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The Booth Map: Redesigning WMATA's map

In 2007 graphic design firm KICK famously proposed redrawing the New York subway map. The new map they produced was more straightforward and intuitive than the official subway map, but also more diagrammatic. MTA eventually dismissed the proposal, but not before considerable internet buzz. Graphic designers and transit nerds talk about it to this day.

Now, graphic designer Cameron Booth has done the same for Washington. WMATA's existing map is one of the world's more iconic, but it has its faults, and as Booth notes, once the Silver Line is up and running there simply won't be room on the page to continue the current scheme. His proposal is worth discussing.

Three versions of the DC Metro map
Click each to enlarge.
  Existing WMATA map Future WMATA map
with narrower lines
Booth map
Full map WMATA map. Click to enlarge WMATA future map. Click to enlarge Booth map. Click to enlarge
Downtown WMATA map downtown. Click to enlarge (PDF) WMATA future map downtown. Click to enlarge Booth map downtown. Click to enlarge

The Booth map has some real advantages. Instead of relying on clumsy call-out boxes for special notes, it graphically integrates all levels of peak and non-peak service. It shows MARC routes. Labels are more well-placed. It looks more up-to-date and professional.

On the other hand, Booth's map has some real disadvantages too. First and foremost, it suffers from that most cardinal sin of transit maps: it's too spaced out on the periphery and too crowded downtown. The whole point of using diagrams for transit maps instead of real geography is to avoid this problem, and Booth's map is inferior to both WMATA entries in this regard. Lesser disadvantages are that the Beltway is too prominent, and that the smaller text and lines are harder to read at small scale.

Booth claims his map is more geographically accurate with regard to jurisdiction boundaries, but at best accuracy is a wash, as the lines themselves are more distorted. Shady Grove looks awfully close to the Beltway, there's no curve at Tysons Corner, and Ballston is way too far west.

Overall, I think the Booth map is a great exercise, and offers some lessons that Metro definitely ought to adopt with its next redesign. I don't, however, think the map is better overall, and would not suggest wholesale replacement. What do you think?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Looks nice. Lacks a dot for the VRE stop at L'Enfant Plaza.

by orulz on Feb 19, 2010 10:37 am • linkreport

Definitely nicer that way.

But can we please add greenspace/park cover for all of Kenilworth Gardens/National Arboretum? I've always been disappointed that that metro-accessible park has never been shown on the WMATA map. It's larger than Arlington Cemetery, for pete's sake!

by SDJ on Feb 19, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

It's time to remove the Beltway entirely from the Metro map. It's presence is a vestige of the time before the system was built, when it oriented drivers to where the future transit line would go. Now that the map serves to guide travellers rather than for system planning, the Beltway has no place on the map.

by Ben Ross on Feb 19, 2010 10:50 am • linkreport

Overall, I think this type of map is the better way to go - but with some changes. I know some stations (especially the Red line stops past Medical Center) are far apart from each other, but other stops are strategically placed in reference to borders with county lines, etc. i.e. Friendship Heights, Capitol Heights, Southern Avenue, East Falls Church. However, the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor stops have been spread out across Arlington County...implying Ballston is ridiculously close to Falls Chuch city, for example. There is a 2 1/2 mile ride between Ballston and EFC in reality. So the question is...should Ballston to Rosslyn be squished in a bit more to go with the map's "selective geographic accuracy?"

by Matt Glazewski on Feb 19, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

@SDJ - note: only National Parks have ever been denoted on metro maps. That could be why...since the Arboretum is not of that category.

by Matt Glazewski on Feb 19, 2010 11:06 am • linkreport

As I commented on Booth's site, I think including the MARC and VRE lines is a bad idea because those services run so infrequently. Even with the lines drawn in a lighter color and the little note off to the side saying "check for service times," many people looking at that map would probably assume that MARC and VRE run at frequencies comparable to Metro.

I think that the current map gets this right: By marking which stations are served by MARC and VRE, it lets you know about the existence of those services, but by not including the lines themselves, it forces you to go elsewhere for more information.

by Johanna on Feb 19, 2010 11:14 am • linkreport

In Boothe's design it's not clear that there's an opportuniy to change lines (green-ornage) at L'Enfant. when looking at the L'Enfant stop in Boothe's map I thought, "isn't there an excahnge at that station?" then I looked at the old map to confirm. However the information is clearly conveyed at other stops in Boothes map like at Metro Center and Ft.Totten.

by Bianchi on Feb 19, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

"Booth". Why's my comment in italics?

by Bianchi on Feb 19, 2010 11:20 am • linkreport

It appears there is an open Italics tag on the "cross-posted..." line...

For the map itself, I think some of Booth's criticisms will work themselves out with the new WMATA version with the Silver Line included. The thinner lines help a great deal.

From Booth's map, I think a lot of the stations aren't prominent enough - WMATA's icons for the stations are more realistic, denoting the transfer points and the fact that most are single stations with single platforms.

I do like the inclusion of the VRE/MARC lines on the map, but that also leads to innacuracies (look how the VRE line crosses the Mall, for example). Also, some of the changes in iconography (the Parking P) are great.

