Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Maps


This new tool maps transit developments across North America

Ever wonder what transit projects are in under construction, planned, or proposed in Denver or Honolulu? Check out a captivating new Transit Explorer that maps transit development in more than 40 cities in North America.

Developed by Chicago-based urbanists and transit professionals Yonah Freemark and Steven Vance, the new transit project visualisation is an extension of the popular transit openings and construction starts post that Freemark has published on his blog The Transport Politic annually since 2009.

"We wanted to provide people an open-source, easy to use, and good-looking interface by which to explore transit in North America," says Freemark. "Transit Explorer is all about helping people understand where fixed-guideway transit is now and where it could go so that they can imagine how to improve transportation systems in their own cities and compare plans across the continent."

Transit Explorer shows the wide variety of transit projects in some stage of development in the Washington DC region, including the Silver Line phase two in Virginia, H Street streetcar line in DC and the Purple Line light rail project in Maryland.


You can see "scars" from old rail lines all over today's maps of the region

As places change, linear routes like rail lines and canals sometimes turn into new roads or trails. Other times, the old lines stay on the map but become harder to spot.

In Deanwood, a line of houses curves along what used to be a railroad route. Images from Google Maps unless otherwise noted.

Typically, new roads or trails replace the long, narrow rights-of-way, which means the shapes you see on a map are the same, they just host a different mode of transportation. In our region, the Georgetown Branch Trail is named for the former Georgetown Branch of the B&O railroad that it follows. Old Dominion Road in Virginia follows the route of the former Washington and Old Dominion Railroad.

But in some cases, open land left behind by railroads is sometimes rezoned and filled in with buildings. When that happens, the historic lines might become something like what you see in the image above, where the line of houses along Nannie Helen Burroughs Ave NE in Deanwood curves along what used to be a railroad alignment that ran to Seat Pleasant and beyond.

Here's another shot from Deanwood:

Writer Geoff Manaugh observed that such buildings resemble scar tissue, and blog Web Urbanist coined the term "scarchitecture" for this phenomena.

With the Deanwood examples, there's even clearer evidence of this alignment in the DC Zoning parcels that the buildings occupy.

Image from the DC Zoning Map.

Another great example of this happening in DC is at 7th and K Street NE, where there's an alley that follows an old rail line that ran down West Virginia Avenue.

Just southeast of where West Virginia Avenue hits K Street, you can see an alley that follows the rail line that West Virginia Avenue replicates. Image from Google Maps.

Another examples is the southern end of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. Here's a section of the former route along West Glebe Road in Alexandria:

And here's one from along Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington:

Have you seen any examples of this phenomena in the Greater Washington region? Let us know in the comments!


This futuristic concept for the Bethesda station entrance has an even more futuristic Metro map

Imagine that one day the Bethesda Metro station's entrance could look like this. Then look closely at that Metro map and imagine that we could have all of the extra, nonexistent Metro lines it shows.

Image from Brookfield Properties.

This rendering shows the escalators and stairs from the street level to the current bus bays. People entering Bethesda station from the street descend to the bus bay level, then continue into longer escalators continuing down.

As Bethesda Magazine reports, Brookfield wants to build a high-rise building on top of what's now a large but mostly inert plaza, and create a "Bethesda Central Park" of more active and greener space.

But Clark Enterprises, another developer in Bethesda whose headquarters are next door, wants to keep the space open to protect views from its buildings, and has designed a competing park plan that puts the park space closer to the street, atop Brookfield's land.

Brookfield recently tried to sweeten the pot by proposing a big facelift for the bus bay level and the entrance. Neither company, however, is in a position to make one piece of this drawing a reality: that Metro map, which is not the real Metro map but actually Neil Flanagan's 2009 fantasy Metro map:

Image from Neil Flanagan.

Flanagan designed a Metro loop that's somewhat like the one WMATA has actually proposed, but larger, stretching out to U Street and Florida Avenue instead of staying downtown, and with a branch east of the Anacostia and out to National Harbor.

This happens to be the same fantasy map Terry McAuliffe's campaign accidentally used in a flyer attacking his 2013 gubernatorial opponent, Ken Cuccinelli:

Imag from the McAuliffe campaign.

Presumably there's a search on Google Images or the like which brings up this map, and some graphic designers less well versed in the Metro system grab it, not realizing what it is. It's happened to maps I've made as well, like this 2008 MediaBistro ad or this graphic from one cheesesteak shop:

It's always worth laughing at this phenomenon, though.


2015's greatest hits: Will the Purple Line appear on the Metro map?

To close out 2015, we're reposting some of the most popular and still-relevant articles from the year. This post originally ran on July 17. Enjoy and happy New Year!

