As testing for the First Hill Streetcar has proceeded, the final station touches have been added, including frosted glass and station amenities such as maps and rider information. Yet in a triumph of form over function, the well-designed maps omit just about every important piece of transit information that a rider might want to know. Their modal isolation – showing only two disconnected streetcar lines miles apart – bears no relation to the reasons riders would consult the map. Very few people will stand at Broadway & Marion and ask, “Is there another streetcar in this city somewhere?” as opposed to “Where can I travel to from here, and how long will it take me?”

For a project whose putative intent was to connect neighborhoods to Link, amazingly Link is nowhere to be seen on the map. Despite 6 frequent transit connections along the line’s length – at Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Union, Pine, and at Capitol Hill Station – none of these are shown. In the above example, there is a legend item for “Metro Bus” with a single stop shown at Broadway and Madison, both inaccurately representing its location (which is a block east) and failing to say which route stops there, how often, and where it might take you. Such partial information is worse than outright omission, implying that the services shown are the only ones that exist.

If SDOT doesn’t see the line as part of a network of connections, that speaks volumes about both the utility of the project and the isolation in which it has been considered. This is another example of the need for systematic integration between our agencies when it comes to mapping, design, and wayfinding standards. I love the design, but the content is what matters, and can anyone say that these maps tell you what you need to know to get around First Hill?

81 Replies to “SDOT’s New Streetcar Maps: Where’s the Transit?”

    1. I disagree — the map looks pretty good. It is lacking a lot of useful information, but it looks pretty good.

      1. Don’t you consult a map to *get* information so you can make decisions on how the system is going to provide the service that you need? If it’s pretty but useless what utility does it serve?

        Non-coördination seems to be the order of the day. We’ve seen other instances where coördination was needed (building the Broadway bike way but then having to destroy work that was done because there was work to be done on Capitol Hill Station.) It’s typical but totally preventable.

        One gets the feeling that involved agencies have some sort of animosity towards each other which keeps them from communicating with each other.

  1. Speaking as a board member of FHIA (First Hill Improvement Association) … we, along with the other neighborhoods along the route, requested that neighborhood wayfinding be incorporated into the station designs. We specifically requested that important destinations in the neighborhood(s) be displayed for people going to those places.

    I do not remember if we specifically asked for alternative transit to be included as one would assume that it would have been.

    Regardless, do the maps do what they were intended to do? sure. they point out destinations of import in each neighborhood surrounding the stations. Could they do more? probably.

    I am not sure why alternative transit was left off of these maps (especially the zoomed in portion) … luckily as they are simply ad-wraps on the shelter glass they can be easily changed in the future.

    1. Thanks for the background, Gordon. My point is that transit is essential to the whole enterprise of neighborhood wayfinding, and that transit and neighborhood destinations are complementary rather than mutually exclusive.

      1. sure … and I agree with you … just wanted to make sure that people understood that the intent of the maps is for the neighborhood, not other transit

    2. If it’s meant to be a neighborhood map.. why include the OTHER streetcar line? It’s an odd choice that makes it seem like some kind of transit (or streetcar network) map.

    3. Gordon, I can understand that the neighborhood wants people to know destinations accessible from the transit stop – from a walkability standpoint, that makes perfect sense. But this feels like a completely missed opportunity to show the other transit connections available as well. I don’t think the two are or should be mutually exclusive.

      1. I completely agree with you … just trying to communicate what it was that the neighborhoods were looking for …

    4. Wow, Gordon, your contribution provided a much-needed context behind the Streetcar maps. Thanks bro

    5. Transit near First Hill Streetcar stops is not ‘alternative’ transit but a necessary supplement to it.

    6. Phoenix, for all of its other issues, does an outstanding job of presenting wayfinding information at its rail stations. Most useful to me as a visitor (and to any other infrequent or casual user) was a map of the immediate vicinity–by which I mean about a block in each direction, much closer than this one–showing every bus stop with what routes stop there and what destination they are going to from that stop. Could not have made for an easier transfer; whilst waiting for a bus I struck up a conversation with a woman from rural PA who rarely used transit but had no problem finding what bus she wanted for her destination and where she needed to go from the train to catch it. (Their stations also provide a table of popular destinations with what station/bus to use to get there, which would be useful on Link but not so necessary at the small streetcar shelters.)

      I’ve long felt that this is an area in which ST and now SDOT have fallen woefully short. Such an addition to their map above would be of immense use, as would (at the extreme minimum) showing the Link line and stations on the large scale map, since the streetcar is supposed to be mitigation for not having a Link station in First Hill in the first place.