More importantly, I like the trend towards using the single letters to identify each of the lines. Using color as the sole identifier is a limited system, and WMATA is about to come up against the limit if we add the kinds of transit investments we'd love to see on this blog. At that point, they'll need to switch to something else - lots of rapid transit systems simply identify lines by Number, with each number also assigned a corresponding color - but then you don't have to deal with the challenges of explaining the difference between the blue line and the teal line...

by Alex B. on Feb 19, 2010 11:22 am • linkreport

I like the MARC on VRE the map. I think it may increase ridership. You'd be surprised how many people in the DC area don't even know that there are commuter trains!

by Erik on Feb 19, 2010 11:25 am • linkreport

Now that it's under construction, why isn't WMATA using the map with the dashed, under-construction Silver Line included yet? For years, they used maps indicating future lines and stations that were under construction. If nothing else, it would provide some awareness of what's coming next.

by Log on Feb 19, 2010 11:25 am • linkreport

I like a lot of changes in the Booth map - especially the way he reflected Yellow Line service between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten. However, I agree that VRE/MARC lines should not be shown. Among other things, it makes the "transfer station" designation confusing. His map implies that, for example, you can transfer between the blue and yellow lines only at the Pentagon, Crystal City, and King Street, but not at any of the the other stations that the lines share in Fairfax.

by Ginger on Feb 19, 2010 11:29 am • linkreport

I think it's an improvement, but lacks the Purple Line and the Street Cars, even if included in dashed form, like they had when the Green Line was still under construction, I think showing what's planned is important in terms of communication.

by Redline SOS on Feb 19, 2010 11:32 am • linkreport

yes the single concentric circles denoting station changes is more clear and also more efficient then the multiple same size circles in Booths map.

by Bianchi on Feb 19, 2010 11:33 am • linkreport

Bianchi - I agree. That kind of station designation works for the NYC kick map, since each line there represents a service, and not all services stop at all of the stations. However, that's not the case in DC, where a service and a line are essentially the same thing.

by Alex B. on Feb 19, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

His insistence on extra granularity in symbology of stations disturbs me. A station is one place, not three or more individual voids overlaid on the colored lines. Look at the way Metro Center is represented by 4 voids in a row, in line with the red line but three of them show the intersection with other lines. What the hell?

by Lou on Feb 19, 2010 11:36 am • linkreport

the booth map is small on my screen and there doesn't appear to be a way to enlarge it. I can't read anything. Is there a way to enlarge it? Thanks for correcting the italics.

by Bianchi on Feb 19, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

@Log: I completely agree. It's kind of strange.

As for the Booth map itself, I think the way he depicts multiple lines using the same track doesn't work. It's almost as if there are three parallel sets of tracks, with different platforms and such. One could argue that the Metro map does this too, but at least they only use one dot for the station. Booth's design undoubtedly works better in New York City, where lines rarely share the same track (if ever ... I'm not too familiar with it).

Perhaps the solution would be to use half-width lines for lines that share tracks. It'd be sort of like the way the orange and blue lines were in that map from the 80s, where one line went one direction and the other one went the other direction. But without the arrows, of course.

Maps don't depict the eastern half of the Beltway as being twice as wide as the western half because it has both I-95 and I-495. And there's no confusing over whether the interstates are on two separate roadways.

by Tim on Feb 19, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

I would rather see Express Bus and Circulator lines on the Metro map over MARC/VRE. Commuter trains run too infrequently (and not at all on weekends) to bother putting them on there. I also like having the intersections on the WMATA map as it helps identify multiple entrances, etc.

by Adam L on Feb 19, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

agree with Lou, (and like Lou's use of language). I looked again and in the WMATA map the information is instantaneously available that there's one stop and two lines go there. The "extra granularity" just adds visual burden, visual information where there doesn't need to be any and requires extra thought - "oh. two circles. That means both trains stop there" rather then "one station, two lines". I think it will be difficult to improve upon that design element in the WMATA map.

by Bianchi on Feb 19, 2010 11:47 am • linkreport

Yes, that granularity is useful in New York, where not all trains stop at all the stations on the line. Check this sample from the Kick Map for an example:

by Alex B. on Feb 19, 2010 11:48 am • linkreport

VRE/MARC: regardless of frequency, it's important to indicate their presence as part of the overall regional transit system.

Beltway: it's good to know where to connect to the rail system if you are driving in from the outer burbs.

Green line: the southern section in PG more accurately traces the actual route whereas the northern leg does not. It's not a straight shot from Fort Totten to Greenbelt.

Overall: I really like it.

by sf4fun66 on Feb 19, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

With VRE and MARC, I like their inclusion with an eye towards eventually upgrading the service hours and frequencies along those lines and integrating them with the overall Metro system - sort of similar to the relationship between German U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains. Notably, several German cities have both their U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines on one single map.

by Alex B. on Feb 19, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

Is it really necessary to draw out the silver-line route past FallÂ’s Church? Once you get past the district those stations get so far apart that you basically pitch geographic accuracy out the window, so why pretend when you can just draw a straight silver line going up and write the stations down in order? Within the district, since itÂ’s walkable, itÂ’s nice to be able to know where the stations are located geographically, but once you get further out the stationÂ’s location isnÂ’t important and a plain list would work just as well while saving space.

by Pav on Feb 19, 2010 12:16 pm • linkreport

I am going to have to vote aginst the Booth map, there is too much going on which makes it confising. Whats great about the current map is how simple it is to follow. Think about how many people visiting the city each year use the metro. This new map would make it much more confising for them, and for the rest of us. Well we already know the system pretty well so the map is not really here for us.

by Matt R on Feb 19, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

I really like this map.