With the Purple Line's future looking brighter, it is finally becoming easier to envision the embattled light rail line becoming a reality. But if the line does become a part of our region's transit network, will it also be a part of the iconic Metro map?

Base map by Peter Dovak, cartoony additions by David Alpert.

While it's called the "Purple Line," WMATA would not be building this line, nor was it planned as a part of the Metrorail system. It's still unclear how well the line would integrate with other lines. There hasn't ever been a decision made about whether, for example, you'll pay a separate fare to ride the Purple Line, as with a bus, or whether it will be part of the same fare structure as all of the rail lines.

Advocates and planners have long shown images of the Purple Line on Metro map to help cement the idea that this new line will become a critical component of the region's rail transit. But it isn't trivial to fit the line into the existing Metro map.

An older diagram of the Purple Line atop the base WMATA Map via Coalition for Smarter Growth.

How can the Purple Line fit?

If it appears on the map, the Purple Line would be the just the second line color to go on the map since the system's inception, besides the Silver Line. Unlike the Silver, though, the Purple Line and its winding route among the branches of the Metro system will force significant changes to fit with the map's chunky, iconic style.

The map's diagrammatic nature distorts the system heavily as the lines spread outside the core. Simply adding the line itself in and making minor modifications to label placement actually works fairly well, but it's tough to squeeze 10 Purple Line stations into the space between Silver Spring and College Park, while there are only three between Silver Spring and Bethesda.

People might assume, from the above map, that the stations east of Silver Spring are very close together, and very far apart to the west. But that's not true. Instead, the two branches of the Red Line are much closer together than the map suggests.

One solution is to shift the Green/Rush Yellow segment north of Fort Totten to the east. While this more accurately reflects the route through Prince George's County, the change would be one of the most significant to the map since its creation in the 1970s, and may perhaps be a controversial one.

Should the Purple Line get equal billing to heavy rail lines?

The Purple Line is not a Metrorail line. It is a light rail line. And WMATA will not even operate it. Arguably, therefore, the Purple Line should appear less important than the six Metrorail lines.

Today's map doesn't even show other rail services like Amtrak, MARC and VRE. They only get logos next to their respective transfer points. But far more people will likely transfer to and from the Purple Line, and it will run much more frequently than commuter rail or Amtrak. Just using icons would not make the Purple Line very visible. On smaller printed or web versions of the map, they may be difficult to spot at all.

The map could display the Purple Line but in a different style. A thinner line, using smaller station labels, or only showing the line itself and not the stations are all possible solutions.

See the Purple Line with: Icons only   Thin line   Small labels   No stations

Most other American cities with multimodal rail transit do not bother to make this distinction, however. Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Boston all operate light and heavy rail (though under the same agency) and display them no differently.

What about other services?

If and how to show the Purple Line will likely depend on its ridership, differences in fares or operating hours, and many other factors. After decades of campaigning, though, many would agree that the Purple Line deserves a spot on the Metro map, but it is still a topic that raises an interesting discussion.

And if the Purple Line is deserving, what about MetroWay, DC Streetcar, or the multitude of planned BRT lines? Should it show commuter rail, akin to Philadelphia and Boston's transit maps? What makes a service deserving? These are questions Metro leaders and the region will have to grapple with if the Purple Line becomes a reality.


Watch the world's urban population explode on one map

The number of urban areas in the world with a population over one million has exploded since 1950. This map shows just how extreme that explosion has been.

Image from KPMG.

On the map, from KPMG Demographics, you can see how in 1950 the world's scant million-plus cities were heavily concentrated in western Europe, the northeastern United States, and Japan. Since then, not many new ones have popped up in those places, but the rest of the world has caught up big time.

By the 1980s, China, India, and southeast Asia are challenging the west's dominance. By the turn of the millenium, the middle east and central Africa join the party. South America keeps up a slower but steady pace the whole time.

What jumps out to you?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


A map with all the region's bike routes isn't easy to make

There are bike maps for lots of the jurisdictions in DC area, but no single source that combines them all so cyclists can easily plan for trips throughout the region. I've created a mashup of a number of local bike maps as a first crack at creating one for the entire region.

Map by the author using MapBox.js. Click for an interactive version.

The map combines official bike maps from DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Montgomery County, and the City of Takoma Park. As far as I know, Prince George's County doesn't have an official bike map.

For DC, Arlington, Alexandria, and Takoma Park, my map uses an image of the most recent paper map; for Fairfax and Montgomery County, it pulls a live overlay from the online version of their bike map and displays it atop the base street map from a company called Mapbox. Mapbox's map data is built atop the crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap.

In addition to being (at least somewhat) useful for planning bicycle trips in the region, the mashup raises a few interesting questions:

Why can't the jurisdictions agree on a color scheme?

