california rail map


Submission – Unofficial Maps: Bay Area Rail Transit by Lyle Simmons

Submitted via email by Lyle, who says:

The Bay Area has one of the most complex and diverse urban transit systems in the world, including three commuter rail systems, one metro systems, two light rail systems, one heritage streetcar line, and four major bus agencies. Unfortunately, there isn’t an official map linking any of these services together, so I thought I might make one myself.

Transit Maps says:

There’s a lot to like about the look that Lyle has created for this series of maps – it’s more curvaceous and spacious than many diagrammatic transit maps, which gives everything a nice languid, flowing feel. That said, there’s a few usability and design issues that I can see, not the least of which is the relative spacing of stations on the maps.

Let’s start with the first map of the whole Bay Area. The relative simplicity of each of the individual systems means that they can each be shown with a minimum of fuss – only BART needs to have its lines enumerated, as Muni Metro and VTA light rail are expanded upon in the two following maps. If the three maps are to be presented as a series, then an outline around the SF peninsula and Santa Clara areas pointing people to those more detailed area maps could be a nice addition.

The end points for Muni could be handled better: the inclusion of major stops down Market Street after Church and the scale of the map means that the lines overshoot Balboa Park station by a long distance. Lyle’s attempted to mitigate this by including destination notices – “To West Portal”, “To Balboa Park” – but they’re not much help to those unfamiliar with Muni. Similarly, the “To Fisherman’s Wharf” label isn’t really really required on a map of this scale: just loop the line around a bit and add a terminus station marker for it.

Muni’s “T” line down to Sunnydale Avenue reveals the biggest problem with this map (and to a lesser extent, the other two as well) – the relative location of stations. Lyle’s dropped the “T” straight down, and as a result, Sunnydale is nowhere near the Bayshore Caltrain station (they’re about half-a-mile apart in real life, and the previous Muni stop at Arleta is directly adjacent to the Caltrain station!). Yes, this is a diagram, not a map, but care still needs to be taken to retain some semblance of spatial awareness. This is even more obvious over on the east side of the bay, where the Fremont BART and Amtrak/ACE stations are shown a huge distance apart, when they’re actually just two miles apart and on a direct east-west line from each other. The two Hayward stations are even closer – less than a mile! – but Lyle has placed the Amtrak Hayward station level with the South Hayward BART station instead.

This placement problem is repeated on the San Francisco peninsula map, with the “T” line still out of whack with the Caltrain station at Bayshore: Arleta should be directly adjacent to Bayshore on the left side of the Caltrain tracks, with Sunnydale a little further south. There’s plenty of room to adjust the location of the Bayshore station along the length of the line to make this work without seeming cramped.

There’s also a slight problem with the interesting approach to the Muni Metro Duboce & Church stop, as it makes it look the historical streetcar “F” line also stops there. The Muni lines at Balboa Park are still a little unclear: we can work out that the “M” travels past San Francisco State, but which branch do the “J” and “K” take to get back to the city? Minor error – Lyle corrected his spelling of “Embarcadero” on the actual map, but left it as “Embarkadero” in the legend.

The Santa Clara map probably works the best because of the simplicity of the light rail system: it’s still easy to work out where each light rail route goes, even with the one common colour. However, don’t VTA’s light rail route numbers start with “9”, not “5″? I probably would have dropped both the Amtrak and ACE route lines to the south side of the Caltrain line through Santa Clara, rather than hacing one on either side. This would have put the label for College Park closer to its station dot, and prevented the awkward crossover of the ACE and Caltrain lines just before San Jose Diridon. 

This map will certainly become more interesting once BART finally makes it down to San Jose, that’s for sure.

Our rating: I really like the visual style that this series of maps has, it just needs some tightening up – especially when it comes to the location of stations – to make it really sing. Two-and-a-half stars in its cirrent form, but I see lots of potential here. Keep working on this, Lyle!