Spokane Transit September 2011 System Map

Take a look at Spokane Transit’s new system map for the September 2011 service change. It prominently shows frequent service routes as thick red lines. Frequent service being defined as “every 15 minutes during Weekday peak and day times”, roughly from 5 AM to 6 PM on weekdays, and “Night and Weekend service every 30-60 minutes or better.” The branches of frequent lines are shown as thinner lines. Portions where “basic” lines combine to provide frequent service are also indicated. Even at the shrunken size of the image above you can tell where all the frequent service is.

Compare the new map to the previous map. The map is now schematic, which sacrifices geographic accuracy for clarity. Going schematic also allowed the elimination of insets for the outlying areas, making it easier to follow the lines. Despite individual routes no longer getting their own color, I find the new map much easier to read due to the simplified lines and elimination of clutter.

Spokane Transit is the second transit system in the state to highlight frequent service on its system map after Bellingham’s WTA.

H/T @ziggzagzac on Twitter. Also, Jarrett Walker’s take. Walker worked on restructuring Spokane’s bus network and notes that despite service cuts, STA maintained its frequent service loop.

UPDATE, 3:10 pm: Response to my inquiry from Chris Tohm, Communications Specialist, at Spokane Transit Authority. Items in brackets are my notes:

Thanks for the kind words about the new STA system map.

The layout was a collaborative effort with CHK after we met with Rick Wood [President & CEO of CHK America, a firm specializing in transit information solutions] to discuss the new changes to the system. We had committed to doing a more detailed series of maps for our individual route schedules and wanted to simplify the system map so it would give a better vision of the entire system.

Karl Otterstrom, STA’s Director of Planning [former planner at Metro who worked on the Rapid Trolley concept], had some ideas about showing frequency and combined frequency and CHK did a really good job turning those theoretical concepts into reality while creating a really user-friendly design.

… [omitted link to Human Transit article]

It’s been long tedious process working through the details but I’m glad to say it is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on recently.

57 Replies to “Spokane’s Frequent Transit Map”

  1. Anybody with a good reason why King County Metro hasn’t started doing this long ago, please post a comment. Otherwise, everybody forward this one to your King County Councilmember and Dow Constantine.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And maybe an ST board member? They’ve added other agency routes to their system map, wouldn’t be much of a stretch for them to take over timetables and system maps entirely.

  2. I love the fact that they have a way of showing multiple basic routes that combined, have the equivalent of frequent service … something that was mentioned here for routes like the 71/72/73/74 and 26/28, etc …

  3. Just out of courtesy to King County Metro, elected officials and staff: My first comment wasn’t intended as criticism for past maps, but I think this approach has a lot of value for us.

    I know our system has many more routes than Spokane’s or Bellingham’s. But route frequency information, on maps and even more on bus stop signs, is really important for the public, especially strangers to the system. I’ve encountered people waiting for buses whose next run is the next day.

    In tight budgetary times, improvements in passenger information can mean real improvements in efficiency. Anything that makes the system easier to use means more passengers, which means more riders per bus, which means more revenue.

    Question, Oran: what software do you use to generate these maps?

    Mark Dublin

  4. Major props for using color effectively, and for using width to illustrate frequency. These are both concepts that car-centric maps have used for decades (arterials are wider than side streets, and especially major streets/freeways are in a different color), and I’m glad to see that transit mappers are finally catching on.

    I also think it’s really clever how they made use of green. Every designer knows that red/green is a dangerous color combination, because of colorblindness, but at the same time, there are only a limited number of colors that are easily distinguishable at a distance. This map very cleverly uses green only for a separate inset, which does not have any red routes listed on it at all! So even someone who was colorblind could quickly learn “okay, shuttles are here, regular routes are here”.

    Oran, I’d love to see your frequent service map updated similarly. There are a few segments on your map that have super-frequent service (15th Ave E, Pike/Pine, Belltown, and of course the CBD), and it would be cool to see this river-branching-style effect used.

    1. I talked to Karl Otterstrom at the RapidRide A line ride we had and he told me he has been inspired by the transit branding/information system of Movia in Copenhagen.

      There they use green for a inner city electric circulator route, red for the frequent routes (see RapidRide color scheme) blue for suburban routes, and their main brand color, yellow for all other routes.

    2. Ooh! I just got a brilliant idea! We use red for RapidRide, right? Let’s use green for the rest of the frequent network. Lord knows there’s not much difference.

  5. Wow, this map is beautiful and useful. I wish someone would publish something similar for central Puget Sound. Nice job STA!

    1. Hey thanks Mike! We were pleased to collaborate on this map with STA. We certainly invite you to share your comments on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/CHKAmerica) and to Follow us on Twitter (@chkamerica). Lastly, feel free to let Sound Transit know how pleased you’d be with similar transit information solutions in the central Puget Sound area. Looks like they have ways to provide your input here: http://www.soundtransit.org/Contact-Us.xml. Thank you again!

