Some Suggestions for Better Network Maps

I’d planned to write a post on Melbourne network maps a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t quite get around to it. I’d actually been thinking seriously about the issue for a few months prior, ever since a friend lent me Maxwell J. Roberts’ great book Underground Maps After Beck, which documents the history of network maps of the London Underground.

What amazed me about the book – aside from the detail in which the maps are reproduced and discussed – was how harsh Roberts was on Harold Hutchison’s attempts at map drawing. Now there’s no doubt that Hutchison’s maps were a big step backwards, that Beck’s removal was particularly mean-spirited and unnecessary and that London Transport made a general mess of the affair; but even Hutchison’s much maligned map is better than Melbourne’s maps today. What criticism would Roberts have for them?

In this post, I’m going to look at what I believe a good network map should convey, Melbourne’s recent experiences and finally some alternative designs.

What do we want in a network map?

Ideally, a network map should be simple and easy to read, yet convey important information about the network to an even infrequent user and be part of an integrated scheme to make the system highly navigable. If possible, the map should be readily recognisable and aesthetically pleasing, acting as an advertisement as well as a just a map (just as London’s does) – but I’d stress that this is difficult to achieve and may take decades to occur (just as it did in London).

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Melbourne rail map should look just like the London Underground map, (the latter is much more complex), but we need to be mindful of what we’re aiming for in a map and base designs on the benchmarks I mentioned above. I’m not convinced this has happened in Melbourne.

Melbourne’s experience with network maps

Over the decades and various changes of management, Melbourne’s train and tram systems have had a variety of train and tram maps. None that I’ve seen have been particularly revolutionary. But when we look at the past quarter of a century or so – it’s clear that we’ve seen basically one predominant train map style (with the exception of the privatised pre Metlink mess and some of the early loop maps) and two main tram map styles (with the aforementioned early privatisation caveat). Below you can see the 1994 and current rail maps (note that that only real change between the 1994 map and those from the mid 80s was the change of zone system) and 1981, 1994 and current tram maps.

Melbourne’s train maps have primarily shown zone structure at the expense of other features, like individual lines. While I’d argue that this almost the least important thing to show on a two zone multimodal system, at least there’s the excuse that the rail network is reasonably simple and hasn’t cried out for line by line colour coding. But with Werribee being taken out of the loop (albeit only during peak) and Eddington’s rail tunnel perhaps occurring (although I’d be surprised if it actually went ahead), this excuse is no longer going to hold.

Melbourne’s current tram network doesn’t have any such excuses. It’s complex (more than many metros) and is basically all in zone 1, so there’s really no reason to colour lines based on zones rather than where they are going. Worse still, the Met was making a much less confusing map back in the 90s. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it acknowledged that the tram network was complex and prioritised showing where the lines went rather than what zone they were. That’s an efficient choice to make when a map can’t show every piece of relevant information – it simply has to be prioritised.

This ought not reflect poorly on the designers of the map, they were probably just given a brief to integrate it better with other public transport as part of the Metlink programme, and how they showed zones probably wasn’t something they had control over. But if we want to show zones on a network map, we should do it the way the London Underground Map does – as part of the background.

Alternative designs

In many ways, Beck’s guiding principles should be instructive for Melbourne. Roberts summarises Beck’s design principles thus:
– Only horizontal, vertical and 45-degree lines are used.
– The centre of the map is enlarged but at the expense of the suburbs.
– A distinctive interchange symbol is used.
– Street details are not shown.
– Stations are denoted by tickmarks.
– Lines are denoted by distinctive colours.

Whilst I don’t think these ideas should necessarily be taken as gospel, they may provide some insights. My recent train and tram network maps incorporate some elements of this overarching design (although the tram map much less so). They aren’t by any means perfect, but hopefully they illustrate my point about navigability and ease of reading.

I’ve also been thinking about mapping based on service standard rather than mode, and Australian Rail Maps has a very well done Beck like rendition of Melbourne’s trains and trams on the same map. But in many ways, mode has come to say so much about service standard in Melbourne (trams = slow but frequent, trains = less frequent but faster and longer distance, buses = rubbish) that it would be hard to do differently. If I had my way and the outer reaches of routes 75 and 86 became heavier light rail, perhaps they should be shown on the rail map too – but there’s many questions about how that should be done and I don’t really have the answers. Furthermore, I don’t have any answers about how to go about a decent bus network map – I’d be interested to hear ideas on this one.

