and at speed, a different set of usability standards from typefaces designed to be read on paper or a screen eighteen inches away in artifical light. As Ralf Herrmann notes in his recent article about French traffic signs:

The design of L1 and L2 are neither very good nor very bad. It’s a typical semi-geometric design similar to the traffic typefaces used in other European countries. A unique feature are the large counters of P and R. In general it is a good idea to have large counters for a typeface used for traffic signs, but a letter is also recognized by the white-space around it, so they might have overdone it a litte bit.

Blogs like Ralf Herrmann’s Typography Weblog, that aren’t afraid to delve into delightful arcana, make me smile. While I’m as guilty as the next person of putting up quick, referential posts (like the one you’re currently reading!), detailed articles that scoff at artificial word count limits are the real gems of the Internet.

(Image courtesy of mrjorgen, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License.)