  6. I’m ready to call this the Gold Standard of transit maps. I’ve never seen one present all the important information so clearly. Metro, in contrast, has one of the worst transit system maps I have ever seen. It is pretty much useless. Of course, it is easier for Spokane because the system is smaller, but there is no reason Metro can’t split their service area into sections with separate maps. North Seattle & Shoreline, South Seattle, South King, and Eastside could have their own maps, and they could all highlight frequent routes, local routes, and express services in the manner used by Spokane.

    I have always thought it made no sense to give each bus line a different color. Color has an immediate visual impact and certain colors stand out more. The folks in Spokane certainly realized this and saved red for the most useful routes. The schematic allows them to easily show overlapping segments. Peak-only routes are smartly given a color that fades into the background, fitting for a line that is not there all the time. I also immediately noticed their decision not to mix green and red. Way too many transit maps foolishly ignore the quite large percentage of men who are red/green colorblind.

    1. I dunno, once a map reaches a certain level of complexity, having separate colors for separate lines/routes is extremely useful for following them quickly with your eye.

      This is a good map, but their transit system hasn’t really reached that level of complexity.

      1. So if it’s complex, meaning there are dozens if not hundreds of routes, how do you use that many colors and make sense of it? Certainly it helps to see where there are intersecting routes, but does it really make it less complex? What if the street map of Boston used a different color for every street. Just a thought.

      2. I think color is most useful when it correlates with infrastructure. In Boston, for example, the Red/Green/Orange/Blue lines are highly branded with their respective colors. That’s the color of the signs, the trains, the tiles in the stations, etc. So when you’re on the Red Line, you know it — and when you’re trying to transfer to the Blue Line, you just look for the color blue.

        But with bus lines, the colors don’t exist anywhere but on the map. So at that point, color isn’t really useful except as a way of tracing lines. And that’s only really useful if you have a convoluted set of routes, with a lot of side-by-side routings. Like you said, that’s more applicable for something like New York or London, not so much Spokane’s straight bus routes.

        I also think the “river-branching” effect makes a huge difference. Part of what makes it hard to trace bus routes in regular maps is that it can get very confusing when they merge together. But if you keep the difference noticeable, even just with wider lines, it makes it much easier to trace.

      3. FWIW, it strikes me that the real solution for your problem is just a computerized map! Click on a line, and now it’s highlighted in a different color. Problem solved.

        Actually, every train I’ve ever been on does exactly this: the route maps you see on the vehicles (and occasionally in the station) are maps of the route you’re riding, with transfer points indicated. It’s totally conceivable to imagine that the posted map at any given bus stop highlights the frequent routes which stop at that station, and circles the key transfer points.

      4. In a grid-based transit network, it should be fairly easy to follow lines that are all the same color. For example, there is no reason for every bus line on Portland’s map to have a different color, since they rarely merge. When they do merge, the solution is to keep them separate and make that segment thicker, as Spokane does here. This generally requires a schematic diagram map, rather than a geographically correct map. Part of why Metro’s system map is so terrible is that they insist on using a geographic map–that is the only reason they are forced to use a single line on each street, making it extremely difficult to trace each bus line.

      5. I have to imagine a schematic map of Metro’s entire network would get rather crowded, especially near Seattle but perhaps more so outside it where there are a large number of zig-zagging routes. Yeah, the eastern half and southern third of the map are pretty empty (except near Des Moines, Kent, Federal Way, and Auburn), but is that really enough space to show the whole system, especially considering how big it is already?

      6. @Multimodal Man
        Coloring routes is no panacea, but in my opinion (formed from much experience trying to find my way on tangled subway maps!) it helps route-finding greatly on a complex map. Other graphical attributes of course are also useful, and should be used more I think.

        If there are so many routes that it’s unreasonable to show them on a single global map, you have to use other strategies, e.g. splitting the map into a “trunk line” map and more local non-trunk-line maps (i.e. what many cities with substantial rail networks tend to do, with the rail network being the trunk lines).

        For streets, of course, it really isn’t necessary or useful. In almost all cases, streets are connected to all those they cross, and moving from street to street is extremely cheap; so physical location is in many cases more important than route identity. This is very different from transit, where most transfers are fairly expensive (not in money terms, but time/nuisance/etc), and thus it’s very desirable to remain on a single route as much as possible. [Of course it often is useful to distinguish the trunk/limited-access roads visually…]

    2. Google Earth shows every bus line as orange and when multiple routes overlap each other like a pile of speghetti, it’s almost impossible to tell where or when any particular line runs.

