Metrobus System Map Redesign
Ask anyone in the transit industry, from any country or any city, and they’ll be quick to tell you that WMATA’s bus system is one of the most complex in the world. So many lines, so many routes, so many variations, so many streets, so many buses! It really all speaks to the great lengths that Metro takes to ensure premium bus service is provided to its many customers spanning a vast service area. As you might expect, if such a system has been coined complex by transit industry “experts,” then surely the system would be thought complex by the average bus customer. Therein lies the challenge:how do you take this complex, complicated, extensive bus network and relay it to customers in a clear, simple, yet fairly detailed manner? Well, there’s not just one answer to that question. But, one of the main tools Metro uses to inform bus customers of their travel options is the Metrobus System Route Map.
The current pair of System Route Maps, DC/MD (PDFs) and DC/VA (PDF), display the travel patterns for each Metrobus route in each jurisdiction (MD, DC, VA). In short, they answer the question, “How can I get there on the bus?” These geographically detailed maps chart out the complex routes Metrobus travels, leading customers from the origin to the destination of their trip, calling out street names, shared routes, schools and points of interest along the way.
While these maps have served their purpose over the years in acclimating customers to Metro’s bus network, there is room for improvement. For instance, while the current system maps display all the bus service for Metro, there is no consideration given to frequency of service, i.e. how often a bus runs. This could cause problems in that while the map might show that a bus route services a particular area, it does not relay information that the bus might only service that area during the a.m. rush or on the weekend. In addition, while the maps are geographically detailed, this detail comes at a high price; cluttering the map with many lines in many directions that make it difficult for customers to follow along and actually trace the pattern of the route they need.
These and other deficiencies in the current system map have been the impetus for WMATA looking into different ways to illustrate our bus service. In November of 2010, Metro’s Office of Long Range Planning released a draft “Metrobus High-Frequency Corridors Map” on this site, to gather feedback on how we might better explain our complicated bus system to users. The feedback received was incorporated into additional planning work on a Metrobus map design.
Following extensive design work, Metro is pleased to announce revised draft system maps that more clearly depict bus routes and delineate frequency of service, all part of our ever evolving efforts to provide richer and clearer travel information to our customers. Click the links below to view samples of the new maps. Feel free to give us your feedback, and note that these maps will be revised based on feedback from customers.
- Draft DC Metrobus system map
- Draft Montgomery County Metrobus system map
- Draft NoVA Metrobus system map
- Draft Prince George’s County Metrobus system map
Below, you will find some key features of the system map redesign:
NOT TO SCALE
The new bus system map takes a cue from the famous rail system map:geography takes a back seat to clear depiction of routes. In this map, we have opened up space in congested areas.Conversely, we have collapsed vast areas with little service.
Though the space is skewed, locations retain their proper relative position. For example, while Fairfax City does not observe any scale, it still sits west of Annandale, east of Centreville, north of Burke and south of Vienna.
Even without a scale, we have carefully positioned elements so as to “suggest” distance. Again, in denser areas, items sit closer to one another. In sparser areas, a more airy layout hints at greater distances.
IT’S AN OVERVIEW
The map does not attempt to depict every intricacy of every route. We have not shown fine-grain routing details such as one-way turning loops, short-turn (“cut”) trips and individual off-ramps. Instead, we aim to highlight which routes serve which areas. That is the single-most important morsel of information to communicate to customers. Once they know it, they can use additional resources (timetables, the WMATA Trip Planner http://www.wmata.com/rider_tools/tripplanner/, etc) to plan a trip.
In terms of building ridership, this overview function is extremely powerful. While many customers now use online resources to custom-plan a trip, it is important to communicate the extent of the whole network. An approachable, less technical overview map achieves that goal. “Wow! Look at all the places I can take Metrobus!”
BIG ROUTES POP
Major routes jump out. They are thicker, straighter and more vivid. As the Metrobus system is built on complex groupings of routes, we have emphasized the frequent trunk portion of each corridor that is served by multiple routes. Where applicable, less frequent thin lines come together to form a more frequent thick line.
At a glance, customers can expect a higher level of service wherever thick red lines appear. Right away, a customer can tell that more extensive service is available on Columbia Pike in Arlington as opposed to Westmoreland St. We have explained the distinctions in the legend; better yet, we have applied intuitive designs so a customer can interpret the map without being an “expert”.
LITTLE ROUTES FADE
Especially in Virginia, dozens of routes descend on a few locations – the Pentagon itself is one of the largest bus hubs in the entire country.
A large share of routes on the map are peak-only and/or express services. It is important to show these routes, but it is equally important not to “oversell” them. Yes, there is bus service on Sydenstricker Rd in Orange Hunt – but that route doesn’t run frequently. It does not deserve the same status as routes on Glebe Rd in Arlington.
Where commuter routes travel long distances uninterrupted, we have placed notes to mark their “non-stop from here” points. This eliminates the need to place dozens of additional route badges in already lively areas of the map. The result is a clear, organized depiction of services.
An effective map allows a user to trace one continuous line – from start to end – without chasing the line onto a remote inset. While insets can clarify routing in certain areas, they can overwhelm an unaccustomed user.
As an overview, the system map does not allow true street-level detail in densely served areas. Still, the map clearly shows which routes go there at all – informing customers which timetables they’ll need to consult for further information.
CLASSIFICATIONS ARE FLEXIBLE
A “major route” means something different on a suburban map than it does on the District map. While we intend to communicate service levels through the use of route colors, we are also aiming for a proportionate distribution of route types in each jurisdiction. A route that runs every 30 minutes mid-day may be classified as “major” in the suburbs, where that service level would be classified as “secondary” in the city.
We hope to gather additional feedback from Metrobus riders as we continue to refine these new and innovative bus map concepts. We hope to have these new system maps available by the December service change. Please leave your feedback in the comments section below.