Metrobus High Frequency Corridors Map DRAFT

November 19th, 2010

The Metrobus system is a robust network of surface transit lines that provide service to a variety of markets.  Each different market is best served by a different type of bus service.  Some bus routes only operate during the peak periods, while others operate from early morning to midnight.  Some routes provide limited-stop commuter service, while others stop frequently every other block.   Some routes provide only a few bus trips per hour, while others run every 10 minutes on a fixed frequency.

Metrobus lines provide a variety of services, and the current Metrobus map is designed to show all routes without regard to the service types and the markets they serve.  Metro is aware that different travel markets could benefit from maps illustrating the bus service best suited to them.

Perhaps the market most in need of specialized maps and traveler information is the casual/off-peak rider.  While commuters place the heaviest load on the bus system and tend to have very rigid schedules, the casual rider has no fixed schedule and travels during the off-peak times when service exceeds demand.  This makes the casual rider the most inexpensive to serve,  yet most difficult.  The casual rider wants convenient, point-to-point travel options any time of the day without having to consult a timetable.  A “12-minute” map can provide the casual rider with the information she needs to make her trip.

DC Core Inset of the draft Metrobus High Frequency Corridors Map. Click to download the full map.

The concept of a “12-minute” map is very simple.  It lists only the bus lines that operate with an average headway of 12 minutes for the majority of the day.  A rider arriving at a stop of a bus with a 12-minute headway has an average wait time of 6 minutes, which is generally accepted as the longest amount of time someone will comfortably wait for a bus without consulting a schedule.  The Los Angeles Metro has implemented its own 12-minute map for bus service, telling their passengers  “No timetable necessary.”  Metro is currently developing a high-frequency bus corridors map, basically our own version of the “12-minute” map, with some differences.

First, Metrorail generally has 15-minute headways during the off-peak periods.  As such, we are using 15-minute headways (or four buses per hour) as our service quality lower bound.

Secondly, very few bus routes meet the criteria for this map.  However, many bus lines and corridors have coordinated service plans along the majority of the shared routes, resulting in effective headways meeting the 15-minute threshold.   This results in a high frequency bus map showing 22 corridors.

The “16th Street Line” (S2,4) provides a great example of routes with coordinated service plans resulting in a qualifying effective headway.  On the image above, 16th street is highlighted red to indicate 6 or more buses per hour.  However, on the linked PDF, it is evident that the S2 and S4 routes diverge as they approach Silver Spring.  Where the routes diverge, they no longer provide a qualifying level of service, so those segments are not highlighted.  However, where the lines merge again just before the Silver Spring Metrorail station, the highlighting resumes.

The image above is a subset of the draft Metrobus High Frequency Corridors Map, showing routes that have at least 4 buses per hour between 7 AM and 7 PM on weekdays.  The full map is also available as a downloadable PDFPlease note that this is a draft map posted for illustration purposes, and to solicit feedback from the Metrobus rider community. Please leave your feedback on this effort in the comments section below.

Original version: 15 Minute Map – DRAFT 20101118 (12 MB, PDF)

Nov 22 Update: 15 Minute Map – DRAFT 20101122 (12 MB, PDF)

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  1. November 19th, 2010 at 10:48 | #1

    Great! Thanks!

  2. J Graham
    November 19th, 2010 at 14:05 | #2

    Very glad to see this blog started up – and with a really interesting piece.

    Just curious if WMATA has published their GIS bus data yet? It would be nice to play with some of the headway data you’re using.

    Great article, Michael!

  3. November 19th, 2010 at 15:43 | #3

    I love this concept! Anything that gets more people to use buses is a good thing in my opinion. There’s still a huge mental hurdle to cross in the WMATA system to get people to augment or complement their commute or casual public transportation usage with buses. Just today I got asked – again, for the umpteenth time – Oh, so you can use SmarTrip cards on buses? Yes!

    Here’s to continuing to ensure that more people know about and utilize Metrobuses.

  4. Jill
    November 19th, 2010 at 16:56 | #4

    This is very usable information, I live in Columbia Heights and I haven’t ventured to get on a bus yet to get over to Cleveland Park – I’ve taken a cab – but if I knew that I’d be able to wait no more than 10 min or so in each direction, I’m more likely to try the bus. Thanks to the We Love DC blog for writing about this article, and WMATA for providing the map… I hope it prints out nicely too. (I haven’t tried yet.)

