New Official Map: MBTA Rapid Transit, Based On Winning Contest Entry
First sightings are coming in of Boston’s new rapid transit map being deployed on trains and stations, and prints are also available from MBTAgifts.com. For now, the map on the actual MBTA website is still the previous version.
The blurb about the map on MBTAgifts.com says:
The 2014 MBTA rapid transit map was the result of an international competition for designs. This map is based on the winning submission and has been complete[ly] redrawn and updated by Central Planning Transportation Staff for the MBTA.
Completely redrawn. Based on. Uh oh.
So here’s a side by side comparison between Michael Kvrivishvili’s contest entry (left) and the final map that the MBTA has ended up with (right). It’s clear that the final map is based on Michael’s entry, but with a lot of changes.
Some are necessary (the use of standard ADA accessibility symbols), some are improvements (SL 1 and 2 are shown properly as loop lines, and the treatment of the airport shuttle buses is one of the best I’ve seen so far), but the majority of the changes dilute and harm the very strong and graphic design themes of Michael’s original map.
Michael’s entry focussed very strongly on straightening out the routes as much as possible, reducing the number of curves to the bare minimum required. His Red Line was perfectly straight, apart from a last flick down to Braintree. The Ashmont-Mattapan branch was similarly straightened out. Not any more: the Red Line has pretty much reverted to its previous shape, with more twists and unevenly spaced stations.
Similarly, Michael’s Green Line, which ran in a beautifully clean straight line from Haymarket all the way to Heath Street, has also gained extra curves, all seemingly because of a “need” to show that the line changes direction after Boylston.
Other changes that affect Michael’s original design balance: the reintroduction of “blobby” interchange markers, the thinning of commuter rail lines in relation to their (now oversized) station markers, smaller station labels, more labels that cut across route lines, abbreviations for station names (“Gov’t Center” just looks terrible) the use of ALL CAPS for terminal stations (bold text alone is enough differentiation, and easier to read), the elimination of the visual “hook” of the perfect diamond in the centre of the map… and worst of all:
The replacement of Michael’s elegantly stylised coastline that matched the design of the route lines perfectly with the god-awful “pseudo-geographical” background of the previous map. It looks hideous.
It seems to me that there’s a battle on this final map between Michael’s original diagrammatic approach and a desire from someone at the MBTA for something more like a “real map”, and it’s these competing interests that harm the end result so much. Realistically, a Boston transit map that has to fit into a square is never going to be even remotely geographically accurate (as this image from Wikipedia shows). Michael’s well-considered design approach to this inherent problem was to eschew geography and create a diagram of services, reducing the number of curves in each line to make them easier to follow and evenly spacing stations as much as possible. That approach has been compromised by this final map, which really can’t decide what it wants to be — the old map or the new one.