One thing, though. Every other train on the Red Line turns back at Silver Spring. That is not reflected on this map or WMATA's current map, despite the fact that Grosvenor turnbacks are shown on the Shady Grove side.

Additionally, Metro plans to phase out the Grosvenor turnbacks, so all trains will run to Shady Grove on that side of Montgomery.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 19, 2010 12:21 pm • linkreport

Italics fixed.

Bianchi: You can't click on the Booth maps and see a larger version?

by David Alpert on Feb 19, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

yes. I meant making the larger version even larger. one can enlarge it one click in the new window but I still have to lean way in to read it.

by Bianchi on Feb 19, 2010 12:28 pm • linkreport

Also, I just noticed that Amtrak services are not shown completely. For instance, below Franconia-Springfield, the map shows "Northeast Regional" as the only Amtrak service in the corridor. In fact, there are several services which take the RF&P Subdivision: the Carolinian, Palmetto, Silver Star, and the Silver Meteor.

Despite the fact that the Cardinal and the Crescent are shown headed to Manassas along with VRE services, they are not shown continuing north along the Northeast Corridor to New York, their final destination.

The map needs to be consistent. If it's going to show some Amtrak services, it needs to show them all, or at least denote which ones are and are not being shown.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 19, 2010 12:28 pm • linkreport

I like the Booth map, but I'm not so sure I'd like it if I wasn't already familiar with the system. It might not be as appealing to someone who doesn't already know the system.

Also, I like his decision to link each line with a letter as well (red and white "R"s at the end of the Red Line, and so on). I like it not because it's useful, but because for the east-west downtown corridor he has the Silver Line on top, then Orange, then Blue, so most of official Washington is on the S.O.B. Corridor. I'm certain that terminology will prove useful.

by cminus on Feb 19, 2010 12:32 pm • linkreport

Cut Cameron a break, though. This is a design exercise, which he says so himself: "Is my approach perfect? No. ...but it definitely shows a different approach to the problemÂ… which, to me, is a fascinating thing."

It's got us started talking about what information is important to convey (walkability, geographic accuracy vs legibility).

by othersideoftheriver on Feb 19, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

Wow, really impressed with all the discussion my little exercise in design has brought about!

A couple of points:

Firstly, I've removed my design from that of the current map as much as possible on purpose - for me, that was the whole point of the exercise. To take something that's almost ubiquitous and reinvent it from the ground up, to think about it from an informational point of view, is a challenge to me and something that really gets my designer's brain in gear.

Some of my changes seem to have been received positively (the overall clean look, the parking symbols), some more 50-50 (commuter rail, the spacing of stations) and some not so well (my station symbology). But the one thing it has done is get everyone talking! As a designer, I don't think we should ever accept mediocrity in communications and design... and it seems many of you think the same way.

I hadn't actually seen the "thinner routes" WMATA map before - it actually addresses most of my concerns about the current map and is definitely a huge step forward, both technically and aesthetically.

One final thing to note is that I'm not from DC and I've never been there. I'm actually an Australian living in Portland, OR! This means I don't have the emotional attachment to the city or the current map that many of the readers and commenters here have - I see this as both a good thing and bad. It means I can consider design purely on facts, but also means I miss out on some of the idiosyncrasies that residents of the area know and love.

by Cameron Booth on Feb 19, 2010 12:40 pm • linkreport

I hope I didn't come off too harshly. I really do like the map, and I'm impressed that you did such a good job as a non-Washingtonian.

It's definitely gotten us talking. Good work!

by Matt Johnson on Feb 19, 2010 12:43 pm • linkreport

@ Matt:

that's okay... no offense has been taken to anything said so far, LOL! And Re: Amtrak - that'll teach me to rely on Wikipedia for information, I guess!

by Cameron Booth on Feb 19, 2010 12:50 pm • linkreport

Is it accurate that the Silver Line is running to Stadium-Armory? I thought it ended at East Falls Church and riders had to transfer to the Orange Line.

by Juanita de Talmas on Feb 19, 2010 12:50 pm • linkreport

@Juanita de Talmas
The Silver Line will run from Route 772 to Stadium-Armory. Riders will NOT have to transfer at East Falls Church.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 19, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

My comments echo the sentiments that others presented here.

Tysons East is EAST of the Beltway, but this map presents it as west.

by Reza on Feb 19, 2010 1:34 pm • linkreport

I know this is off-topic, but the more I look at the map with the silver, blue and orange lines going through downtown DC on the same track, I ask myself - why even have the blue line follow that path? (Or alternately, why even have a blue line?) Run a one-train shuttle between Rosslyn and Pentagon for those few people who would need to go between the orange / silver lines west of Rosslyn and the yellow line south of Pentagon. That frees up that orange line to be shared with the silver line, and funnels the south Arlington / Alexandria traffic through the yellow line (which is actually a more direct route into downtown than the blue line currently is). The yellow line could split between those two branches at the south with alternate trains (like is done on the Northern Line in London), and the silver line could take the eastern-most spur of the current blue line. As someone who travels by metro daily to the Pentagon station, I would never consider taking the blue line there from DC and always choose the yellow line - which stupidly is going to be restricted evenings and weekends in favor of the blue line. I obviously don't have the traffic statistics in front of me, but this just seems like a much more organized plan than the way it currently is set up.

by Kevin on Feb 19, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

What are Metro's plans for handling those Silver line trains that terminate at Stadium-Armory? The rail diagram only shows some elevated switches and pocket-tracks just beyond the station. Are they going to reverse the trains there? Given Metro's recent inability to operate above ground in bad weather, I wonder if that is a future problem waiting to happen.

