Rethinking the Urban Bike Map

Gosh. I’m going to do one of those academic blog posts where I self-promote by telling you that I’ve just published a paper and that you should go read it. I hate those. But, I had actually been meaning to make my thoughts into a blog post or two, and without the intervention of my academic advisor at the time, I would have; now the thing is a paper instead of a post, a full year after it would have been a post, and have I mentioned that you should read it? It’s about bike maps, and what I hate about bike maps and how I attempted to make them better as a genre, by example, and then by overly formal peer-reviewed explication.

The paper is in Cartographic Perspectives which is the journal of the very cool North American Cartographic Information Society who’s conference I attended last year. Cool people. Very friendly. If anyone out there is considering being a cartographer in North America, I recommend you do it, and not just for the conferences and open access journals.

P.S. Here is a link to the article PDF just in case the above link breaks when the issue gets published.

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Posted in: Bicycles | Maps | Psychological
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SORTA’s topological years

SORTA's transit system map from 1977

And we wonder why people might be desperate for the relative simplicity of a limited rail system?

I’ve been digging around a bit more in those documents I got from Dave Walters a while back. There’s a whole directory of system maps! 64 of them…dear Zeus! What a gold mine.

I think the one above, from 1977, is actually my favourite even if it does have a somewhat jarring effect. SORTA seems to have produced strongly topological maps like this one from the 1970’s through to the late-1990’s. A topological map is one that emphasizes connections over the realistic placement of all elements. Connections are of course critical in any transit system, so emphasizing them makes a lot of sense if it doesn’t produce otherwise harmful distortions. Also, since time spent on transit is often not-very-strongly related to the distance travelled, there may be relatively little value to spatial accuracy for many users.

The 1977 map is actually moderately legible on closer examination:

1977 system map sceenshot

Pre-70’s maps had been mostly geographically accurate, though they often distinguished poorly between different lines.  From 1954:

1954 Cincinnati transit map

The system map of 1999 was the first to reject the topological perspective of the 1970’s. This map favours spatial accuracy and loses  much in topological clarity. Consider closely for example, the 17 through Northside in both maps.

SORTA's 1999 transit system map of cincinnati

This map also begins to include the lines of non-stop express routes which tend to add a lot of clutter but are of little use for most of their length. SORTA and TANK have since been producing only slight variations on this 1999 map as far as I can tell, and it’s these types of maps I was reacting against when I produced my own (topological) map in 2011.

a portion of the cincinnati frequent transit map

The current system map, which SORTA just released about nine months late, clearly continues the recent pattern of showing locations accurately at the cost of clarity about topology and connections.

2014 transit system map screenshot

I really do suspect this recent topological ambiguity has something to do with the continuing demand for simpler new routes which tend to be mapped in isolation. Can we ever expect a return to topological system mapping techniques?

Here, by the way, are some fuller versions of all of these maps:


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Posted in: History | Maps
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Seeking summer projects

As the glee of summer’s relaxation wears off and I find myself anxiously pacing I hope you’ll keep in mind that I will gladly dance for your money. In particular, I’m looking for freelance cartography jobs this summer, in Cincinnati or elsewhere. Do you know of any? I’d love to hear about them!

Here are some things I would like to work on in the next few months:

My prices are LOW LOW LOW for a professional cartographer, as I’m really just trying to get started here. I’m excited about what I do and I guarantee better work than any established agency can deliver at a similar price.

I’m also unusually familiar with open-source software, meaning that anything you get from me(all data and source files included) will still be useful to you after the job is over.

Check out my portfolio/freelance business here and please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or want a quick quote on anything you might have in mind.

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Posted in: Psychological
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Some things from the before-times

I just yesterday met this wonderful guy, Dave Walters, from the Cincinnati Transit Historical Association. He’s been scanning old documents related to transit in Cincinnati, and he just shared several gigs of his work so far with me. Schedules dating back to the 20’s and 30’s, maps, planning documents…so much incredibly interesting stuff…

I asked if he’d mind if I hosted the documents online for y’all to peruse and he said he’d have to check with the CTHA first…but in the meantime, I can post a few teasers: some random pretty maps from the 1948 Cincinnati master plan.

1948 - Cincinnati Public Transit Plan pg 19

1948 - Cincinnati Public Transit Plan pg 61

1948 - Cincinnati Public Transit Plan pg 9

And here’s what route #1 looked like in 1964:

Cincinnati Route 1 in 1964

Dave, you have my thanks, and for the rest of you, hopefully you can look forward to seeing a lot more of this stuff soon! It’s amazing to see how much and how little some things have changed in the last 80+ years. Hopefully I’ll also be able to pull some useful data out of the maps and schedules (beside just drooling over the thoughtful pre-GIS cartography).

Also, I’m planning to attend the next meeting of the CTHA, if anyone wants to join me and (make me) not feel like the only new person there. It’s Saturday May 17th, 7:30pm at the Queensgate Garage. Come on out!

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Posted in: Events | History
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Ice Cream for Bike Maps

Friends, supporters, people who find my work mildly interesting,
Please join me this Sunday (Apr 13, 2014), 3-5pm at Rhinegeist in OTR for Cincy Sundaes where I’ll be pitching my Cincinnati Bike Map project. The  basic idea is this:

  1. Come to the event
  2. Pay $5 for an ice cream sundae
  3. Listen to me and three other people talk about our projects for a few minutes while you eat
  4. Vote for your favourite project
  5. That project gets all the money from the sundae sales, plus a match.

This marks the start of my fundraising efforts for the Cincinnati Bike map, a project I haven’t mentioned much here in a while, but which I’ve been working on intensely for the last few months. Below is a snippet from the legend just to whet your interest.


bike map legend

I’ll leave a detailed description of the project for another time(I’m writing a paper on it now), but I hope you’ll join me this Sunday to find out more and support the project!

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Posted in: Events
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Google Transit isn’t enough

I’ve got a guest post over at Human Transit today! It’s primarily a response to all the people who always seem to be telling me that smartphones are making actual hand-rendered and tangible transit maps obsolete. I argue that quite to the contrary they’re a necessary precursor to such automated trip planning and that google transit has little use for anyone without the holistic understanding that can only be provided by a thoughtfully man-made map.

If you haven’t heard of Human Transit before, I highly recommend the blog. It’s author does a fantastic job of elucidating the choices and tradeoffs involved building a transit system, both in the abstract and with a good variety of concrete examples from around the world. Actually, some of his writing helped inspired me to develop the Cincinnati frequency map a couple years back!

Anyway, check out the post over there and peruse some of the other articles. They’re well worth the read, as (always surprisingly for the internet) are the comments.

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Posted in: Maps | Simplicity | Talking about Transit
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