  5. Mike S.
    November 20th, 2010 at 13:28 | #5

    Good idea, and nice looking map. However, it would be more valuable (to me, at least) for off-hours, i.e., evenings and weekends.

    During weekdays, buses and trains run frequently, and people tend to be taking the same, known route to work or school every day. During off hours, however, when people go out for shopping or recreation, bus trips dry up. Also, on weekends, LONG train delays due to single-tracking are the norm, making bus alternatives more valuable.

    You might want to use a larger threshold for weekends, such as 20 or 30 minutes. Using 15 minutes might leave too few routes to be helpful, and wouldn’t distinguish between, say, 20 minutes and never. Also, that would reflect the true Metrorail headway on those days.

  6. Mike S.
    November 20th, 2010 at 14:05 | #6

    Another thought: Include partner services such as Ride-On.

    And another: Mid-day on weekdays also varies from rush/peak hours.

    One example that comes to mind is the corridor between Silver Spring and Bethesda/Medical Center. The J1/J2/J3 run very frequently during rush/peak hours. During mid-day, evenings, and weekdays, the J2 runs alone every 20 minutes — but on the part of its route, the overlap of the Ride-On 1/11 make it meet the 15 minute threshold.

  7. Jamie
    November 21st, 2010 at 08:39 | #7

    You forgot the S9

  8. November 21st, 2010 at 12:39 | #8

    I’m excited to see WMATA propose something like this.

    Re: the design, however, I find it a bit overwhelming and tough to decipher. Could you try a more suggestive, iconic version with fewer map layers (and perhaps simplified geography)?

  9. Jackie
    November 21st, 2010 at 12:52 | #9

    Did you include the circulator buses? It doesn’t look like it and I’m curious why they were not included.

    When you publish the map, will you provide links to the schedules too?

  10. Dan
    November 21st, 2010 at 14:33 | #10

    like the idea a lot, would definitely help me and would make visiting guests and tourists more likely to use the buses.

    the pink/orange/brown color choices are hard to distinguish on the map and don’t impart much information either on their own or in comparison with each other. perhaps look for three shades of one color (red? green?) where the deepest/richest one is the most frequent one?

    also i agree with Mike S. about separating out info for weekends/holidays. what about having a second map with comparable info for those days with a wider threshold like he suggests?

  11. November 21st, 2010 at 18:18 | #11

    Great stuff, very helpful! A few comments though, much in the vein of what’s been said:

    The shading around the routes indicating increasing frequency are hard to distinguish to the average reader, and will be near to or completely impossible for riders with visual impairments. The information communicated is important, but perhaps it would be advisable to use 3 distinct line types, say dotted for 4 buses/hr, dot-dash for 5/hr, and solid for 6+/hr. In doing this, you can thicken the actual route lines making them and their colors better distinguishable.

    It would definitely be helpful to consider a more diagrammatic approach. The intimidating thing about the standard bus map is that it is so large and contains so much geographic information on it. In fact, I actually use my DC/VA system map as my go-to map of the district when showing visitors where things are. The point of a high-frequency network map, though is help dilute some of the most important information from the full system map and making it more easily digestible by the riding public. Most of the additional riders a map like this may draw onto the bus system are likely to use it to get from activity center to activity center while out and about, not to get from home to work, or similar repetitive trips. Therefore, this target market is less likely to need to know that the SB 90s make a left turn on M street, a right turn onto the 11th Street bridges, and that there are two separate viaducts on that bridge. Most important to them is that the 90s line connects Eastern Market with historic Anacostia, that the 80 connects the Kennedy Center with downtown and Union Station, or that the Ns connect Dupont Circle and National Cathedral. To better communicate this type of information, less geographic detail and accuracy, and more diagrammatic simplicity along with a few labeled “destinations” and activity centers, I think, would be advisable.

  12. November 22nd, 2010 at 01:19 | #12

    This is a fantastic first step! I don’t have much more to add other than the comments already given… so I’ll just reiterate the great input from everyone else:

    – There’s some aesthetic adjustments that could be made. I’m not a particular fan of the color shading used (I’d prefer a rainbow or red/green based scale).

    – I’d love to see off-peak / weekend / holiday maps.

    – It’d be helpful to note if Circulators are included.

    – This map is still rather intimidating to the casual user. I’ll just defer to Erik’s comments immediately above for further elaboration.