      1. Well, that explains it then, Oran! Would have expected such useful information from you… :)

  2. Not only does the Metro symbol not show where the bus stops on Broadway, it doesn’t indicate the Metro stops on Madison, which are within the map close-up.

    Maybe it’s just an art project? :|

    1. I think that’s a goof since there is no metro stop at Madison/Bway … not sure why it was included there or the map legend

  3. Do they have in-house designers make this or did this get bid on and made by an outside firm? If so, I’d love to the see the RFP and contract just to see where the break down occurs. Either way, there’s no excuse for this. Also, anyone got a link to a better image of the map?

    1. Sorry about that Kevin, WordPress recently changed to make ‘no attachment’ the default instead of ‘link to image’. I’ve made it clickable.

  4. Yet more confirmation that transit decisions are usually made by people who don’t ride transit, and who have no clue about what information is helpful to actual transit riders.

    1. Moral of the story: Don’t depend on neighborhood associations for good advice on planning a transportation system.

    2. +1, and also that until agencies have some sort of incentive to work together, this will continue to be a problem.

  5. Who can I send a strongly-worded email to about this? Regardless of any misguided goal of the map, the map’s goal *should* be to make getting to your destination easily, since the map is, you know, at a transit station and all.

    1. Tell them they need to start with making a comprehensive criteria checklist of what should be on the map. As JohnS says, this map answers the question “How do I get to X from the station? What other Y’s are around the station?” But if these are going to be the only neighborhood wayfinding maps, they should answer other questions too, such as “Which other bus routes go where from which station?”

      The “other” streetcar can be on a smaller zoomed-out map in the corner. It’s of less importance than the bus route to get to the other streetcar. It doesn’t need to be on the main map until the CCC is open and the lines overlap.

      1. Since the SLU has nothing to do with the First Hill Streetcar it needs to be taken off the map. Just because something has similar wheels does not make it relevant to where people are.

  6. To be fair, the probably would have to replace these after March anyway when the metro routes are redrawn. Its a perfect opportunity to display the routes correctly at that time if they can replace them at that time.

    There’s nothing to stop them from replacing them more frequently though… these wraps only last so long anyway…

      1. But Metro’s been sitting on the news for weeks. We’ll publish as soon as it’s public.

  7. By the time the FHSC opens who knows what Metro routes will look like or if LINK will even still be a thing. Better to be safe than have to redo the maps.

    1. +1. Perhaps the intent is to generate support for the City Center Connector, because anybody who looks at those will mentally draw a line between them and say, “The city should connect them. Is it under construction yet? If not it should be the next project.” I don’t think I’ve seen better propaganda for the CCC, actually.

      But this single mode design reminds me of ST’s network maps at Link stations. In Rainier Valley it tells you how to get to DuPont on Sounder or the Issaquah Highlands on ST Express, but not how to get to Southcenter or Renton on Metro.

      1. Mike, you nailed it. Transit riders who are trying to get from A to B don’t care about mode. Single-mode maps in a multi-mode city make no sense.

  8. Now, now, the point of the map to display how the First Hill Streetcar is a complete transit system in its own right. Unique rolling stock, on tracks meandering through the cars, trucks, bikes and peds, while maintaining highly efficient mobility options for its riders, are but a few of the reasons this system will set the benchmark for other cities to come.
    Bravo, FHSC – You’re a winner – even if you never run.

  9. lolll this is so perfectly indicative of Seattle’s transit situation it’s almost a parody. They didn’t even mark King Street Station. Do SDOT, KC Metro and ST even know each other exist?

      1. Neither are the stadiums but they’re indicated quite prominently in SoDo on the overview map. I guess they didn’t think marking KSS was necessary since the Streetcar didn’t even bother to stop in the giant plaza out front and chose instead to stop several blocks away in either direction…

    1. things like the stadiums (the entire non-zoomed in map) are there only for geographical context not local station-area destination wayfinding.

      1. Adding to the urban myth about d.p., I have it on good authority (Sam), that d.p. is an acronym for his method of always pursuing the truth at its core. Going the extra mile, or sticking two fingers in the pie when others only put in one. His quest for clarity is right there in the name, giving us pictures to support facts as the dictionary defines ‘dp’.
        or, could there be a parallel meaning in all this?
        Where is Dublin (m.d.)when we need him most?
        This is called a slow news cycle as the world waits at the platforms for the FHSC – which is becoming an urban myth in its own right.

