November 28th, 2008

Aide-mémoires transport

Posted in Canada, Transportation by Sam Imberman

Night Bus Card - West Saturday

Orange Line - Jarry to Rosemont

The scenario works like this: after a night of revelry on Boulevard St-Laurent, it’s time to stagger home. You know the set of night buses you have to take: the 360 to Atwater, say, and then the 356 out to NDG. But, of course, you have no idea what times they’re due to arrive; you didn’t think to write them down.

Montreal does have a phone system, (514) AUTOBUS, that you can call for bus times–but only if you know your stop code. And you probably don’t remember your stop code. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a list of night bus times with you?

I set out to solve this problem, along with several other niggling urban transport matters, with my project: Aide-mémoires transport, which I presented at Expozine on November 29, 2008.

The goal of Aide-mémoires transport, then, is to put information on bus and metro lines (or both) on business cards that can live in your purse or wallet. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be difficult–except that the form factor of a business card imposes some serious constraints on the amount of information that can be presented. You’ll have to lose something. Instead of presenting all bus stops, you might present a third. And you can just forget about having space for a legend. Everything has to count.

When the STM made their iconic map of the Montreal Metro, they were dealing with a similar sort of problem. I’ve reproduced the map here:

Montreal metro map

You may have noticed that the map that you can obtain at Metro stations is nearly identical to the metre-high one that hangs inside Metro cars. This is only possible because the Montreal metro map ditches lots of information for the sake of clarity. It’s still topologically correct, of course: in other words, all the stops are accounted for in their correct locations, and transfers appear in the right places. But looking at the STM map, you could be forgiven for thinking that Place-Saint-Henri is the same distance from Vendôme as it is from Lionel-Groulx–or for thinking that Place-Saint-Henri is straight west of Atwater. Neither, of course, is true.

I sought to shrink the Metro map even more, which meant even more compromises. Using Inkscape, an open-source vector graphics editor, here’s what I came up with:

Sam’s metro map card

Again, the map is topologically correct. All the stops are in the correct locations relative to the other stops. But I had to fold the long Green Line twice: once between Monk and Jolicoeur, and a second time between Berri-UQAM and Beaudry. It looks a bit like Saint-Michel and Viau are right next to each other, which any Montrealer could tell you is nonsense.

So you wouldn’t want to distribute my map at tourism bureaus. But for the vast majority of trips that locals are likely to make, this map is fine. And you gain the small form factor, as well as a font meant to be read at small sizes.

When I went to make a map of Metro closing times, I based it on the map above. Here’s what I came up with:

Metro closing times card

Again, a question of compromises. I placed the closing times inside adjoining house-shaped boxes, with the directions of house roofs demonstrating the last departing train in a given direction. I think that this demonstrates the appropriate directionality nicely.

But the boxes take up plenty of space, which means less for the network itself. Out, then, go intermediate stations. And out go embellishments like the St. Lawrence River or icons showing elevators. What’s left is one set of distilled information.

Indeed, this whole business of cards is really just that: a game of distilling information. You find a problem, and the piece or set of information which would solve it. And then you reduce it as much as possible, so that only the essential remains.


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3 comments

  1. Kate M. says:

    I like this, but my inner Edward Tufte is wincing at that dogleg in the green line.

    November 29th, 2008 at 12:15 am

  2. Cedric says:

    Voici les aide-memoires de Sam:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/smurfmatic/3069904764/

    November 30th, 2008 at 3:46 pm

  3. ANNIE says:

    Please, does, anybody know, when was designed montreal metro map on black bacground, and who designed? It will really help to complate my dissertation. annie :)

    February 20th, 2009 at 1:43 pm