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46 Responses

  1. the excellent book “transit maps of the world” by mark ovenden has commentary on map design for hundreds of maps. well worth reading – i know readings has it.
    what about the metlink local area maps? they show all train tram and bus in a local government area generally with very high accuracy. most trips are local so this works for most people most of the time. they’re on the website – here’s an example http://www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au/location/view/21
    interested to hear your thoughts on these
    dan

  2. Dan, thanks for the tip, I’ll have to have a look for Transit Maps of the World next time I’m at readings – I love those sort of books!

    I admit I didn’t know the Metlink local area maps had been updated – colour coding the buses has made a big difference to readability and hats off to them for doing it. For comparison, have a look at the Banyule map, it’s not updated had the bus lines are all orange – very hard to read.

    Whether they work for most people most of the time is more contentious perhaps – I don’t use them and nor do any of my friends that I know of – from what I’ve seen people seem to like them for the bike tracks.

    Moreover, I’m not so sure that most public transport traffic is local – rail tends to be line haul commuter (with some local traffic) and trams and buses are more local – but buses get virtually zero choice passengers. Melbourne public transport discourages local travel through high average wait times (with the exception of trams and peak hour rail) and a two zone system (which makes local trips very expensive). If you look at the Transport Demand Information Atlas (http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/DOI/Internet/Home.nsf/AllDocs/E59735482CA207B3CA2573E900062731?OpenDocument)
    it shows that public transport gets a much higher share of CBD commuting than it does local commuting in many municipalities.

    Furthermore, colourcoding bus routes but not tram routes seems a strange choice. Looking at the Boroondara map , the tram routes are still hard to read – which is especially problematic given that trams are used far more than buses here (150-160m vs 90m passengers per year off the top of my head). Perhaps the trams could be colour coded but with a thicker line?

    So to answer your question – multimodal area maps are really a very good idea (and it’s good to see them being improved), but I think they should complement, rather than replace a good set of train and tram network maps. Getting these maps right is still very important.

    cheers,
    Phin

  3. Phin, again an excellent topic you’ve chosen.

    I agree with your general principles.

    Applying them (and I remember some earlier maps that did)

    -the City Loop would be larger (although this might imply the City Loop can be used for point-to-point t-u-a-g journeys, but until the reversing stops, it can’t. Somewhat improved at the end of this year with Werribees out and Clifton Hills not reversing)

    -Plenty of space is shown to depict key points like Richmond, Camberwell, Newport and so on

    -the zonal issue could be dealt with more simply now there are only two of them – say a grey background against zone 2 and white for zone 1, but the line colours stay the same (ie different from each other, but same along the line)

    –places like Officer and Beaconsfield would be bunched close together at the edge of the map with no attempt to provide literal spacing

    -and my proposed shuttles could be different colours and names (ie the Camberwell-Alamein line, not implying that the Alamein line includes the stops between Camberwell and City as is ambiguously implied now)

    Some countries will even paint the metro trains the ‘line colour’ so that a casual or non-user at an interchange will know exactly which is which. We can’t even keep our Hillside and Bayside Comengs separate!

    OT, but this ‘flexibility’ has prevented some very rational policies, like through running Sandy to Willy or Werribee without the loop, which if it had dedicated stock faces no significant grades, and is practically flat the whole way – could use more trailer cars and less motor cars. While a Belgrave via Loop service has to confront significant grades at UG, Heathmont, Heatherdale, Hawthorn and the loop -decicated stock would be more motor and less trailer.

    This, and the navigability issue, has been ‘sold out’ to cover ‘flexibility’ which is really a cover for ‘we can’t manage the system reliably, so we don’t try’

  4. re multimodal maps- I will come from left field and suggest something quite different

    -I don’t believe in long haul buses, except for those places where a train should be, but isn’t, so buses are doing the job like DOncaster or whatever

    hence I’d like to see

    “The Epping Line, with seamless t-u-a-g link to S Morang and Aurora” which would be depicted as the old VR ones were, a rail line with what looks like a rail line but isn’t shown connecting, the same way a rail connection would, with interchange symbol and everything. The implication is the t-u-a-g or pulse timetabled passenger can get the same service from rubber tyres that they would have got from flanged wheels if there were any

    Most of these long haul buses around the suburbs shouldn’t be, and if they were short haul, you would do them the same way as above. Eg Chirnside Park from Mooroolbark would just be another ‘spur’ on the map.