Arlington and Alexandria share a common set of colors to depict both on-street and off-street bike facilities. Capital Bikeshare maps use the same color scheme. DC, Fairfax, Montgomery County, and Takoma Park, however, are all over the place, using different and often contradictory colors and line styles.

If an official regional bike map existed, who would coordinate it, distribute it and host the online version?

A regional bike map seems like it'd be useful for a lot of people, but who would its creator and keeper be? The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, our regional metropolitan planning organization seems like a reasonable fit, but it's focused primarily on meeting the regulations of the Clean Air Act.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) seems like another potential option, though it would likely have to be under a private contract with each jurisdiction.

Do you find my "frankenmap" useful? What questions does it raise for you? Should we have a regional bike map? Whose job should that be?


These are the US cities doing away with parking minimums

Under DC's new zoning code, there will be fewer requirements to build parking next to new buildings. Lots cities are making similar moves, with some doing away with parking minimums altogether.

A map of places that have changed their parking rules. Map from Strong Towns.

In the graphic above, which the folks at Strong Towns created, green pins represent cities that have ditched parking minimums , either entirely or at least in certain neighborhoods. The blue pens show blue pins show where parking minimums have been lowered, and the orange ones show cities that are considering lowering their minimums.

Locally Alexandria, has a blue pin, while DC is still orange. Once DC's zoning update goes through, it will change to blue (though original proposals did call for total elimination).

DC is also changing things up when it comes to its parking meters, with a performance parking pilot going on in Navy Yard and one to come in Gallery Place.

Cities originally mandated parking minimums out of fears that without them, nobody would have anywhere to park. But we've since learned that parking minimums lead to greater congestion and higher housing prices in cities and neighborhoods. Matthew Yglesias sums it up nicely in his book, The Rent Is Too Damn High:

Cities choke density with rules mandating the quantity of parking that must be constructed to go along with any new residence. The rules, in other words, increase the number of parking spaces over what a free market would create. That helps make real estate more expensive than it otherwise would be by ensuring that either homes are smaller or else parcels are larger than would be the case absent regulation.
Cities from Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia to Anchorage, Bismarck, and Fayetteville are among the places doing something to address the error that is parking minimums. Strong Towns' map is open source, so if you know of any cities that are missing, you can add them in.


This group built a Metro map out of cans as part of a charity drive

Every year, participants in Canstruction, a charity food drive, create sculptures out of canned goods. This year's theme was transportation, which led to replicas of the Metro map, Washington Dulles International airport, and a Car2Go.

A DC Metro map. Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

Sponsored by the Washington Architectural Foundation, Canstruction's goal is to raise awareness about hunger in DC. According to the event's website, Canstruction teams donated nearly 56,000 pounds of food and $8,000 in cash in 2014—the equivalent of about 42,000 meals.

The photo above is of the OutSMARTing hunger Metro map, which the Young Constructors Forum (YCF) of Associated General Contractors of Metro DC built with 2,800 cans.

Below, check out Dulles: 2 Pringles to Paradise, a cross-section of the iconic Eero Saarinen terminal at Dulles airport that KCCT Architects submitted. It's made out of 3,360 cans.

Dulles: 2 Pringles to Paradise. Photo by Erin Kelleher Photography, courtesy of the Washington Architectural Foundation.

Even the popular car sharing service Car2Go was featured, with a Can2Go sculpture by Barnes Vanze Architects.

Can2Go. Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

All of the 68,313 cans used in the 24 sculptures were donated to the Capital Area Food Bank on Black Friday, says the Washington Architectural Foundation.

See more of the Canstruction sculptures on the Washington Architectural Foundation's Facebook page.


Here's how to get romantic with the Metro map

A Metro fan recently decided to get creative with a gift for his wife, creating a map with station names that are anagrams of the real things.

Image by Nathan Charlton. Click for the full map.

An anagram is a word you get from rearranging the letters of another word. For example, the word "solve" is an anagram for the word "loves."

On mapmaker Nathan Charlton's creation, the "No Rage Line" runs where the Orange Line once did and the Green Line is now the "Genre Line." At actual stops, Dupont Circle has been replaced by "Lurid Concept" and U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo is now "Arcane Lizard Vows Actual Mimic Reform."

"It took a month or so of my spare time," Charlton told the Washington, DC subreddit. "It was a labor of love, for both my fiance and DC itself."

Charlton has also made an anagram map of the City Trains/ Sydney Rail system in Australia.

Last month, we posted about a song a band of transit professionals made about the systems from around the country that they love. Do you know of other ways people have gotten artistic with transit?


Here are the answers to this week's mystery map post

Earlier this week, we posted a map of something in DC and asked if you could identify what it was showing. The map shows parking lots and parking garages within a quarter of a mile of Metro stops in the District. Did you get it right?

Map made by the author using data from the District government's open data portal.

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