    But overall… I love this; it’s the first step on what looks to be a promising venture.

  13. movement
    November 22nd, 2010 at 06:24 | #13

    Bah, the 10 line is so erratic I don’t think you should bother having it on there. By the end of the day you can easily have a half an hour wait with bus bunching. No way would I ask someone visiting Del Ray to transfer to a bus from Braddock Road Metro.

  14. November 22nd, 2010 at 09:22 | #14

    Love the idea. NextBus and the Circulator have made my live so much easier…

  15. Steve Strauss
    November 22nd, 2010 at 09:44 | #15

    Because WMATA’s service area is so large you really need 2 or 3 separate maps to make them useable. It is nice to see WMATA thinking outside of the box. Can it become habit forming? How about a Night Owl service map showing bus service between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.? Chicago publishes one and other cities indentify their overnight service with symbols.

  16. Michael
    November 22nd, 2010 at 09:48 | #16

    @Mike S.
    Thanks for the input. We’re investigating a map for evenings and another for weekends. We thought we’d get feedback on the all-day service first before working on others.

  17. Michael
    November 22nd, 2010 at 09:50 | #17

    @Mike S.
    We like the idea of showing other services, such as Circulator and RideOn, but we aren’t there quite yet. Circulator routes could be easy to add, but we’d have to get a lot of data from Montgomery County DOT to add their routes to our mapping exercise. This is a first step and we know we have a long way to go. Thanks!

  18. Michael
    November 22nd, 2010 at 09:51 | #18

    The S9 is a peak-only service, so it was excluded from the map. Here, we’re listing routes and lines that run regularly from 7AM to 7PM.

  19. Michael
    November 22nd, 2010 at 10:06 | #19

    A few other thoughts:

    1) Circulator: can easily be added, but we’re focusing on Metrobus services right now.
    2) Diagrammatic map: We like that idea, too, and are exploring different ways that we could do that.
    3) Colors: some have suggested using 3 shades of the same color for the different frequencies, while others recommend using three different colors. Currently they’re red, orange and brown, which I personally feel is the best of both worlds: a logical transition between related colors. Perhaps they should be more opaque? Perhaps on the diagrammatic map, each line is its own color and we rely on line thickness to convey frequency? There are a lot of options here.
    4) Nights, weekends: Yes, there are lots of maps we could make, and we’re looking into perhaps producing a map that has one side the large all-day map, and the flip side having two smaller ones for nights and weekends.

    Thanks for all the great feedback and we’ll keep you posted as we iterate through a few additional versions.


  20. November 22nd, 2010 at 10:32 | #20

    One of the things I think is weird deals with part-time routes. For instance the C2.

    The C2 runs from Greenbelt Center to Wheaton Metro all day. The C4 runs from Prince George’s Plaza to Twinbrook all day. The C2 runs 7 trips which continue past Wheaton and go almost to Twinbrook to supplement the C4 in the evenings. In fact, the first of these C2 trips leaves Wheaton at 9:12 pm. So it seems inappropriate to show the C2 overlapping with the C4 between Wheaton and Twinbrook.

    It would be great for Metro to find better ways of indicating part-time routes on all of its maps.

  21. Gavin
    November 22nd, 2010 at 10:51 | #21

    Thanks for drafting this. I think a 15-minute map would be a useful way to encourage people to ride Metrobus.

    However, I find this draft very visually cluttered, which makes it confusing at first glance. I would suggest removing or de-emphasizing some of the detail, such as streets not served. I would also suggest replacing the system of different colors for different frequencies with different colors for different corridors instead — blue for 16th Street, red for 14th Street, what have you. I think that’d make it a lot easier to tell at-a-glance where a bus goes. It shouldn’t be necessary to highlight a 6-per-hour bus relative to a 4-per-hour bus anyway — the premise of this map is, if it comes at least every 15 minutes, you don’t need a schedule.

  22. Crispin
    November 22nd, 2010 at 11:19 | #22

    I love the idea, but your execution is comically hard to read. Is it so hard to exercise the self-discipline necessary to exclude lines that don’t meet the frequent-service standard?

    This map would be much more helpful if it focused on providing information about the relatively small set of bus lines that run often enough to warrant waiting even if you don’t know exactly when the next one is coming. That’s the point, right?

    Moreover, why use three different standards (4-5-6)? The incremental value of this information is not sufficient to warrant the additional clutter.