I'm dreading the additional tunnel congestion downtown from Silver Line trains. I've said for a while that Metro needs to rethink the Blue line route, and I'm pretty sure I've heard Chris Zimmerman talk about that as well.

by Lou on Feb 19, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

It looks a bit like the Boston map, showing the Commuter Rail alongside the MBTA routes.

What I haven't seen yet that I believe would be more "efficient" in terms of space on the map is combining the shared portion of the lines in a "candystripe" or "twine" pattern. That way, all routes would be one line thick as opposed to the two or three lines that the Silver line will bring and still inform people what lines are there.

What software do you use to make the maps for your site? Maybe I'll put together an example for illustrative purposes.

by Teo on Feb 19, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

This is basically the Boston T map, but for WMATA.

I think it would be helpful to outline more frequent bus lines, like the S-series, 30s, the 42/43, etc.

by Patrick on Feb 19, 2010 1:40 pm • linkreport

I like the thinner lines and clean look. Yellow Line Peak/Off-Peak service is reflected much more clearly. (The first time that I looked at the current map, I thought that the Yellow Line served only the six stations from Mt. Vernon Square to Fort Totten during peak hours, which would be absolutely pointless!) The status of Grosvenor and Silver Spring as termini should be more clearly depicted.

However, I think that the way the lines intersect doesn't accurately depict the nature of our transfer stations. It looks like Metro Center and L'Enfant Plaza are a network of stations connected via passageways. I also agree with Ginger that the map should reflect that it is possible to transfer between lines that share tracks at any shared station. The text ought to be a bit larger for better readability.

I also like the depiction of MARC/VRE services. This could build ridership and encourage increased service in the future.

Overall, great job with the concept!

by Matthias on Feb 19, 2010 1:41 pm • linkreport

Yes, the Silver Line will turnback on the pocket track located on the elevated section of the Blue and Orange Lines adjacent to the PEPCO power plant, just east of the Anacostia River and north of Benning Road.

Since the Silver Line is almost entirely surface or elevated, it won't be a problem during snow, because it probably won't operate. The Blue and Orange Lines are currently able to operate to Stadium-Armory during the snow probably by single-tracking between Eastern Market and Stadium-Armory. With low headways, that's not a problem.

There are other posts talking about the Blue Line's path through the central city, but essentially the issue is that Blue Line trains can't turnback at Rosslyn (or Pentagon) because of the station's design. And the fact that they have to share the same platform space at Rosslyn means they might as well continue downtown.

WMATA's plans for after the Silver Line opens includes routing half of all Blue Line trains over the Yellow Line bridge, so that they would operate between Franconia and Greenbelt. Metro should be able to maintain good frequency on the Orange, Silver, and Blue Lines on the common segment downtown.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 19, 2010 1:46 pm • linkreport


Read about a project me and Matt Johnson did on Metro ridership trends (located here: for why Metro might not want to eliminate Blue Line service. We have reason to believe that more riders coming from south of Pentagon take the Blue Line to the K Street/Downtown area than the Yellow Line to the Southwest Federal Center and points north. Therefore it might not be the best idea to get rid of the connection between Pentagon and Farragut Square.

by Reza on Feb 19, 2010 1:48 pm • linkreport

It's a great exercise - every map is full of compromises and tradeoffs. I strongly dislike Metro's thin-line map, but I'd like to keep the single-unit transfer stations. Other than that, good work, love the kick map, and hopefully this will inspire still better options.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 19, 2010 2:21 pm • linkreport

@Matt and Neil

I seriously would like to make a map to illustrate my point about the candystripe pattern. Do you guys use a special program?

by Teo on Feb 19, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

@Log - very good question. I've wondered the same thing, too. I mean, dirt's flying, why not add it? (Expense is my guess.) But it might bump up Metro's image a bit - "look! a shiny new toy coming!" - and they could use that.

I asked this of Dr. Gridlock a couple weeks ago, but the question didn't get posted - probably because that was Snowmageddon week.

by Ed on Feb 19, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport

I use a program called "Inkscape" to generate almost all of my graphics, diagrams, and maps.

Examples are here: Some of those maps were generated using GIS, but the rest were Inkscape.

Inkscape is an open source, free program. Read about it here:

by Matt Johnson on Feb 19, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

Thanks Matt! Let's see if I can get the hang of this haha

by Teo on Feb 19, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

I used Adobe Illustrator. It's not free by any means. If you post on my site with your real email, I can send you the file.

