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Spiral map gives fun, twisted take on Metro geography

Earlier this year, our map contest generated a few new ways of looking at the Metro map, but none were as creative as this spiral map.

Image by Andrew Bossi.

This map probably wouldn't be very helpful posted in railcars, but it offers a unique—and twisted—look at the region's most recognized map.

Reader Andrew Bossi came up with the idea after seeing a bus ad in Trondheim that resembled a transit map but in the shape of a spiral.

When discussing the map contest results, we debated the merits of a truly geographic map versus one that's a more stylized diagram like the current one. Many geographic features get distorted for simplicity.

This map takes distortion to an extreme for stylistic purposes, but in doing so reminds us that while we call a transit map a "map," it's really not.

Also, notice how none of the station symbols have to jump over any lines. Fort Totten and Chinatown do connect the red line on one "arm" of the spiral to the Green Line on another, which is the only topological cheat necessary to make this work. For how many of the world's larger transit systems is such a thing possible?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I actually really like this concept. It's a completely new way to look at transit maps. In many cases I've found they're already so distorted and ignorant of geographic and political features, that they actually HURT, rather than facilitate, ease of movement about the system.

I say, YES! What does metro have to lose?

by Stefan on Jul 19, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

Actually, I was just hoping for a REALLLLLLY long strip map.

by andrew on Jul 19, 2011 1:27 pm • linkreport

Stare into the spiral... all your Metros belongs to us.

by Adam L on Jul 19, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

Sooooooo pretty. I would love it if WMATA took a friendly approach to its customers, and distributed half-art/half-information like this.

by tom veil on Jul 19, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

Impressive. Kudos.

by NikolasM on Jul 19, 2011 1:53 pm • linkreport

That may be called art.

I would not call it a map.

by greent on Jul 19, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

Interesting as a graphic design exercise. Trying to follow the actual routes makes me dizzy.

by Bob See on Jul 19, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

This is amazing and impressive!! If I didn't know the system, I would think it takes a LONG time to get from Metro Center to Gallery Place. I understand why the author did this (connect red and green/yellow lines) but its a reason why this cannot be used as the system map.

by Andrea on Jul 19, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

Nice design, useless as map.

by Jasper on Jul 19, 2011 2:42 pm • linkreport

Its a great idea. But look how long the red line is from chinatown to metro center. But I not here to complain.

by Steve85 on Jul 19, 2011 3:52 pm • linkreport

"... while we call a transit map a 'map,' it's really not."

What is and is not a map is really more a matter of opinion than a clearly delineated definition. I asked a friend of mine -- who is a living, breathing cartographer, so I would assume he would know a thing or two about what is, or is not, a map -- about this ongoing debate on GGW's pages about whether Metro's system map is, indeed, a map.

He mentioned that in one of his cartography classes the professor flashed various images up on the screen and asked the class whether or not they were maps. For example, is an image of the flag within the outline of the United States a map? Probably not, but the exercise showed that maps occupy a continuum, not an objectively-defined space.

Given all his experience, he came down on the side that the Metro system map is, indeed, a map. But he wouldn't disagree with someone who said it wasn't. Given my own, much briefer experience with cartography while studying urban planning in college, I would agree with him.

Just wanted to point out that, whether someone calls it a map or a diagram, both labels are valid.

This is a very cool map... I mean diagram... I mean... uh... conceptualization of the Metro system.

by Dustin on Jul 19, 2011 5:16 pm • linkreport

so, is this meant to symbolize Metro going down the toilet?

by Ryan on Jul 19, 2011 6:21 pm • linkreport

Jasper: "Nice design, useless as map. "

Uh, no. It's completely useful as a map. It's no more inaccurate than the pillar diagrams at every station. You get on this line and it takes you there.

Are there errors you're trying to bringing to our attention?

by Bob See on Jul 19, 2011 10:02 pm • linkreport

Looks a little like the Denver light rail map. In this case this map does little more than point out the sequence of stations. It does nothing to place it in space, the main purpose of a map.

by Mike O on Jul 19, 2011 10:41 pm • linkreport

I think it's creatively brilliant. Love the Fort Totten and Chinatown jointures on the Red/Green Lines.

by Dennis Jaffe on Jul 20, 2011 12:06 am • linkreport

The planning that must have gone into this boggles me a little bit. Neat design, somewhat useful if you know what to look for (for example, if you know where the station you're looking for are on the spiral, it's easy to see what lines to take to get between them), and definitely interesting.

by Andrew on Jul 20, 2011 11:37 am • linkreport

This 'map' would look really nice as a poster.

by snowpeas on Jul 20, 2011 2:09 pm • linkreport

I want it as a poster too! Very cool and the planning that went into this must've been tremendous. Kudos.

My only complaint is similar to the others. There's a distortion in "distance" between certain connections in order to make the spiral work and it does make me a little dizzy. So maybe not a replacement of the original but a great supplementary design.

by Jeff on Jul 26, 2011 9:50 am • linkreport

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