Greater Greater Washington

Google Maps loses transit icons

Google Maps has gotten another makeover, and this one isn't exactly an improvement. At most zoom levels, transit station icons have vanished from satellite view. This makes it difficult for users to find transit stops or see other stations in context. Freeway labels, of course, are omnipresent.


Google Maps. What is missing from this picture?

Metro station icons do still appear on "map" view as they used to. But for people looking at "satellite" view, finding subway stops just got a lot harder.

Even turning on the "transit" layer doesn't help. This layer isn't available in Washington, but in other cities, like New York, where it is available, it turns on rail lines but not rail stations.

If you zoom in far enough, you will eventually see the station icon. But at that zoom level, you really already need to know where the station is in order to find it.Even entering the address for the Gallery Place station, at 630 H Street NW, isn't enough to see the icon, because the default zoom level for seeing addresses is too far out.


Image from Google Maps.

In fact, this is the zoom level where the different galleries in the National Gallery of Art National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum appear. We've zoomed in so far that we can tell that art about the Civil War is in the northeast corner of the building. And that's the first zoom level where we can see that there's a Metro station across the street.

But at this zoom level, the map is only about a block tall. It's nearly impossible to see the city in context. Where are other stations? Is a different stop more convenient?

Transit stations are a fundamental thing to show on maps. For those already taking transit, it helps them know where they can find the station. For those who haven't decided on a mode, it might make them think, "hey, there's a Metro stop across the street, maybe we can take the train."

For years, Google Maps has set a very high bar by providing excellent interactive maps. But this change is a huge step backwards for transit users.

Clearly, the designers have lost sight of where transit information needs to appear in the hierarchy of map data. (Hint: it's much more important than the location of Civil War art in the National Gallery Portrait Gallery).

Google should at least revise their satellite view so that transit station icons appear at the same zoom levels as they do in "map" view.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

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I've been screaming about the missing Metro stations for months and the new Google Maps for weeks. It's inexcusable to not have where the stations are at every level of view. Also, the blah colors of the new Google Maps is just awful.

Never thought I'd say this, but looks like I'm moving back to Mapquest.

by 20011 on Aug 2, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

Nearly-hidden transit info combined with the disappearing bike lanes are pushing me away from using Google Maps in general. I hope they fix these soon.

by bobco85 on Aug 2, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

And the transit lines have long-since disappeared...

And searching for the Mt Vernon Square Metro Station turns up every other metro station in DC except for Mt Vernon Sq... some results aren't even metro stations.

And there's this:
pic.twitter.com/AdYOGRnRDL

I've always been such a raving fan of Google, and of Google Maps, in particular... but for the past 2 yrs or so just about every new update has worsened the program.

by Bossi on Aug 2, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

I just pulled up a station area and used the "Report a Problem" feature to ask them to fix this globally. Maybe if enough folks do that, they'll address the issue.

by Bradley Heard on Aug 2, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

Hear, hear. I found this 'change' horrible and am baffled why Google would remove such helpful features. I've always been baffled by the lack of transit layer, but assume that has something to do with security. It is so very helpful to be able to click on a subway station in NYC or Paris, for example, and see the subway lines all pop up and see connections and so on.

by JDC Esq on Aug 2, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

Saw this a week or so ago when looking at Boston transit stops. Really frustrating. But then I went and checked all the alternatives - none seemed any better (The ability to click the stop and see the services offered is key)

by Matt on Aug 2, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

I take it you all have contacted Google about this?

by UrbanEngineer on Aug 2, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

The update has been a disaster all around. Its like theyre taking cues from apple maps

by JJJJJJ on Aug 2, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

@ UrbanEngineer:I take it you all have contacted Google about this?

The shortest link we all have here to Gooooooogle is the author of the article.

by Jasper on Aug 2, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

Yeah this will be great when trying to learn where bus stops are in new neighborhoods.

Also, it's not the National Gallery, it's the Old Patent Office building (which houses the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of American Art, both Smithsonian museums).

by Daniel on Aug 2, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

@ UrbanEngineer: I take it you all have contacted Google about this?

The shortest link we all have here to Gooooooogle is the main dude of this site.

by Jasper on Aug 2, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

I submitted this comment:
The subway (www.wmata.com) stations no longer show up at a useable zoom level. It used to be acceptable, but now it is almost useless. Please revise subway stations to the same level of identification as state highways and major roads as they serve very similar functions in an urban setting. I'll be looking for alternatives to google maps until this is resolved.

by Patrick on Aug 2, 2013 1:30 pm • linkreport

"Metro station icons do still appear on "map" view as they used to. But for people looking at "satellite" view, finding subway stops just got a lot harder. "

Seems like a pretty easy fix...um, you know, look at it on the view that has what you want? The map and satellite views are meant to function at different scales. On the map view it is easier to see the labeling anyway. The labeling appears on the satellite view at the point in which Google has probably determined it is useful for most (notice not "all") people.

by ArchStanton on Aug 2, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

The author of the article is Matt, not David...