    Also in my system very few buses would need to cross the zone boundary, and some would be like Huntingdale-Monash – a zone 1 extension into zone 2 to preserve the line-haul nature of the system. You certainly wouldn’;t do oakleigh to olinda type nonsense in mine.

    Re trams, no sure what to do. First you would have to get rid of the inaccurate terminus names and the confusing ones. What the hell is East PReston and West Preston and west Coburg and East Coburg and so on -not very helpful to the casual user, and some aren’t very accurate. They persist with the Bundoora name even as they kept extending that line north.

    And if the tram goes to Airport West shopping Centre, then say so, don’t call it something else. People will understand that.

    The ultimate system for passenger information display, which would work in a reliable system but maybe not Melpourne, would be an indicator that says “a rail vehicle is about to leave for Lilydale from this station, and provides seamless journeys within 30 minutes to East Kew, Doncaster, Blackburn North, Mitcham North, and within 45 minutes to North Ringwood, North Croydon, Chirnside Park and within one hour to Coldstream.”

    This would actually be shown diagramatically on the PID – possibly like an Echidna’s tail or something with the time isoquants marked.

  5. Thanks Riccardo, you raise some very good points.

    – It would be nice to have the loop larger, but need to balance it against making it look like a viable inner city metro when it’s not much good for anything except commuter traffic at present. I fully agree that people won’t trust if for intra-CBD trips until it becomes ultra-simple – either unidirectional (2 clockwise, 2 anti-clockwise) or made into a through line as I proposed recently. I think the former has a much higher chance of actually occurring, so maybe that’s what we have to work with.

    – Agree re zones, just put them on the background as the Underground does. Even if we go back to having more zones (something I should look at in more detail), they can still be accommodated without much trouble.

    – Agree that station spacing should only be changed where it is needed in the inner city to properly show interchange points etc. No need to have geographically accurate station spacing.

    – Making shuttles a different colour from the main line is very sensible. If there aren’t enough colours – just make all the shuttles dark grey or something, as long as it clearly shows where the lines are going.

    – Spot on re. destinations – name lines and termini to show where they actually go and what their purpose is, so people looking at the map don’t assume that they can get a single seat journey from say Hartwell or WIlliamstown Beach to the city during the day.

    – Separating stock by line and even painting it different colours is something that needs more consideration. While the flexibility of running any train anywhere has some benefits, it precludes a lot of efficiencies (like using different types of stock on lines with different grades, as you mention). I’m inclined to think the benefits of ‘flexibility’ are often outweighed by the costs, assuming there’s an interest in running lines efficiently. Painting trains the colour of the line they run on has a lot of merit and is something I’ve been thinking about a bit recently. I’m in two minds whether it’s more important than system branding (not operator branding). The broader branding issue is one I should look into more on the blog.

    – Re. buses, I’d get the axe into most of the routes in Melbourne, consolidating them into a much smaller number of high frequency main road services that feed into the train and tram system. Putting feeder bus routes onto the rail (or tram) network map is something I’d support – perhaps a service like the South Morang bus could be the same colour as the Epping line, but the line on the map may be smaller or something. Alternatively, perhaps buses and trams could be consolidated onto the same map if they provide the same service standard.

    – I really like your idea for the ultimate passenger information display, but it also reinforces the point that a network map is only as good as the network it represents. Unreliable networks won’t get better from having better maps.

    cheers
    Phin

  6. Phin just a couple of comments on your own map

    -I prefer you approach of rounding the corners to the jerky look that current met map has

    -I like the colours, it is a good overall look like o/s metros and very confident look

    -Lines need names or numbers – french have to do numbers for metro because the terminus names are ridiculously long and then have to be paired to describe the line eg Porte de Clignancourt– Porte d’Orléans

    We could go for names – I love in Sydney where they have names like Illawarra, North Shore and Cumberland

    If Melbourne had some natural area names – eg the Willy-Sandy line becomes the Bayside line – the Dandenong -Werribee line would be the ????