  23. Richard
    November 22nd, 2010 at 11:58 | #23

    I’m having a hard time visually distinguishing the the three highlights. I think 10-minute and 15-minute headways are important to differentiate, but maybe just go with 2 categories instead of the three to reduce complication. I agree with others that including more services (eg Circulator) and less geographic detail (untraveled streets) would be helpful. Overall, great idea!

  24. November 22nd, 2010 at 17:45 | #24

    Please follow the discussion of this map at both Greater Greater Washington …

    and also at Human Transit …

    Congratulations on the effort. I’ve been advocating this style of mapping in the industry for more than a decade.

    Cheers, Jarrett Walker

  25. November 22nd, 2010 at 18:26 | #25

    Great start! Although it’s a bit sad to see so few crosstown services meet this service standard, this map is fantastic for those of us who haven’t looked much past the Metrorail network since Metrobus’ complex maps sometimes look indecipherable. The blog Human Transit has also done a good job of cataloging, and making a case for, similar maps worldwide.

    Like others here, I think that the map might make a good planning document (particularly with the Priority Corridor Network in mind) but should lose a few layers before it heads to the print shop. Like ~4% of people, I’m red-green colorblind, so red, orangey red, and brown look strikingly similar to me. I don’t think the frequency of frequent service is worth distinguishing on the map, but if you must, please use either a different set of colors or differentiate by color saturation/value instead of hue.

  26. Julie
    November 23rd, 2010 at 14:20 | #26

    I agree with the comments that have already been made about the design of the map, and would raise two points about accessibility (which is, of course, a key element of effective communication).

    1. Will this map be posted at all bus shelters and outside the faregates at Metro stations? Many bus shelters in the District have no map information at all.

    2. This may be solved if/when the design is simplified, but this file is huge, takes a very long time to load, and – if it’s anything like the current downloadable bus map – will crash browsers. It should be available as an image file or an interactive map.

  27. Andrew
    November 24th, 2010 at 21:50 | #27

    This map is very helpful, but still surprisingly confusing, especially downtown. This is because the routes themselves are very confusing downtown. They split and join other routes, turn around in arbitrary places, and take some roads in one direction only. If I’m standing on a particular street corner, it may be that the next bus traveling in the direction I want to go is actually a block or two away.

    Now that we have this map, Metro should use it to simplify the routes, especially once they get to downtown. Rather than running a different combination of buses down every street, perhaps it makes more sense to setup E-W and N-S corridors every few streets and keep the routes more linear.

  28. Stacy
    November 27th, 2010 at 14:53 | #28

    I think this is a great start! I agree with everyone else that adding Circulator (and eventually other buses, like ART/DASH/RideOn) is a good idea, and that there could be separate maps for rush hour/mid-weekday/nights/weekends.

    Also, there really isn’t that big a difference between a bus that runs every 10 versus every 15 minutes in terms of my decision to wait for it instead of walking/CaBi/metro. I find the current map really hard to read (and I have a masters in urban planning). What if you made the street-level map black and white and then used a single color to show the corridors?

  29. March 4th, 2011 at 11:52 | #29

    what’s the next step? How does this map go from DRAFT to DONE?


  30. Joe in SS
    December 6th, 2011 at 15:22 | #30

    Congrats on a great first step! I don’t think any of these are original, but I’ll add my voice nonetheless:

    1) Include RideOn, ART, DC Circulator, other frequent routes as part of the calculation for frequent service.
    2) The earth tone colors make it harder to read. How about a yellow or orange color for 4x/hr, and a green for 6x/hr. Don’t try to distinguish between the different lines that serve that street. If I am going up Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring, I don’t care if I get a Q4 or a Y9, just that it will take me north to somewhere before Wheaton. You can still do that with the numbers in bubbles.
    3) A diagram would be much less busy and easier to read, perhaps accompanied by a google map overlay online just like the rail map that’s offered in that format.
    4) List the origin and destination of all of the frequent routes referred to on the map in an index at the bottom of the map.

  31. December 30th, 2011 at 12:22 | #31

    what’s the next step? How does this map go from DRAFT to DONE?


    2nd post, now it’s been a year since this was posted as a draft.

  32. David Ellis
    September 29th, 2012 at 01:08 | #32

    It’s good though and it does make sense to me to have that kind of map I’d really like to get my hands on those.

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