Revising the MBTA

Taking a break from the MBTA finance wars, we look at that little Venn diagram overlap between transit enthusiasts and infographic fans: the world of subway map redesign.

Designing a subway map takes real skill and requires a series of choices — how to balance geographic accuracy with clean visuals; how much system detail to communicate, etc.

There’s an audience of people out there critiquing map designs. In London, the Underground system map opts for a grid-based system to organize its very complex system. But that organization comes at the price of distorting the geographic relationships between stations, as a critical redesign points out.

New York redesigned its subway map several years ago, opting for a more geographical accurate design. And a critic’s redesign was made to show a more abstract, cleaner design.

Now, we’ve got an entrant for our own MBTA. The T map recently had layers of data added as part of a redesign, in effort to better include key bus routes and offer the subway up as part of a larger system. That redesign has been criticized as too cluttered by some:

MBTA system mapClick for full version from the MBTA.

More recently, a graphic artist took a stab at redesigning the map (hat tip to Universal Hub for bringing the link to my attention). Cameron Booth offers a redesign that includes the entire Green Line (i.e. all stops) and makes a bunch of other subtle tweaks. He also envisions a map with some of the expansion projects that are currently in process.

Communicating complex systems like mass transit to the public is an art and a statement of priorities by the designer. Take a look at each versions (including the original), and see what each is trying to tell people.