Inkscape is more than adequate for the map, though.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 19, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

Although the Booth map is a great improvement, I agree that it is a little *too* close to scale. Additionally, I think the lines have been scaled down too much, which de-emphasizes the importance of the Metrorail system for our region ( as well as the somewhat confusing way in which line-to-line transfers are portrayed).

by John on Feb 19, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

The map file, that is.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 19, 2010 2:45 pm • linkreport

Run a one-train shuttle between Rosslyn and Pentagon for those few people who would need to go between the orange / silver lines west of Rosslyn...That frees up that orange line to be shared with the silver line, and funnels the south Arlington / Alexandria traffic through the yellow line (which is actually a more direct route into downtown than the blue line currently is)

A lot of people on the Orange line work at the Pentagon and Crystal City or need to go to DCA. Having them go downtown and switch to the Yellow line is beyond moronic.

by Catoe No Mo' on Feb 19, 2010 3:23 pm • linkreport

It's time to remove the Beltway entirely from the Metro map

I don't agree. What it's time to do instead is to link the beltway to the closest stations in order to show where one might park to take Metro in to the city. As it is, it's just a random, unuseful line. But there should be some indication of where one can most easily access Metro from the beltway.

by ah on Feb 19, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

@CNM: You can't pull a shuttle train into Rosslyn without either building a dedicated track (HUGE $$$) or taking away a spot in the schedule that would go to an Orange/Silver train. Same with Pentagon.

by Michael Perkins on Feb 19, 2010 3:48 pm • linkreport

Another thing to consider is these maps would need to be designed to fit into existing holders. It looks like the Booth Map would be too wide (mainly because of the placement of the key).

by Steven Yates on Feb 19, 2010 3:49 pm • linkreport

@ Steven: my map currently follows the form of a US Letter sheet of paper, as does the PDF download from the Metro website. I've just turned that sheet on its side to fit in the westward expansion that the Silver Line has created. Metro itself is going to have to deal with that problem when the line is a reality - probably just by shrinking the map to fit in current holders.

by Cameron Booth on Feb 19, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport

The booth map is alright but if you going to use accurate geography use it entirely not halfassed;

The blue line is complete inaccurate between Addison Road and King Street

the blue and orange both go down penn ave then turn off on to 19th street followed by going through the rfk lot on to benning road and spliting there where the blue line continues up benning road to about 44th street before it begans to turn going down straight down east capitol & then central ave then to the left of central to largo.

Between Pentagon and King street the blue line takes many short turns and never goes straight.

Orange line from L'Enfant Plaza - New Carrolton & Ballston - Vienna

After turning from Benning Road the orange line only continues straight to Deanwood after that it turns slightly right going in to Cheverly and then continuing in a eastward direction to New Carrolton.

Some stations to close together and others to far apart and none of the stations are in a straight line.

Yellow Line from Pentagon - Hunnington see blue line

Green Line between Suiltland - Congress Heights & Ft. Totten - Greenbelt

Southern Ave Station is after the turn onto Southern Ave and Naylor Rd is to far from the turn in the direction of Branch Ave.

The train does not travel straight in no way between Ft Totten and Greenbelt.

Red Line all of it in DC

Pull out a real geographical map of DC & metrorail and you will see the differences.

I don't see the reason we need to even have 2 or 3 different lines shown on the map why not just have one that alternates between the color such as blue/orange/silver and when they split the colors split appropriately

by kk on Feb 19, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport

For the people who want to better understand the limits of what you can do with moving trains about within the system as it relates to pocket tracks, sidings etc., here is a link to the road diagram:

by Lou on Feb 19, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport

@kk: Do any of the geographical kinks and twists you list actually have any bearing on which station is next along the line? I haven't claimed my version is in any way geographically accurate, except where stations exit the District. The current map has Friendship Heights and Southern Ave well outside the border, when in reality they straddle it. I've corrected those flaws, that is all. Put all the twists and turns in and you may as well use an actual street map.

Remember, people, in the words of H.C. Beck himself, this is not a map, it's a diagram - it shows relationships between stations and lines, not the actual reality. It's the role of designer to use geography selectively to emphasise certain aspects of the routes shown, but they should never feel the need to slavishly follow the real world when it doesn't impact the understanding of the diagram. Clarity of idea should always win.

by Cameron Booth on Feb 19, 2010 4:07 pm • linkreport

@Steven Yates, Cameron Booth:
WMATA's rail system maps are 36" x 30", so anyone making a map that would fit would need to be scalable to that.

The main reason that there is a mix of diagram and accurate geography is because the downtown area would become very hard to read if the map showed distances accurately.

Besides, the little details are pointless. Who cares that Smithsonian Station is slightly angled and not directly under 12th Street? Since streets aren't shown on the map, straightening lines doesn't make it harder to locate stations.

Oh, and we show each individual line for the same reason people use periods, commas, and proper syntax. It makes things easier to understand.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 19, 2010 4:08 pm • linkreport

One nitpick about geography that's worth mentioning is the turn between Van Ness and Tenleytown. The subway switches between two major thoroughfares, which I think is important to suggest, even if it's only notional.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 19, 2010 4:12 pm • linkreport

Neil, i agree that that turn is the one that really matters. Arguably, the swerve at Tysons matters, too, is it will go from 267 to 123 to 7 and back to 267.

by dcseain on Feb 19, 2010 4:15 pm • linkreport

Agreed that this looks a lot like the MBTA "T" map.

by rk on Feb 19, 2010 5:41 pm • linkreport


I agree about that turn. I also think Tyson's should include a corner as it is indeed taking one from 123 to 7.

by NikolasM on Feb 19, 2010 5:56 pm • linkreport

I dont like showing three colors downtown. I think a striped line would be best

by J on Feb 19, 2010 5:57 pm • linkreport

I am a professional designer, and can tell you that many books and PhD dissertations have been written on the topic of what works best for displaying subway maps. I think the prior comments highlighting the existence of tradeoffs capture why there are different styles. The Booth map is must more akin to the famous Beck style (from the 1930s London Underground) of subway mapping, using 45 degree angles. The positive is that is allows people to get a total picture in their head, and member it. The negative is that is distorts true geography even worse than other forms of simplification.