One big problem with Google Maps and Metro in DC is the location of the station icons: they should be where the station entrances are, not at the center of the platforms.

by recyclist on Aug 2, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

@ recyclist - I agree re: improper placement of M icons, and the fact that stations with several widely-spaced entrances do not have more than one icon. But, users, I think can actually report this issue and move the icons ourselves....

by JDC Esq on Aug 2, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

I noticed that you could see restrooms in the Library of Congress farther out than you can see Capital South Metro.

by Steve S. on Aug 2, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

@ ArchStanton - but looking at satellite/earth view is often very helpful versus simply the map view. I always start with map view, but oftentimes I will then go to satellite/earth view and still be looking for the same features, such as Metro stops. "Seeing" the real world helps me navigate an area when I arrive, and switching from maps to satellite/earth view and then losing my public transit way-points is not helpful.

by JDC Esq on Aug 2, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

Actually Google Maps has long had a problem with inconsistent and nonintuitive transit information. If I do a search for "Metro" on a DC map, the nearby Metro stations should all be automatically highlighted. Instead, I get a list of addresses that happen to include "metro" in the name, possibly including (if I'm lucky) one real Metro station. Forcing people to search for individual stations by name is lame, and extremely unhelpful for areas in which you are completely unawarre of what transit options may exist.

by Chris S. on Aug 2, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

Google hasn't for years updated the blue line to go to Largo Town Center. I hope they finally fix that once they put the Silver Line in.

by xtr657 on Aug 2, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

One big problem with Google Maps and Metro in DC is the location of the station icons: they should be where the station entrances are, not at the center of the platforms.

This is a problem with GTFS - there isn't really a way to distinguish between a "stop" and its entrances.

by MLD on Aug 2, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

The new Google maps seems like a very unfinished beta version. Problems with labels and icons are not limited to transit facilities. Sometimes something will be present at one magnification level and then disappear at a closer magnification. It's a crapshoot.

by jimble on Aug 2, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

Didn't realize David was an ex-google guy. Good to know.

by UrbanEngineer on Aug 2, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

Google wants you to use a driverless car instead?

by Greenbelt on Aug 2, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

The recent Android Google Maps/Navigation update is horrible as well. Not intuitive, and I keep doing something makes it unexpectedly terminate. Hope that gets fixed.

by spookiness on Aug 2, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

Don't you know that you can all go online and adjust these things for yourself. I have done this repeatedly for my work location (because we are a tourist destination) and it is pretty easy to do. You can also move icons (or add new ones).

by Thad on Aug 2, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

I was up in suburban Maryland on Wednesday and attempted to use Google Maps to find the nearest bus station. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't seeing any bus symbols on the maps. Finally I zoomed in far enough for them to show up... if I hadn't already had a general idea where the bus stop was located, I wouldn't have known where to zoom in to confirm the bus stop location. Once I did zoom in and the bus stop symbol appeared, I don't believe the information bubble provided the actual bus number until I selected the trip planner option. Not a fan of the change and confused on the reasoning for this change.

by Aaron on Aug 2, 2013 5:04 pm • linkreport

Google Transit Data Feed unfortunately doesn't allow for entrances, but at least they keep up to date.

I was going up to Baltimore from Odenton on MARC Penn 406 (my usual train) this Monday. It was running 15 minutes late and train 610 was behind it (408 being the bullet DC-to-Baltimore). On it was a person who was instructed by Bing to take train 410 (no such beast now) to West Baltimore. Well, wrong train! 406 doesn't stop there.

She needed to go to 5001 Monument street, I pulled up Google Maps, said "Penn Station to 5001 Monument Street" and got her on track.

I then let her know that Microsoft (who owns Bing) has always been very slow on updating, so Google instead. Hey, it's only two years behind on the MARC schedules!

by STrRedWolf on Aug 2, 2013 7:10 pm • linkreport

"Google Maps. What is missing from this picture?"

