Google is getting us all used to the idea of automatically generated maps, which sacrifice many opportunities for clarity and beauty in order to be instantly available and automatically up-to-date. But Anton Dubrau, who writes the intelligent Montréal transit blog Catbus, asks:
I guess there is this general question whether frequent network maps should be automatically generated, or made by hand. Which is probably related to the question whether they should be abstract and compact, or geographically accurate. Or whether they should be published today, or ... later. It took me more than a solid week to make a map of Montréal's network by hand.
He certainly did, and it's a beauty. But you'll have to go to his post to see the thing full-size, and to see how it compares to the transit agency's map and a street-map overlay. It's a great piece of work.
There's no question that the most beautiful network maps will continue to be those made by hand, with great care and thought, by people who know the city. I'd like to say "most useful" as well, but that will be true only as long as they can be kept up to date.
Of course, it wasn't that long ago that "by hand" meant with paper and ink, as opposed to on a computer. Perhaps "by eye" is a better term for this kind of work, which rests on seeing not just the literal geography of the city, which is easy to automate, but also its structure and character, which still appear only to the talented local eye.