New York in the 1970s tried the Vignelli map, which simplified lines. It was beautiful, but unpopular, and later dropped. The true test is not what I individually think, but what everyone collectively thinks. The best process is to do use testing on people who actually use the map, making sure they are actually representative of the population of users.

On an emotional level, I like Booth's map -- it implies an order to an system that is honestly out of control on too many levels. But the Wmata map is more honest, if less comforting. To their credit, the revised map is an improvement over their current map, and not bad (yes one can nit certain details, but let's not get lost in the weeds.).

I have never liked the current Wmata map. It implies that everywhere in the DC is a short walk from a metro station. We all wish that were true, but alas, it is not.

by Michael on Feb 19, 2010 8:31 pm • linkreport

Hmm, Cameron looks like you work in the Portland PB office. I had an informational interview there with GB Arrington this past week. I'm also in the Portland State urban planning program and my mentor is Erin Wardell, who is a MURP alum and who also works at PB. You work with them often?

You have yet to address the mistake that I pointed out: Tysons East is in the wrong location on your map. It needs to be east of the beltway.

Funny that you mention Beck, because his idea for transfer station symbols is IMO a little less convoluted than yours. He made sure that a line would only hit one blob at each transfer station. On your map you have the Red Line hitting four blobs at Metro Center, which would make one imply that there are four stations for the Red Line in that vicinity. To be more accurate you should probably move the three blobs (corresponding to Blue, Orange and Silver lines) either above or below the Red Line, and have a line connecting those three blobs to the Red Line blob. But then you have the problem of that symbology implying that there are two separate stations and you need a passageway to connect to them. Still, a better alternative I think.

by Reza on Feb 19, 2010 11:49 pm • linkreport

Hi Reza,

I do indeed work at PB in Portland, although I don't have an engineering background at all - I'm in the marketing department as a graphic designer! I know GB and Erin well, although I don't work with them on a day to day basis.

I'm working at rectifying the awful error I made at Tysons Corner - ever since I moved to the US from Australia, I've had terrible trouble with east and west... something to do with the sea being to the east in Sydney and to the west in Portland, I think. Or I'm just getting old... this revision will also address a lot of the other comments I've been getting.

by Cameron Booth on Feb 20, 2010 12:51 am • linkreport

Several thoughts. Love the discussion, thanks Cameron Booth.

-- Won't we want to start showing more geographic accuracy, similar to downtown DC, for the Tysons Corner area if the Fairfax County vision for it as an economic (and transit?) hub comes to fruition? The geographic kink in the line shows a meander, a detour into something worth stopping for ... regardless of your opinions of Tysons Corner and whether it's worth stopping for, the kink draws attention and change from the suburban, even pacing of the other stops. (In my imaginary transit world, we would start to consider a Route 7 / King Street line connecting Tysons to King Street metro, and some kind of line in the middle of the beltway connecting over to Grosvenor -- I know I know, money and sprawl issues.)

-- I hadn't seen the WMATA thin line version. Are they serious about making the end stops look like they're within reach of the Potomac River just like Arlington Cemetery? I hope that's just a temporary phase while they figure out how to adjust for all the westward stops they are building, which shifts the whole map (not diagram) center of gravity to the west... whether the diagram reflects this, we shall see.

-- For the geographic accuracy vs. diagrammatic representation discussion, I highly recommend the book Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden, Penguin Books, New York, 2007 -- page 9 in particular, plus commentary on how some of the oldest systems evolved from geographic to diagrammatic designs.

-- I like the candy stripe idea from an artistic perspective, but for clarity of reading I suspect they are so novel that they would draw attention to those parts of the line and disrupt, rather than facilitate, comprehension of the sequence of stations.

-- I second the idea of Metro moving to numbers, letters, or other names for the lines (following either New York or London models).

-- MARC and VRE do not currently run very frequently, and I wish they would because we'd have more options. Maybe including them on the map would increase demand for them? Be a little causative rather than reflective of reality? Since we don't have express lines of the Metro due to a lack of extra rails that could skip stations, these regional services are the closest we've got and we will have to live with them for a long time. Familiarity with them could spark further discussion about them ... and I appreciate Booth's outsider view just assuming that these services are part of our everyday famliarity, which they probably should be.

-- I like the idea of adding Circulator service and the future streetcars to the Metro map, since the Circulator is a pretty reliable service and connects downtown neighborhoods pretty nicely.

-- At this hour of the day (830am EST Sat 20 Feb), I am getting a server-not-responding error on the Booth maps, so I may return with more comments if I can actually look at more than the thumbnail!

by Graham S on Feb 20, 2010 8:48 am • linkreport

@Matt Glazewski
If being a National Park is the necessary criterion, then Kenilworth Gardens should definitely be shown on the map. And it's more metro accessible than Rock Creek Park!

by SDJ on Feb 20, 2010 9:28 am • linkreport

Great map. Thanks for doing it.

Regarding your east-west issues, you're not alone. I moved to DC 20 years ago from San Francisco and for the first 10 years here I got east and west mixed up, especially when entering a highway. Everyone thought I was crazy when I told them that the new ocean location was causing my confusion, especially since DC is 3 hours drive from the nearest ocean beach.

