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Combine the Circulator and Metro maps for visitors

Visitors to DC generally navigate using the Metro map and a street map. The Metro map has become so iconic that it forms many visitors' mental images of DC. However, that map makes no mention of Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and other major destinations.

The Circulator serves those areas, and one of its roles is to serve as an easier-to-understand, no-change-required tourist bus to the places tourists might go, including the Mall, Georgetown, Adams Morgan, the Capitol, Barracks Row, and the ballpark. However, the Circulator's official map only shows Metro stations, not the lines themselves.

These two maps don't work together well.

To really navigate DC, a visitor would need to look at both maps and figure out how to merge the two. Why make them do this work? Why introduce the potential for confusion and mistakes?

DC should create a merged map.

One side (when the map is printed on paper) should have the well-known stylized Metro layout with the Circulator added in:

Click to enlarge.

Visitors would use this to understand how areas relate to one another and plot transit routes between them. Meanwhile, the other side should use a street-based layout, but including Metrorail lines as well as Circulator lines. Visitors would use that one to figure out where exactly to find a Circulator stop or a Metro station.

This map could go into guidebooks, be handed out in hotels, and be posted on kiosks in visitor-heavy areas. Maybe Metro could even include it, along with the regular map, at some downtown stations. This map could form visitors' new mental image of the layout of DC. Instead of leaving out many important areas, it would incorporate them.

Transportation agencies need to think beyond simply how to showcase their own services. Visitors, residents, and others don't really care which agency runs a service; they care what service gets where they need to go. We need maps that show people the services they might want, tailored to their needs.

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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Routes change on the buses too frequently. The train tracks and stations are pretty much set -- which is why it might include the future streetcar routes.

A circulator + Metro map would need to include the restricted nighttime route for the Union Station - Georgetown route. As someone who lives near Union Stations, I would love not having to take the rail to Farragut North to transfer at night.

It also excludes all Metrobus service, but heck, that map in and of itself is difficult enough to work out.

by Trian on Sep 1, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

Sorry, saw you included the limited , or "additional" depending on how you look at it, service of the US-G Town in the key..I was looking at it blown up and didn't see it.

by Trian on Sep 1, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

Well the Metro Map does make mention of Adams Morgan (however accurate that might be) in the station name Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan.

Maybe I would take out the dots of the Circulator routes. It's not as if you would use this map to actually go to any of those places (as in you wouldn't be looking at that map counting the number of stops until you get to "Georgetown"), you would use the street based nap for that (oh, I can take this orangeish line to get to Georgetown from Farragut North).

by Steven Yates on Sep 1, 2010 3:33 pm • linkreport

The intersection of the Convention Center and Smithsonian routes is a bit confusing by virtue of being the same color, and also leaves out some of the more frequent metrobus routes (which we really need to figure out how to handle -- more people would ride the bus if the (several overlapping) systems were easier to use and understand).

But otherwise, the map is great!

by andrew on Sep 1, 2010 3:46 pm • linkreport

Nice job!

@Steven Yates, I think it's useful to denote many, if not most, of the Circulator stops. But perhaps the map would look a tad less cluttered if the bus stops were rendered as solid circles rather than the black-ring-around-white-center icons.

by Brad on Sep 1, 2010 3:52 pm • linkreport


But most of those dots don't have any context, so I'm having trouble figuring out what visitors would use them for. But I think you might be right regarding solid circles, it would also differentiate between a Metro stop and a Circulator stop.

by Steven Yates on Sep 1, 2010 3:57 pm • linkreport

Great map, but I agree with Trian and Brad. Stops on the Circulator should probably be solid to make them clearer, and I would make the Mc Pherson-Union Station section a dashed line to indicate it isn't always served.

by Stanton Park on Sep 1, 2010 4:00 pm • linkreport

Why only the Circulator routes? The Metrorail map is regional. If the Circulator routes go on, I think the REX/171 Richmond Hwy routes should be added btw Huntington and Ft. Belvoir and the "Transit Beltway" of FFX route 401/402 btw Tysons and Franc-Springd. Both have frequent combined service most of the day during weekdays.

The S1,2,4,9; X2,9; and 70,71,79; the J1,2,3 and Qs as well in Montgomery Co.

by Transport. on Sep 1, 2010 5:35 pm • linkreport

I sent this to my council member. Great job.

by Aaron Huertas on Sep 1, 2010 6:53 pm • linkreport

I would simplify it a bit.

