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Ed Sanderson

Some things are difficult to scale up. While the Spokane map is easily read and understood, the Portland map is decidedly not. I invite you and your readers to try to add color-coded bus routes with frequencies to the Chicago metro bus system. As a "easy" starter, here's a link to the downtown detailed map (estimated area: 2 miles by 2 miles)


And here's one for the entire area:


I read here (I think) a comment from a visitor who didn't understand why every bus stop didn't include a system map.

Well, really Blanche...

Beta Magellan

Actually, I’d say downtown Chicago’s much more difficult due to the amount of interlining, prevalence of two-way pairs and short-haul circulators. Start with the city as a whole and then have a downtown detail.

Ed Sanderson

Sorry, operator error, the first link should have been.


Joe Clark

No, the solution is to use colour combinations proven to work with colour-deficient and -normal subjects. Cindy Brewer put a lot of research into such combinations, which have been published and available for ten years.

Colour deficiency is not monochromatic vision. Confusion between red and green (often limited to colours of equal intensity) accounts for most of the problem, along with confusion among shades related to red and green (pink, beige, etc.).

B&W photocopiers are a good reason to make a map legible in monochrome, but please do your research before reiterating folk misunderstandings of colour deficiency.


It is very important to remember that a key to the Spokane map's ability to use different line widths and to combine lines on shared segments is that it is a schematic diagram map. Portland unfortunately uses a geographic map, which limits the ability to use line weights effectively.

I have red/green colorblindness, so I am very sensitive to color choice on maps. Certain shades of red and green look the same to me, so it is very annoying when an agency like TriMet chooses to have a Red and Green Line go through the same area. Blue and Purple are also very hard to distinguish, although this is not as much of a problem since purple is rarely used. About 8% of men and 0.5% of women have some degree of colorblindness, so it is important to keep this in mind.


@Joe. Maps that are clear in monochrome are one way to address colorblindness while also addressing other problems of reproduction. I never said or implied that they are the only solution for colorblindness, and approvingly quoted someone saying the opposite.

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Zef.  If you compare the Spokane map with Google Earth, I think you'll find that despite the schematic look it's geographically pretty accurate.  It helps, of course, that the geography is simpler.  In a more crowded city you'd need different notations where many lines crowd together -- typically you allow the less frequent lines to disappear under the frequent ones, or greatly reduce their width. 

Steve Lax

A question: Has anyone tried to quantify to what extent a great map helps a system's ridership to grow?

(There are obviously many factors that impact system ridership. I don't even know if it is possible to isolate something like a map in the dynamic environment that is transit usage.)


As an avid traveller and public transit user who happens to be moderately colourblind, it's great to see maps that don't rely on various shades of red/green/brown/orange or blue/purple/violet, etc. You can imagine what it's like as a tourist trying to read a busmap in a hurry... There are examples of problems with visual communication everywhere of course - I can only barely work out which is the emergency button and which is the information button on my station platform, cos they don't bother to use icons or words, just red and green paint.

In reference to Steve Lax's comment about ridership growth, perhaps two strengths of a highly readable map would be the potential uptake among new residents in an area, and perhaps the number of casual trips taken by infrequent transit users (e.g. "my car's at the garage, how do I get to meet my friends for lunch?").

Matt Johnson

The thing I like most about Spokane's map is that when routes overlap, they keep their individual identity, despite being the same color.

Many transit system maps are just very complex games of "connect the route bullets". WMATA (Washington DC)'s map is particularly egregious.

Up until a few years ago, each route family was shown with one of about 10 colors. Sometimes line families of the same color would overlap, but by and large it was easy to tell that the 50's Line turned here, and the 70s Line went straight.

About 2 years ago, though, the transit system made a decision I still don't understand; one that makes their bus map one of the most difficult to understand I've ever seen.

First off, the Metrobus network can only be seen in its entirety using THREE maps. There's a DC Map, a Maryland Map, and a Virginia Map.

But the difficult thing is the change. Now all routes that exclusively operate in DC have one color (red). Routes that operate exclusively in Maryland have another color (light blue). Routes that operate exclusively in Virginia have another color (purple). Routes that operate in DC & Maryland are green, while routes that operate in DC and Virginia are orange.

The result of this is an urban map that is mostly red lines. And to figure out whether the bus runs down your street, you have to find two adjacent route bullets and hope there's only one red line that connects them. Some neighborhoods are particularly bad, notably Mount Pleasant.

And how, exactly does the 50s Line differ from the 70s Line? In terms of service, not by much. They're both arterial bus services on north-south arterials in the Northwest Quadrant. How do they differ on the map?

Well, the 50s Line is red because it operates exclusively in DC. Of course, the northern end of the 50s Line is at Takoma Station, which is only 1 block from the Maryland state line.

The 70s Line, on the other hand, operates to Silver Spring station, which is less than a half-mile inside Maryland, so it's green.

David Alpert wrote about this when the change happened: http://ggwash.org/4044

Chris Kay

Translink in Vancouver is long overdue for an updated route map. All the routes are the same color and appearance, with numbers haphazardly scattered about. It took me months to make sense of my local network:



I guess given it's size the TTC in Toronto opted for different line types rather than line weights for surface routes (bus/streetcar). Essentially the more filled in the line the more frequent the service. Dotted lines for rush hour service, dashed lines for not-as-frequent or limited service hours (usually no service after 8 or 9PM) and solid lines for frequent service all day. There's even a variant for express/transit ROW routes which uses a string of diamonds (which doesn't really show on the .pdf) along the thinking of HOV lanes. All of which works in monochrome.

The route bullets are spaced apart enough to tell where the routes are going. Thankfully most routes are pretty straightforward. The bullets also indicate direction of travel, branches, express service and there are also bullets for terminus points not at a subway/train station.

The map also attempts to show neighbouring transit agencies, which for the most part are included in the regional transit pass. (The maps cuts just short of where an external agency can be seen and the limits have been the same since the pass was first implemented in the early 1990's.) Each agency gets its own colour. Although trying to fit their routes into the TTC's categories can prove to be a little complicated since they all don't follow the same criteria.

The map gets a little cluttered around the edges trying to show all the subway and inter-agency connection points. The latter could easily be placed in a corner and a grid reference used instead.



Well, this is very good, but what about additional choices we’ve got here? Would you mind publishing one more article about them too? Thanks!

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