When driving, I would think "toward the ocean = west" and "away = east." No idea why I instinctively knew where the beach was, but not what direction it was in. Glad to know I'm not (too) nuts. Cheers.

by jyindc on Feb 20, 2010 10:07 am • linkreport

Oh, dear. Booth's pages are timing out. All this great discussion makes me eager to see them.

by gretchen on Feb 20, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport


The reason that the Mall and Rock Creek Park are on the map, but Kenilworth and the Arboretum are not is simple - The Mall and Rock Creek have far more relevance in navigation than the others. Rock Creek divides two major parts of the city, and the Mall is a major navigational landmark.

by Alex B. on Feb 20, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

Hi all,

just to let you know that I've posted a v1.1 reworking of the map to my site:

If it still loads the old images, just refresh your browser and the new ones should pop up. Here's a list of the edits:

* Moved Capital Beltway to run to the west of Tysons Corner East station (actually looks much better that way!)

* Reworked and simplified station symbology (a definite improvement - thanks to all who suggested this!)

* Made font denoting Transfer Stations one level bolder

* Reintroduced kink in Red Line between Van Ness and Tenleytown stations

* Lengthened gap between stations on the Red Line between Grosvenor-Strathmore and Shady Grove

* Aligned New Carrolton and College Park stations on a diagonal axis - preparatory work for the Purple Line!

* Increased gap between Ballston and East Falls Church

* Removed landmarks from map - just to see if reduces visual clutter

* Listed all Amtrak services (not the random few I had before!)

I've also added a couple of new images to the gallery on my site - the actual geographical routes overlaid over my map and the current WMATA map. It doesn't prove anything one way or the other, but I think you'll find it an interesting addition to discussion!

Finally, if you are a Flickr member, you can view a super-high res version (3000 pixels wide!) of my map on my Flickr account:

Then click on "All Sizes", then "Original". That's all for now!

by Cameron Booth on Feb 20, 2010 5:23 pm • linkreport

I think that the increased distance between EFC & Ballston is a slight improvement, but I still think that for the sake of the relative geographical accuracy you seem committed to inside the (now) accurate DC/NOVA square, the the distance between the two stations still needs to be larger, thus showing the Roslyn-Ballston corridor at a distance/density similar to Foggy Bottom-Metro Center. Looking at your own overlay of the actual location over the current map, you've made this point yourself. I mean, the distance from Ballston to EFC is the same as the length of the *entire* Roslyn-Ballston corridor!

Similarly, I've always thought the space between DCA and Braddock Road should be larger -- it's grossly understated. If you want your map to be forward looking, perhaps you should tackle this problem as well given that we should be seeing the new Potomac Yards station between those two in the next five years or so.

I realize that it's a diagram and not a map, but these tweaks seem to me to be inline with the rest of your geographical faithfulness.

I would also suggest breaking the District boundary line where station names overlap it. The similarity in font size and line thickness makes the black and grey very indistinguishable unless you look up very close.

Lastly, as someone else mentioned, I'm really bugged by the VRE/Amtrak line crossing "over" the Mall. I realize that the Yellow/Green Metro line doesn't actually go over the Mall either, but then the implication is that rail traffic follows the same route, which also isn't true.

I really like:
-that you've gotten rid of the ridiculously overstated kink in the Green/Yellow
-that you've included the MARC/VRE lines and stations that are within the Metro area (though I would suggest differentiating the station names somehow from Metro stations)
-changed the parking symbol, though I always thought the universal symbol was a blue square not a circle

All in all, awesome work!

by Erik W on Feb 20, 2010 8:20 pm • linkreport

@Lou "I'm dreading the additional tunnel congestion downtown from Silver Line trains. I've said for a while that Metro needs to rethink the Blue line route, and I'm pretty sure I've heard Chris Zimmerman talk about that as well."

Well, Metro will certainly have to do something about train congestion going through the Rosslyn tunnel; however, passenger congestion will probably not be an issue. Tysons is a net employment center, meaning that passenger traffic will be reverse from the traditional suburbs -> downtown DC commute.

by Adam L on Feb 20, 2010 11:12 pm • linkreport

Now that I can see the Booth design, I like it a lot (v. 1.1). The change to station markings (from competing circles to rounded rectangles) works well, as does a black line border for transfer stations. Also like the markings for stations that coincide with regional rail, though that might imply to a visitor that one could change between the systems and stay within the Metro fare structure.

For what it's worth, on a thread that's aging now...

-- Personally I would have selected a horizontal line for the Silver line rather than a diagonal one, with a diagonal uptick after the airport. There's nothing wrong diagrammatically with the Booth design though. I would also suggest inserting a space for a stop to be added between Tysons West and Wiehle Avenue, since there is the possibility (but who knows?) that a Wolf Trap stop could be added in the future.

-- Have to agree with someone who suggested the addition to the Booth design of spacing for a future Potomac Yards metro stop between Braddock Road and National Airport. That fill-in station will actually help your even spacing more closely approach reality.

-- What about adding a pale shade to the other jurisdictions (Arlington, Alexandria, Montgomery and Prince George's Counties) as you have for DC? One might want to add a jurisidictional boundary for Falls Church and for Fairfax since both are incorporated in Virginia ... Virginia law is funny (to my senses) in requiring incorporated cities to "secede" from the county they are in, and those two have done that. Might also help people to realize how far away they are from Fairfax City when they are at the Vienna/Fairfax metro station.