I would put in the key simply a line showing what a circulator line looks like. The arrows on the map I think explain enough, and anyone who doesn't figure them out isn't going to figure out the key either.

I also wouldn't mark stops on the circulator as there are too many, but rather just annotate the major locations (georgetown, adams morgan, etc)

by nathaniel on Sep 1, 2010 7:26 pm • linkreport

Do not put bus service on the Metro map. It dilutes the brand. If people want to do DC like a local they can learn about it on their own. Otherwise the tourists are fine sticking to the rails.

by Omar on Sep 1, 2010 7:36 pm • linkreport


I have to admit I'm scratching my head a bit over your comment... what's the brand & how is it being diluted?

by Bossi on Sep 1, 2010 7:52 pm • linkreport


As someone who routinely pushes visitors to see DC like a local, I got to say I disagree with you. This is a sound and sensible way to open up access to our city in a clear and coherent way.

by TimK on Sep 1, 2010 8:04 pm • linkreport

Great idea. But WMATA and DDOT collaborating? Heresy!
Keep your government hands of my WMATA!

by Jasper on Sep 1, 2010 8:38 pm • linkreport

I think that, in principle, this is a good idea. However, you're going to run into rather big farecard useage problems: tourists will be bewildered when their rail farecards don't work on the buses. If there were a way to make the paper farecards compatible with both rail and circulator, then this could work. Otherwise, you're have some really confused tourists, and really annoyed locals when it takes twice as long to board a bus because the driver has to explain to 5 tourist groups why they can't board the bus.

by JS on Sep 1, 2010 8:45 pm • linkreport

@ JS

Why just Circualtor that would be a big benefit for all buses.

They could even do something like what Baltimore has with the One Day Pass which can be used on everything.

by kk on Sep 1, 2010 11:06 pm • linkreport

The brand is Metro. Specifically, Metrorail. If you add bus service to a rail map, you're doing a disservice to the riders. It's information that doesn't need to be there, and as JS mentioned it is potentially confusing in more ways than one. People have a hard enough time figuring out the system as it is, even with all of its built-in simplicity.

And don't forget we're getting streetcars that will be connecting the city too. Light rail makes a lot more sense to add than bus service. But even then, the light rail we have is not quite up to the standard of regional rail service that other world capitals provide that you might appended to subway maps.

Let's keep DC transit to DC, and let WMATA be our regional rail service, and never the tween should meet until someone gets off at a station and looks at the neighborhood map. Then they can go exploring.

by Omar on Sep 1, 2010 11:17 pm • linkreport

Conceptually a good idea, but it gets too cluttered. The major beauty of maps that imitate the London Underground map (of which Metro is just one of many) is the simplicity.

If you had to include it, you could use tick marks instead of circles - as London Underground uses for non-transfer stations - to reduce clutter and better differentiate.

by Herostratus on Sep 2, 2010 10:01 am • linkreport

This is a handy addition for a tourist map (or, frankly, for a commuter map). Yes, it would be great to add the Metrobus lines as well -- there's not really a decent map out there yet. Having something that conveys the general route of bus lines in a conceptual, but slightly-more-realistic and to-scale version than the stylized Metro map, would be hugely helpful for using the bus to get somewhere you haven't been before.

That said, Trian is right that the bus routes change quite frequently -- your Gtown Circulator map shows the western terminus at "Whitehaven," but the Circulators stopped going to Whitehaven months ago. They stop at the Safeway now because, well, they don't give you a reason. It just amkes the bus that much less useful for the folks who live up the hill.

by pilgrim on Sep 2, 2010 11:48 am • linkreport

This map is better than nothing, but really, the Circulator buses don't deserve to be mentioned on a Metro rail map. They are no more likely to be on time, or to stick to their route, than a WMATA Metrobus. I'd hold off until the streetcar lines are up & running; that's a permanent, fixed line that in theory could operate up to Metro rail standards.

by tom veil on Sep 2, 2010 12:42 pm • linkreport

Ha! It's like you hopped into my brain on this one - great work!

A lot of folks claim that tourists never use buses. I disagree with that and think that we should be actively encouraging visitors - and residents, of course - to use our bus lines even more, and not just DC Circulator but Metro buses, too.