      What I really wish for is a software effort to automate the construction of frequent network maps for every city, everywhere. Google already has access to all the raw data needed to construct such maps – its trip planner uses it every time you plan a transit trip. What’s needed is code to process the data and highlight the routes that meet a certain frequency during certain hours of the day. Perhaps the algorithm could even use heuristics to tune these frequency/span thresholds to try to make the map as useful as possible.

      1. Re that aspect of Maps, the real problem is that you can’t select a line and have it highlighted. :)

      2. TriMet’s interactive map does a great job of highlighting each route when you click on the number. Check it out!

      3. Highlighting is very useful, but I don’t think it’s a perfect solution.

        Sometimes it’s very useful to have a global overview you can use to make sense of the various routes as much as possible in a single glance (highlighting can then help you drill down into the details of course).

        Just think of web pages where they omit labels on everything, and you have to hover your mouse to see pop-up labels instead… works well in some cases, but often it’s maddening…

        [Of course there’s also the “what if you print out a map” issue, but that’s a little less important I guess.]

      4. How about go one step further and click where you are, then click where you want to go on the map and have it show you your routes? I hate trying to get ANY of the local trip planners to figure out an address. They know where my house is but can’t find Safeway. Or maybe a baby step would be to actually be able to put in a real address and have it understand. I know, too much to ask.

  7. I love this map, although I don’t think there’s much in it for King County to totally redesign their maps like this, due to the uniquely complex and weird nature of Metro’s network (especially in Seattle). Really what Metro needs to make their network map look good and be readily comprehensible is to make the network good and readily comprehensible, which means deleting or restructuring:

    * vestigial, underutilized streetcar turnbacks (2N, 3N, 4, 7 Prentice Street)
    * routes that drive in crazy circles for vestigial non-streetcar reasons (16, 71, most of the 8x night owls)
    * routes that are spaced too close (4, 12 Interlaken Park, 14N, 28 north of Crown Hill, maybe the 27)
    * routes that split for no particularly good reason (5)
    * routes that go nowhere (38, 42)
    * corridors where the service organization changes radically at different times of day (Eastlake)
    * routes whose frequency and ridership suggest that they should probably be DART, at least off-peak (107)

    Two steps they could take immediately would be to remove the school bus and night-owl routes from the comprehensive map. There’s nothing to indicate to the uninitiated rider that route 81 will not, in fact, take you from Whittier Heights to Downtown at any time of day that the overwhelming majority of riders are likely to care about. Metro’s owl service actually has its own comprehensive map, so if you do need Owl service, you’re better off just reading that. Having them on the comprehensive map just clutters it up for almost no reason.

    1. Those crazy loops and zig zagging routes drive me crazy when I’m making maps. The simplest system would be a grid with zero overlapping routes but that’s not possible to do in Seattle.

    2. While I agree these changes need to be made, very few of them have any bearing on Metro’s ability to use this map design. Split routes would cause some problems, but that could be represented with the thicker line becoming thinner to represent reduced frequency on the tail end. The whole issue with the 70 in Eastlake would be a problem, but that problem will presumably disappear when North Link opens. Owl routes certainly should not be on the map. None of the other issues you raise would have any affect on Metro’s ability to use this mapping system. It would be easier on the eyes with a more grid-based system, but in the meantime it would still be a huge improvement.

      1. Look at the one I’m doing for the eastside. Warning, work in progress.


        In Seattle where there are a lot of overlapping lines, it’s not feasible to give each route its own line with out creating a lot of clutter. The solution would be to just use a single thick line (indexed to frequency) and branch thinner lines off it.

      2. That’s true, as long as you put all the numbers on each side of the overlapped segment so it’s easy to trace them.

      3. What about when some of the routes don’t match the frequency of the others? For example, would you use a single line when a peak-only route shares the road with an all-day route? What about the 17’s many shared segments with other routes, or the 66 in Eastlake?

      4. Frequent, basic, and peak service will still have their own lines, so up to 3 lines per street.

        Curves can be used instead of hard right angles to depict where routes turn off one street to another.

    3. The owl map you linked to doesn’t include all of the 280 or any of RR A. The 120 and 124 continue off-map as well, and I believe the 180 has a vestigial owl trip (hence its number) although it’s pretty much useless.

  8. My kudos to Spokane Transit!

    To do this in King County, you’d want four different maps: Seattle, Eastside, South end and Regional. I think you could produce an understandable map if you could break the geography up into something that’s meaningful to users.

    1. That is done in London or Paris which have massive and complex bus networks. Sound Transit’s Regional Transit Map Book also does this but the level of detail and map scale is still much less than the European region maps.

      Imagine if Metro produced a schedule book instead of individual route timetables. The thing would be as thick as a paperback novel!