  10. The core problem here is that the staff believe that mapping and graphics is supposed to be done in a vacuum and done incrementally. The staff believe that they are experts and no feedback is needed.

    Ideally, the maps should have been discussed in user experience forums before rolling them out. I saw a presentation on the updated New York City mapping and graphics standards last year. They carefully spent time debating all the graphics, and created quite an extensive set of guidelines that dealt with all sorts of items. The concepts were “field tested” in the street, and the staff got public feedback on one-on-one interviews. It’s an example of what Seattle should be doing.

    Alas, if only our decision-makers would demand better of the staff that put these things out — rather than give them all sorts of accolades on a job well done and not question how good of a job they are doing. Just last week, a consultant tell the King County Council that coordination in transportation is the biggest public perception negative in the County!

  11. Silly Zach, the streetcars aren’t for transit in this city… They’re for development. I don’t need to know where other transit is. I just need to know what new buildings and businesses are around for me to frequent.

  12. If they bothered to label I-90 and SR 520, it definitely should have been possible to at least show Link and maybe RapidRide. That could have been done while still keeping the focus on them being neighborhood maps.

    1. Well the labeled it “90” not I-90. So they could not even keep the naming conventions for the 4 freeways straight. This map is truly a mess when you start looking at it close.

  13. If I were using that map to try to find area destinations, I’d be lost. I see several blocks and a few dozen buildings identified as Seattle University with no identification of any major building on campus besides the chapel. No identification for the major dorm buildings, an admissions office, gymnasium, or major assembly hall, nothing. They at least labeled the ER and main entrance for Swedish First Hill, but a bunch of buildings surrounding Swedish (brown shapes surrounded by yellow blocks) have no identification. Part of Swedish? Who knows? Not me, at least not till I arrive at the front of the building. Important enough to draw, not important enough to label. Sorry excuse for a neighborhood map. Poor identification of neighborhood destinations. No identification of neighborhood transit. But at least we can draw up a detailed map of the city with accurate labels of street names and freeways for a background.

    1. Yeah, I would be curious as to what the others look like. I can understand why you might want to simply avoid the topic of transit, and just focus on the neighborhood. But if you focus on the neighborhood, then you should have most of the buildings labeled, otherwise it seems like a waste.

    2. SU has very good way finding on campus … no need for it here. Chapel called out due to public use.

  14. Now I going to have to check the station area maps at a MAX station or teo and Portland Streetcar. I’m pretty sure they have done OK with indicating other transit routes nearby.

    As to calling them “alternate transit”,
    How useful would Broadway be as a street if it didn’t connect to other streets? Jackson isn’t an “alternate street” to Broadway. They are both part of an overall system.

    Those King County Metro downtown bus maps are wonderful if you are new to Seattle. They also are sized so that my work 11×17 color laser printer prints them in a perfectly legible and fills the whole page format. Compared to those, TriMet’s latest downtown maps could use a lot of tweaking. I was born in this city and even I sometimes have trouble finding downtown bus stops with the current downtown Portland TriMet map.

  15. This just seems to be the natural extension of SDOTs bizarre habit of making transfers to/from Metro more difficult. Prior to the FHSC Broadway and Madison was a perfectly legible transit transfer point with stops on all four corners. No longer. They are also proposing to remove stops on Broadway @ John as part of the extension project replacing that normal transfer point with a walk of 1-2 blocks. The Madison BRT project also removes a easy legible transfer point to important intersecting service on 23rd in favor of 1-2 block walks to new stations. Its almost as if they don’t want people to use other services at all.

    1. Um, we don’t need a streetcar map. We need a map of the transit options from the current location.

    1. Sadly no. That’s the only one nearby, though there are 5 other stations just out of view of the map.

    2. only Pronto station in First Hill is west of the Frye which makes Pronto completely worthless to the 100,000 or so residents/employees/visitors on First Hill

  16. Great piece Zach. The map is pretty. It illustrates the sad mono-modalism of the SDOT streetcar network effort launched by Nickels, Drago, and Vulcan and continued by subsequent elected officials. The ST Board wanted to provide a monument more than improve transit mobility. The CCC project became how to connect the two streetcars with a streetcar (a very narrow objective) rather than how to best the Seattle transit network, considering Link, bus, and streetcar as an inter-related whole. Note that most SDOT sections provide much better service. The good news: Move Seattle passed and SDOT has many other worthy transit projects to compete with the streetcar projects for local and federal funds.