  7. http://www.doi.vic.gov.au/DOI/Internet/transport.nsf/AllDocs/2ABFB29C2DFCCA2FCA25747300065ED4?OpenDocument

    Very pleased about above, they are starting to see the merits of harmonised bus and train freqs, using the term ‘service standard’ in the way I have consistently suggested rather than to mean ‘performance target’ which you see when they are being sloppy, also getting rid of bus variations (eg unpredictable diversions) and running them till 9pm (should be midnight, ubt its a start)

  8. Sorry just checked your map again – it is GWY-Werribee, not Dandy-Werribee.

  9. Sorry to hijack again – here’s a wikipedia article on RER Line A

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RER_A

    Interesting that because there is an insistance on same-seat journeys, therefore the branches only get 20 minute service in off-peak. Also of interest is that at peak time there is 2 minute frequency on the trunk (therefore 6 minute frequency on the branches?)

    The branch with 10 minute off-peak frequency might be regarded as turn-up-and-go at a pinch – thoughts?

    Just got me thinking about Belgrave/Lilydale and Sunbury/Melton

  10. Phin: Interesting post. I won’t reply in detail except to bring your attention to an interesting recent multimode map inside the Met Shop (poor quality picture on blog).

    Riccardo: They are starting to ‘get it’ in relation to harmonised service frequencies, hours, directness and service standards, at least in theory. I too am gratified – this has been something hammered almost to the point of obsession in various bus submissions. Practice so far varies.

  11. Phin: Can’t help agreeing about the train map indicating zones more than service patterns. The new-style bus maps have moved to background zoning, so maybe the train and tram maps can as well.

    Also despite my earlier promise not to, I’m about to spin off into a rant that gets away from mapping as such, but may explain some of the biases we still see in them today.

    Your post reminded me of a particular characteristic of public transport information here; we give much more weight to the ‘fares’ aspect than the ‘service’ aspect. For example our ‘Fares & Travel Guide’ covers ‘fares’ more than ‘travel’, there is relatively light detail given to service standards (spans are covered but not rough frequencies and buses are hardly mentioned).

    My guess is that this is due to traditions regarding who does what. Victoria has had strong and more active management of fares policy since at least the early 1980s through to the present day.

    Matters such as such as service planning and passenger information played second fiddle for a long time. The break-up of the Met and franchising only increased this disparity as fares remained largely intact (apart from silly single-operator ticketing experiments) and strengthened in relative terms.

    Metlink was a step to more strongly managed passenger information after the failure of fragmentation. And the bus reviews represent the most serious attempt at nework planning for years.

    So hopefully this way of thinking will cause passenger information (eg maps) to be presented in a more balanced format. It should both help customers plan the trip they want to make today while open their mind to trips that they could make tomorrow (not before thought possible).

    Unlike Adelaide and its Go Zones, we haven’t yet fully exploited the marketing benefits of good passenger info and I think this has great potential.

  12. Yes, excelent topic. Harry Beck is one of my heros. What more can I say, most of what I was thinking while reading your blog has been touched on. Particularly colour coding lines and putting zonal information in the background, just like the London Underground (bus tram, DLR and Overground as well….). I do have some thoughts though.

    In Melbourne I think the earlier tram maps got it right, each route was colour coded depending on which CBD street it travelled down, and the two cross suburban routes were shown in a contrasting colour to surrounding routes. To me this made sense (even as a 6 year old reading the Melway in the back of the car).

    Even the post privatisation tram maps were generally good, with all CBD east-west routes one colour for one company and all CBD north-south routes another colour for the other company. Now it’s a yellow mess with a bit of blue around the edges

    With regard to multi modal maps, I can recall that in the 90s that trains carried CBD maps that depicted the CBD grid with major landmarks, and all tram and bus (I think) routes within, as well as the city loop overlaid on top. With the split up and privatisation that level of information is no longer generally available except in tourist maps and obscure things like city saver leaflets.

    In my opinion the dumbest thing ever was the Connex map that omited the rest of the suburban train network. Well done, never mind people who were travelling anywhere other than Glen Waverley to the City. I thought the way that the M>Train map handled zone information was interesting too. The lines themselves were colour coded (all connex lines were the same colour), but the shade got “heavier” moving inwards depending on the zone. I thought this was confusing and ended up using too many similar colours. The legend had to show all the lines plus each zone iteration, which was if anything a waste of space and too much information to decipher quickly. If only they had gone for the background zone shading instead.

  13. And remember when Hillside had Flemington racecourse shown, because for some crazy reason that line had been assigned to them!

  14. Thanks Riccardo, Peter and Ben.

    Sorry I can’t reply in detail to the issues raised – but I have to be at the airport in an hour and haven’t finished packing !!!