I'm a tireless advocate for buses because as a whole they run much longer hours, with more frequency (during non-rush), and take passengers much closer to a vast number of popular destinations. In many cities, there's no mutual exclusivity between buses and rail; they're both simply a part of a single system and seamlessly interchangeable in the eyes of commuters.

For many Metro rail riders, jumping that mental - and physical - hurdle on to a bus route is not realistic at this point. But by encouraging rail riders - visitors and locals alike - just to *think* about fitting DC Circulator routes into their trips as an integral part of the overall public transit system, Metro and DDOT would be paving the path to greater acceptance of buses in the city as a whole. I would wholeheartedly support that effort. This map is a great start.

by EmilyHaHa on Sep 2, 2010 1:20 pm • linkreport

I think the merged map is a really great idea.

by Andy Peters on Sep 2, 2010 1:22 pm • linkreport

What about two types of maps

1 the regular version (in the train cars)


2 an enlarged version that shows metrobus and rail


3 an enlarged version that shows all buses (provided the counties chip in).

2 & 3 are only in station platforms, entrances and bus bays

by kk on Sep 2, 2010 5:53 pm • linkreport

The map is very well done and relatively seamless. As others have noted it would be nice (but likely not a deal breaker) to put some geographic context (like 14th & K for that stop on the Circulator line) to aid in its use.

The Metro map is so highly stylized it would be difficult to overlay Metrobus routes, unless you tried to redraw the city to fit, and wouldn't add any clarity.

There are many formats available, and the comment regarding ticks like Beck's London Underground map would probably help differentiate the Circulator, though I do love the half circles. Berlin's current S and U Bahn map does show a way to include bus routes, but these are de-emphasized and also highly stylized.

by copperred on Sep 3, 2010 11:49 am • linkreport

I really like the combined map idea. Only one issue & suggestion: The west-only and east-only stops are not intuitive -- I can't look at the map and remember whether the 1/2 circle up or down means east or west.

Suggestion: replace the 1/2 circles with circle & arrows (like the "male" symbol) where the arrows point east or west. That'd definitely be more intuitive.

by Ditro on Sep 3, 2010 1:58 pm • linkreport

I rode the new blue-bus-replacing Circulator from Rosslyn to Georgetown the other day and there are only 25 seats (and that's including the fold-down handicapped access places). Is that normal?

by ArroniusDies on Sep 3, 2010 2:55 pm • linkreport

Another few thoughts:
- to clarify things for tourists, it might be good to say "Metrorail - underground train" and "Circulator - overground bus" so they can find things easier
- @Transport - Less is more. I think keeping to metrorail and circulator is key. Anything else would make it cluttered.

by Ditro on Sep 3, 2010 3:15 pm • linkreport

Eh, I'd get rid of most all the circles on the Circulator lines, except for those that warrant a name like Georgetown, Logan Circle, etc.

David, I think you're trying to make them look like the Boston T map for the outer Green Line streetcar area, but I think it just clutters everything. It's not like anyone's going to know, "oh, I can get pick up the Circulator bus at the third dot.

I also think I'd lose most of the directional splits on this map. I know it's a bus and not an underground rail system (and so the relationship with the streets is important), but I think the confusion/complication isn't worth it.

If a larger geographically accurate streets map is on the back anyway, why complicate the stylized one with splits and a dot overload?

by Joey on Sep 3, 2010 5:13 pm • linkreport

Any chance someone could do an overlay of both Metro stations and the DC Circulator routes on Google Maps? Then we'd have a way to look at the station stops, routes, AND local landmarks or sites, all in context. Just a thought--maybe I'll find the time to do it, someday...

by techiewonk on Sep 5, 2010 8:09 pm • linkreport

Keep the circulator map as it is, but add the Metro lines as dotted lines, all in black. A map of the circulator system doesn't need to differentiate between the various Metro lines, only to show the outlines of the system and note transfer points.

You are correct that the Metro map should be included, but it should remain as is (i.e. a rail-only map) and map users would use both maps in combination to plan a trip.

by Roland S on Sep 7, 2010 8:43 pm • linkreport

thanks! my thoughts exactly. Im new to DC area and dont own a car, so its nice to know all the traveling scenarios possible. The only negative thing about your merged map is that it doesnt illustrate the streets. I will attempt to use the actual Circulator route map and add the metro routes and stations on that.

by Quang on Aug 1, 2015 12:06 pm • linkreport

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