SORTA’s topological years

May 12th, 2014

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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