  17. Ouch.

    I attended a fabulous APA conference session on wayfinding kiosks in New York City. We’ve got a ways to go…

  18. I’m pretty sure that is the only map I have ever seen that includes the Seattle waterfront but not the ferry terminals.

    Not that those are extremely relevant to this neighborhood, but it’s just the only time I have seen those left out.

  19. The more I look at this map, it’s just bad. The city-at-large map is worse than useless; it’s at too large a scale even if you are trying to show the full extent of both streetcar lines; as mentioned by many of you it does not show Link, the ferries or any other form of transit, and it labels absolutely nothing except freeways/major highways and a few streets.

    Going to Volunteer Park? Okay, you can assume, probably, that as a park it’s one of those green spaces. But which one? None of the parks are labeled, let alone things like the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Frye etc. And how would you get there from the streetcar even if you do select the right one? No visitor is ever going to make it there using this map; many locals won’t even recognize the correct park. Just because you, I or the mapmaker may know which one it is does not obviate the agency’s responsibility to make it clear to everyone.

    Wayfinding should always be directed at infrequent users/visitors. Locals, commuters and other frequent users will know their origins and destinations well, but we should be aiming at getting locals to use transit to unfamiliar places, and to help visitors–a huge segment in this city–to get to all the interesting places the city has to offer without having to default to a car. The wayfinding here does not do this.

    I’d expect this sort of rank car-oriented mapping from WSDOT, but I expect better from SDOT who on the whole has been doing good work on many levels.

    1. sigh,

      again. this is a local neighborhood map. this is not a transit map. this is not a city of seattle map. this is not a map designed to show you how to get somewhere else. it is just a map of what is located around THIS INDIVIDUAL STATION..

      everything else is there simply for geographical / spacial context so you know where in the city you currently are. nothing more.

      And FYI … The Frye and First Hill Park are both listed on this map as they are nearby this station.

      1. I was referring to the city-at-large map (the larger scale one), as noted in my second sentence. It has no useful information pertinent to a given trip, so unless you already know exactly what stop to get off at the local map is not useful to you at all. Sigh. (I don’t have much issue with the smaller local map as shown, except for the transit connection issues – it shows major points of interest on both the Swedish and Seattle U campus maps, such as the main entrance to the hospital, the chapel and arts center – and both institutions have campus maps posted when you get there to further help you.)

        The large scale map could be HALF the scale and still show anything at all immediately relevant to the streetcar – including downtown and the SLU streetcar, if it’s supposed to be used as a “system” map. Generally elsewhere the larger scale map just shows the line itself, and its immediate surroundings, which allows for much more information to be displayed even at that macro level.

        Were there more general information instead of a few highway and street names, I could at least guess as to what station to debark at, then look at the small-scale local map when I get off–that’s what it’s for. Oran’s Phoenix VTA maps do exactly that while removing the guesswork. I travel enough and take transit in enough places that I tend to think of things as a non-local/frequent transit user in any given city, and see things through that lens. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is staying in a hotel somewhere (or living in a different part of the city) and is trying to get to a point of interest near the streetcar (or back). Do I take Link to the streetcar? Where is Link? If I do get to Cap Hill station, which direction do I go on the streetcar and what is the nearest stop to the place I’m trying to reach? That’s what the larger scale map is supposed to indicate, and fails at. If I know the Frye is close to the Marion stop when I get on the train, the small scale map when I get off then becomes much more useful to me because I’ll get off at the right stop for the neighborhood map to be of use.

        Hell, the Phoenix info boards even show local restaurants, etc. on their small scale maps. I think that’s a bit much, and wonder how often they have to change them, but it was useful to me.

        (happy to read that they are working on multi-modal maps, though)

  20. FYI … Seattle Streetcar has responded to the original twitter conversation about these maps:

    Stay tuned for our multimodal maps, in development.— Seattle Streetcar (@TheStreetcar)

    1. Let’s hope they get user feedback before going final! All staff needs to go is to set up a display at the Sunday farmers market and then have one in front of IDS for passers by , along with announcements for neighborhood groups and Council members.

      I don’t think they will though.

    2. All they would need to do is to take those blank maps, and have someone put a dot on the map where something is missing. Then each dot would be numbered and the place would be writtenon an adjacent board listing that number. Give each respondent five to ten dots. If a location gets more than one dot, the additional dots go on the listing board. That would give a fairly responsive feedback.

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