-- Wanting to hybridize geography and simplicity, I could wish for X or Y or Z to be different too (Fort Totten too far north, Stadium Armory not due east of all the others), but overall I like the effect quite a bit and would happily adapt to seeing this instead of the current design.

by Graham S on Feb 21, 2010 9:15 am • linkreport

I like this Booth map, it's a step in the right direction of increased information density.

A couple points of clarifications about the NYC map as I live here now and we've discussed the Kick vs. Vignelli vs. current map on websites up here:

1. The NY Map isn't anywhere near to scale. Manhattan on our map is HUGE. And for good reason, there's a lot more station density in Manhattan and it's the social center of the city. Staten Island (which wasn't on the original Vignelli or the original version of the current map) is rather oddly drawn but it's also WAY closer to Manhattan then it is in reality. NY Harbor is a very large area that the map doesn't begin to hint at it. Train lines in the other boroughs are much longer than they appear on the our current map.

2. As people mentioned up stream, part of what the Kick map is trying to do is separate out the oddities in our train line identification. Colors in the NY map indicate trains that run on the the same track, but then within those colors we may have 2 or 3 different types of routes that split outside of the lower Manhattan core. (For instance, the 4-5-6 all run on the same green indicated track, but the splinter into three different lines in the Bronx.) The trouble is that 6 train is local, while 4-5 are express in Manhattan. The current map requires a lot of close reading to figure out local versus express. And so the Kick Map was an attempt to show these difference visually instead of with little letters by the stations to indicate which trains stop there.

3. One thing that came out in discussions up here is how little geographical distance matters, but how important aboveground landmarks are. (It's a similar discussion we've been having since the mid-1970s.) So yes, the parks matter, but so also do the major roads and bridges that are indicated. The less geographical maps of DC, London, Tokyo were all believed to be much more difficult for the casual user to use which is one reason we continue to include these features.

DC's map (and Booth's redesign doesn't address) is especially unrelated to the aboveground landmarks as the station names do not reflect street names. But rather place names that difficult to understand for the casual user. (I lived in DC for 5 or 6 years I still never understood where the different squares in downtown where and which was named which.) I'd like to see a DC map better reflect aboveground cross streets. Both numbers and letters. And I think a revised DC map should have the core area even bigger, especially if including circulator and eventual streetcar routes.

by Christopher on Feb 21, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport

The Philadelphia SEPTA system maps show everything - trolley lines, in-ground subway lines, elevated subway lines, commuter trains - the whole damn show. It's convenient to have access to this type of map. The problem, however, is that it's really unclear looking at it without any knowledge of the system which lines are which kinds, and the timing of each type varies greatly. I personally prefer a cleaner, one-system-only map, at least for the subway system overall. If I can't transfer to it without paying another fare, I don't want to see it on the Metro map.

That being said, what I'd personally REALLY like to see is a DC-only map that has all of it - Metro, Circulator, streetcars, everything - even if it was created more as just an academic exercise, that people could use for planning trips within the city. No offense to my friends and family out in the burbs, but it just seems more likely that people will drive to suburban stations (since they come with parking), take Metro in, and then transfer to other methods once they get in town. So it'd be interesting to see where they could go :)

by Martin on Feb 22, 2010 1:37 am • linkreport

I like the new station dots! The Red Line still needs to reflect that some trains terminate at Silver Spring, as they do at Grosvenor.

by Matthias on Feb 22, 2010 1:31 pm • linkreport

@Martin -- This ( almost does what you're talking about, only it only shows WMATA-run services, not including the Circulator for example nor would it likely show the streetcars once they're on (since those are done by DC DOT not WMATA). And of course this map is buried under the Bus Maps section (although it shows Metrorail) and is a 4meg PDF file or a map they sell at Metro Center.

It might take a private publisher (or an act of God or Congress) to get all the various systems onto one map. But it's a noble quest.

Maybe one could build off this WMATA bus map of DC, crop in to a neighborhood (say, Georgetown or U Street or Dupont Circle or Capitol Hill or Brookland or Columbia Heights or Anacostia) and add in other services provided by DC, and package those in a printable-at-home format or a downloadable-to-mobile format?

Darn this thread for keeping me thinking about it.

by Graham S on Feb 23, 2010 7:30 pm • linkreport

My bad, the Circulator IS shown.

by Graham S on Feb 23, 2010 7:43 pm • linkreport

Version 1.2

• Made gap between Ballston and East Falls Church even closer to reality

• Made gap between Airport and Braddock Road closer to reality - leaves space for Potomac Yard fill-in station

• Changed blue/orange line configuration east of Stadium-Armory so that both lines cross the Anacostia River together - as (I think) they do in real life. Slight respacing of Minnesota Ave and Benning Road to accommodate this.

• Moved Southern Ave station to just outside the District boundary and after the 90° curve that brings the track onto the eastern side of Southern Avenue. Moved Naylor Road station to accommodate this.

• Spaced stations from Silver Spring to Glenmont a little further apart. Added "turn back" stripe to this section of track, added notes to explain this to the legend. I hope I got this right... the timetables on WMATA's website aren't the most helpful... no timetables for peak hours because there's too many trains??

• Added early closing times for Arlington Cemetery station

• Italicized station names for VRE/MARC-only stations to differentiate them from normal stations a bit

• Added a white keyline behind type where it crosses the Capital Beltway.

Phew! That's about it. Probably the last revision for a while, I think...

by Cameron Booth on Feb 24, 2010 2:34 am • linkreport

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