Rail Services of the Bay Area, September 1937 by David Edmondson
David, who runs The Greater Marin blog, has created this absolutely superb modern transit diagram version of rail services in the Bay Area in 1937. He’s used a contemporaneous railway timetable as his main source of information, so it seem to be pretty accurate, although he’s still seeking final feedback about the map’s content before finishing the project up.
Stylistically, the map quite obviously borrows from Massimo Vignelli’s New York subway map, complete with black station dots. The addition of hollow “sometimes stops” dots somewhat dilutes Vignelli’s “no dot, no stop” mantra, but helpfully adds another layer of information. The use of the superbly legible Fira Sans typeface also helps to give the map a slightly friendlier, less minimalist look.
While the modern iteration of Vignelli’s subway map groups and colour-codes route lines by their common trunk line, this map color-codes them instead by the operating railroad company. This works wonderfully well and instantly shows how the routes were divided up geographically between all the competing companies. It’s interesting to note that the map appears to indicate that many trains terminate in San Francisco at Market Street (Image 2 above), which isn’t quite true. While the Bay Bridge had opened in 1936, rail service across its lower deck to the Transbay Terminal didn’t start until 1939. At this time, ferries — often scheduled to coincide with the arrival and departure of trains — crossed from the Ferry Building to gigantic railway wharves on the eastern side of the Bay. David mentions the ferry services in the legend to the map, but some visual indication that the journey requires a change of transportation mode at the wharves could be nice. Perhaps just a white square behind the black dots to indicate the “break” would work?
The use of thin lines to indicate services that only had one train a day works nicely, but it can lead to a bit of visual clutter when other route lines pass underneath the thinner lines. Look at the third image above and observe how the teal Atcheson, Topeka & Santa Fe (ATSF) route line passes underneath all of the other route lines it comes across. Where it meets a combination of thick and thin lines, there’s a little gap left between them that the ATSF line peeks through. Depending on the combination of thick and thin route lines, these gaps can appear in varying widths, so the overall effect can be a little messy.
In situations like this, I prefer to place the single route above the wider, multiple-track routes. I think it looks cleaner, and it also makes that single track easier to follow along its entire path. David’s actually already done this in a couple of places, and the difference is obvious to me — see the last image above, where the red D6 route drops south-east out of Tracy above the purple and yellow lines that it crosses. Much better!
Very minor things: I personally think the route designation discs could be a bit larger in relation to the label type to make them easier to read from a distance, and it also looks like some of the black station dots are not quite centred on their route line (see the main San Francisco - Market Street station, where they’re all slightly too far above and to the right of the routes). I’m also not crazy about the way some text in the legend encroaches into the gutter between the columns, but I can see that there’s limited space there for a lot of information!
Our rating: Painstakingly researched and beautifully realised: this is my kind of transit map! Four stars. David hopes to have prints of this map available by April 15 on his blog, so keep an eye out if you’d like a copy!
HEY GUYS, ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS WENT MISSING THIS MORNING (3-19-15). IF YOU LIVE IN SAN JOSE/THE BAY AREA AND HAVE SEEN THIS GIRL, PLEASE CONTACT ME VIA ASK/FAN MAIL OR @turquoisechameleon8 ON INSTAGRAM! ALSO, PLEASE REBLOG THIS TO SPREAD THE WORD. THANK YOU SO MUCH!