      1. I thought of the ST map book as a model for breaking the region into manageable chunks. Regular riders live their lives mostly within those areas. I like the ST map book a lot better than Metro maps, but taking a cue from Spokane could make them a lot better. My teenagers are at the point where they want to understand the transit system and have asked for a good map, and I don’t really have anything to offer them!

        My ideal would be clock-face headways during base periods, with added trips during the peak. Then full schedules aren’t needed. Anything to free the customer from the tyranny of the timetable.

      2. Does London actually distribute a complete bus map for the entire city? I couldn’t find it last time I was there. Instead there were pamphlets for popular destinations, sub-sections of the city and individual routes.

        I think the most useful way to divide up Metro’s network is between all-day and peak-only. The two are basically independent in terms of rider use. The latter is used by commuters who just want to find the route number of the nearest one-seat ride to Downtown (or maybe Bellevue, U-District or a couple of other job centers) so they can plug that in to Metro’s website and get the schedule.

        The former is used by people who use transit regularly for many different needs, and who refer to it regularly. They care about frequent service and transfer possibilities, but the peak-only service mostly just clutters the map for them. One of the reasons Oran’s Seattle Frequent Service map is so readable and usable is that it presents less information, but the information it presents is what regular transit riders want.

      3. Sorry, I totally misunderstood Rob’s question. I thought Oran was suggesting in response that London *does* make a map for the whole network. Ignore that bit…

      4. TriMet used to show peak-only routes with the same visual emphasis as all-day service, but thankfully they now present it in a more subtle way so people know it is a special service. I agree with Bruce that the ideal is to market those services separately to different customers.

      5. I actually love the ST book! I could really get behind Metro making a book like that and just mailing it to everyone who lives near a bus line. It might convince some people to give transit a try.

      6. I think Metro doesn’t feel that their map needs to be fixed. Metro also stopped printing its system map for distribution a few years ago. Not only does the design suck but the size of the printed map made it inconvenient to use.

        The ST map book was produced by King County’s GIS center, same for Community Transit’s route maps.

      7. The peak-only routes could be faint lines without numbers on the regular map, and vice-versa on the peak map.

      8. It’s a shame that Metro stopped printing their system map, because it’s still rooted in the days of print. I think it refers to nonexistent U-District and DT Bellevue insets.

      9. Also, I think there’s value in showing peak and non-peak lines on the same map. For one, it encourages peak commuters to find out more about the rest of the bus network, and it encourages use of the peak routes by people who use the regular routes to get to work. At any rate, I think Metro actually has an ingrained, inherent culture that sees no difference between peak and all-day routes, despite signs at the planning level that at least show recognition of the difference, so baby steps may be what works best here.

    1. Ha! I’m sorry, but google maps gives great transit directions but sucks as an actual transit map. Even with good directions it is still very useful to know where each route goes. Plus we should remember that smartphones are nowhere near universal, and smartphones still run out of power all too frequently.

    2. Riight… For CT I wrote a script that uses the OBA API to get a list of CT buses then downloads all the PDFs to my phone so I have them local. I can open a map and look at it much faster that way. Metro’s route naming isn’t always consistent to what OBA gives me so I only use it for ST and CT. For Metro I just have a form to enter the number and it still accesses it remotely.

  9. Here’s some map news from us at Metro.

    Metro has just completed a new Central Eastside/Frequent & Other All-Day Transit Service map.

    This new central Eastside map was developed in response to the significant Eastside service changes which begin Oct. 1, along with the new RapidRide B Line launch. It is now posted online in our maps section on Metro Online http://metro.kingcounty.gov/maps/

    The map shows frequent service and other all-day service that operate on the central eastside of King County. Frequent service routes shown operate approximately every 15 minutes or less during most portions of the day. Our premier frequent service route – the RapidRide B Line is also highlighted on the map, along with its stops. The map also shows our other all-day service routes which operate approximately every 30 minutes during most portions of the day. Page 2 of the map shows B Line connection points, connections to major destinations, and addresses and amenities for park-and-ride lots and transit centers.

    We have also just printed some pocket sized pop-up map versions of this as well. The pocket-sized maps will be distributed to customers as part of the service change process on the Eastside.

    This map was developed using the ‘classic’ transit map style as described by cartographers. It was selected over a ‘schematic’ map style because we felt riders would benefit from seeing some of the underlying street structure to get a better sense of where the routes actually operated relative to their arrival and departure points.

    Metro also has a frequent service map for Downtown Seattle which is on our website http://metro.kingcounty.gov/maps/downtown-seattle-service.html and is posted at a variety of our downtown Seattle bus stops. We also provide a listing of frequent service routes (15 minute service or better)on our site at http://metro.kingcounty.gov/tops/bus/frequency-of-service.html

    As always, we’re interested in customer feedback. We welcome comments and have a feedback/comment link on the column next to the maps shown on the site.

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