Why, the chocked right-of-way of the Inner Loop Freeway, duh...

by Frank IBC on Aug 2, 2013 7:26 pm • linkreport

Perhaps try Bing maps. It shows Metro stations at all reasonable levels of zoom, and it appears they are at the entrances. Bing also has transit directions. Of course, it also shows a non-existent Southeast Freeway. Bing is not as comprehensive as Google maps (no one is), but it's the best of the secondary choices. (I am a Microsoft employee based on DC.)

by David on Aug 4, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

David, can you get the Bing guys to UPDATE their transit info faster than every decade? See above for an example.

by STrRedWolf on Aug 5, 2013 8:40 am • linkreport

At street level the Metro signs are VERY tough to find in the cacophony of advertising.

And, Dog forbid the signs identify which station the sign directs you to!

by Capt. Hilts on Aug 5, 2013 2:59 pm • linkreport

Seems to be a problem specific to the browser interface. On my iPhone, google maps shows the Capitol South Metro at a reasonable zoom level.

by alurin on Aug 6, 2013 12:45 pm • linkreport

I posted a bug report to Google that stations need to have more than one entrance labeled, and showed how it can cause bad directions, like telling somebody traveling to 9th & U to get off at Shaw metro, because the system doesn't know about the U Street Metro exit at 10th & U. The bug was closed as fixed immediately; I reopened it, politely pointing out that absolutely nothing had changed, and never heard from them again.

If it's a problem with GTFS, then it's time for GTFSv2. The "G" indicates that Google has some control over the spec and can make improvements.

by bk on Aug 6, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

Makes me think of the problem google maps all of a sudden had with pedestrian routes three years ago. I complained, and so did a lot of people. It's gotten marginally better, but it still isn't as good as it was. I find it puzzling that google would get worse instead of better. Isn't the goal to *improve* your product?

I think someone from google offered me the explanation that they subcontracted the map application? Why? No response to my follow-up email.

by lou on Aug 6, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

"Google Transit Data Feed unfortunately doesn't allow for entrances, but at least they keep up to date."
by STrRedWolf on Aug 2, 2013 7:10 pm

"One big problem with Google Maps and Metro in DC is the location of the station icons: they should be where the station entrances are, not at the center of the platforms.
This is a problem with GTFS - there isn't really a way to distinguish between a "stop" and its entrances."
by MLD on Aug 2, 2013 2:38 pm

It is NOT. The GTFS will allow for portals, as well as stations. You need to use the Stops within Stations feature, and you'll need to add new variables (such as location_type and parent_station) to the feed to accommodate it. Talk to your Google contact to discuss.

by Rollin Baker on Aug 8, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

@Rollin Baker

Yes, there is a workaround that you can use by defining separate stops within a station, etc. But many agencies do not do this because it doesn't REALLY provide the same functionality as defining station entrances would, and it doesn't let you specify things like when the entrance is operational, etc.

by MLD on Aug 8, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

"Yes, there is a workaround that you can use by defining separate stops within a station, etc. But many agencies do not do this because it doesn't REALLY provide the same functionality as defining station entrances would, and it doesn't let you specify things like when the entrance is operational, etc."
- MLD

Certainly partially true. The online documentation is obsolete, and doesn't adequately explain what that particular feature does. One of the less-documented things stops within stations WILL do is allow for portal designation and placement (portals are location_type = 2, if you care) (which Google Maps WILL use when displaying walking directions, planning for walking time, etc.) You are completely correct in that it will NOT specify whether or not the portal is operational - you'll need to use the attached alert service for that. - you can specify a stop and a message to display when that stop is selected).

In addition, you can specify whether the portals are handicapped-accessible portals or not (although this isn't (AFAIK) completely implemented yet.

What you really SHOULD discuss is what Google calls "Stop Conflation", where it takes all the stops in a particular intersection (or a particular corner or area), and aggregates or "conflates" them together, providing a single icon and aggregate mini-scheduler pop-up for all of them. This can be REALLY confusing, if you don't realize what you're looking at. (Up to four or more stops can display as a single icon.)

by Rollin Baker on Aug 8, 2013 4:37 pm • linkreport

This is super obnoxious. I noticed this too, nationwide.

by Nathanael on Aug 10, 2013 9:44 pm • linkreport

Hey, it's worldwide. I now can't see the stops for the tube. I noticed that last night when trying to find a stop near Bunhill Fields in London.
As the maps often don't show paths, just roads, the satellite view is generally much more useful.

by B Wilkinson on Aug 22, 2013 7:55 am • linkreport

Unrelated, but why does DC lack the transit "layer"? It's so useful, and it seems to be available for most other major cities.

by AL on Sep 11, 2013 11:02 pm • linkreport

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