Frustration played a major factor in Ken Dumas turning a fully schematic design for Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) rapid transit map into something a little more informative.
New in 2010, the Dumas map has gently added in “key bus routes.”
“We wanted to give a hypothetical,” he says. “If you are in the D branch of the Green Line and you wanted to go to Harvard Square on the Red Line, people don’t know they can get off and take the 66 bus in half the time,” Dumas said.
The culture of Boston as an old European-like city, with major congestion in the downtown core, made promoting the bus routes even more important. With the Charles River a major divide of the city, the new map helps people find bus-route shortcuts. “The essence of the current version of the map is about promoting transfers,” Dumas says.
This mapping system is unique to Boston, a multi-modal system that isn’t so focused on the vehicle, but more on the ability to get to the right location quickly. But the look of the map still puts a hierarchy on rapid transit, being the boldest lines, then commuter rail and then key bus routes. “If the lines are too thick, it becomes overwhelming,” he notes.
The biggest challenge in providing even more information was trying to mesh bus routes into the rigid 45-degree angle look of the geometric diagram. The map Dumas worked with was fully schematic in that it didn’t distinguish distances between stations. “I started with a map roughly geographic with an angular design, just with softer rounder edges when (lines) change directions,” Dumas says. “When I was laying the bus routes down in the process of keeping the rigid structure, I had to fudge subway stations and move them around to make them line up. The challenge was to not drastically alter the prior design, but essentially meld the two together.”
Being from the suburbs and always frustrated that the old schematic map didn’t show how far apart stations were in the outskirts, or even the correct directions of the lines, that was the catalyst to bringing a touch of geographic reality back to Boston. “The old green line was shown going south when it really goes west,” he says. “It confused me as a child trying to figure it out. If a particular line is farther out, show it. Show it as longer and don’t be afraid to not have lines go all the way to the edge if they don’t need to.”
And going even more hybrid geographically, Dumas made sure that Boston had some of its coastal character displayed on the map by adding in the Charles River and the shorelines, two aspects that weren’t there previously. “Can’t we show the Charles River?” Dumas asks. “We should be showing the shoreline.”
The geographic line must be drawn somewhere. He didn’t want other landmarks cluttering the information-heavy design, although a few major freeways made it in to help orient people to park-and-ride stations. He also wanted to follow the London version of being “easy on the eye” instead of New York with all its bending and curving.
Boston’s tourist industry and major influx of students puts simplicity at a premium. “Because we have such a crazy city and don’t have streets laid out in a geometric pattern, to lay on top of a street grid wouldn’t make sense,” Dumas says. “If I could get a tourist to understand (the map), I can get anybody to understand it. Tourists would have other maps that show other things and the MBTA subway map should look a little like other maps they have seen so it is not a stretch.”
There is a look to Chicago. And Dennis McClendon wanted the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) Rail “L” System Map to have that look. He tried playing around with London-looking ideas, but Chicago needed something of its own, all while depicting Lake Michigan to the east.
In the end, what he created in the late 1990s—but is just now starting to be phased out—had white dots enclosed within thick colored lines, the dumbbell system to call out transfer points and a schematic approach.