    So, just quickly – agree Riccardo, I’d love to see some nice evocative names for Melbourne lines and I think London does it the best of anywhere I’ve seen, with great names like District, Bakerloo etc.

    Peter – very insightful remarks re. the development of integrated ticketing vs integrated service planning in Melbourne. Also thanks for uploading the images to your blog.

    Ben, agree the current tram map was a step backwards. Also, I remember those connex maps – just insane!!!

    cheers,
    Phin

  15. What do you think of this attempt of a combined train/tram map for Melbourne, obviously inspired by the Beck Map?

  16. This is what I think you mean
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/28341354@N05/2648235728/
    Just some quick, crude Photoshopping.

    Riccardo, certainly Cran/Pak to Craigieburn is the Bogan Belt Line. Who needs evocative when you can have the truth.

    Calembeena

  17. Any PT map needs to show more of how the transport system interacts with the real world. From a user perspective, showing the interactions between the system and the real world is likely to be critical.

    At the end of the journey, users will step out of a station, or out the door of a tram and want to be confident of where they are. This is obviously true for casual users, but in a PT-dominant system, everyone would be a ‘casual user’ sometimes. i.e. they would be taking PT to somewhere they don’t routinely go and don’t know well.

    A good map limits the need to have a street map and a tram/train map concurrently.

    Fitting the real world into the PT map and retaining navigability is a major challenge. Barring a few major inner-city landmarks, I think the most elegant solution is akin to what was proposed by riccado relating to trams above. That is to say that names of lines, stops and stations should be changed to make the geographical information they carry as relevant as possible.

    For example, Hawksburn station could be usefully renamed as Williams Rd Toorak, rather than being named after a mythical area. North Melbourne Station is a good example of a useful name. The station is in fact in West Melbourne, but it is named after the major trip-generator nearby. In my plan the names of stations would be a little longer, – perhaps the nearby roads could be put under the station name in smaller print?

    The Melways shows where the trams and trains go – it should be the goal of the PT maps to show where the roads go!

  18. Mike Alexander, good job but I would probably ‘reinforce’ the heavy rail routes so it is clear they are the ‘trunks’ of the system. The danger with giving the tramways equal standing is that it would mislead that the tram can convey you long distances eg the Vermont South tram is NOT equivalent of the Nunawading or GWY train routes.

    Jason

    the best PID I ahve seen is typified by HK where you have

    -network map
    -locality map with surrounding streets and landmarks shown and
    -vicinity map with station exists shown and bus stop locations shown

    So when you want to go to Aqua at 1 Peking Rd, TST and you’ve never been there before you get the Tsuen Wan line to TST.

    Then emerge from the platform to the concourse and look at the neighbourhood map, you find the landmark from among the surrounding buildings then find the right station exit (out of 12 or so from memory) to get you from the concourse to the surround streets.

    Now I dare you to try the same trick at Melbourne Central and see how you find out the way to RMIT building 16 from platform 4 Flagstaff end.

  19. Just found a good name for CHL Loop Line.
    How about “Federation”
    The section from Princes Br to Collingwood was opened in 1901.
    Calembeena

  20. Thanks for the comments all.

    Mike, fantastic train/tram network map – very professional appearance and it looks the best of any Melbourne maps I’ve seen. I agree with Riccardo that heavy rail should be emphasised as the trunk routes. Perhaps your map could be put on the trams and a different map (with the rail lines colour coded and the trams black and white) used on the trains.

    Calembeena, interesting idea for the trainlink services – but for some reason I can’t zoom in on the map so can’t see all the detail of the proposed routes.

    Jason and Riccardo, I’d love to see the level of detail you’re talking about at stations here. Would help casual users substantially.

  21. Yes I like your map Mike. As Phin said, very professional.

    Sorry about the previous comment being too long. It is a bad habit of mine.

  22. Under Transportation in the wikipedia article on Munich, there is a colourful map which nicely shows different modes in different widths.

    Also, if you think about it, Melbourne’s network maps don’t need to keep showing the express route between Newport and Laverton, unless you are showing all express routes (eg. Darling to Richmond).

  23. Richard, I suspect Newport to Laverton may become full time under the current plan. They haven’t come out and said it as far as I know, but essentially a Laverton via Altona slow service and a Newport Laverton express service seems to be what they are hinting at.

    In Sydney network maps have tended to show full time non-stopping eg the suburban and main lines through Macdonaldtown etc shown as non-stop. Bris too.

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