transit boston

What stuns me about this photo (taken in 1897) is how shockingly little has changed. You can still access the subway from the very first entrance and egress points on Boston Common. I’ve no doubt that some of the tiling in the vestibules is authentic to the time, as the MBTA doesn’t make improvements or upgrades until absolutely, totally necessary.

Historical Map: Test MBTA Rapid Transit Map, 1991

An unused test diagram for Boston’s rapid transit network from 1991. It attempts to name every station on the branches of the Green Line, but with the unfortunate side effect of completely dominating the design. The poor old Blue Line gets shoved into the top right, and the northern part of the Orange Line doesn’t fare much better. In short, the whole thing is hideously unbalanced, and I’m very glad that this concept didn’t advance any further.

Interestingly, the source image for this diagram is named “UK-SPIDER-MAP.jpg”, which makes me think it was designed by a British consultancy. It certainly looks more European than most North American transit maps, with thin route lines and ticked station markers. It definitely puts me more in mind of Manchester or Berlin than Boston, that’s for sure. The other clue is the use of the word “tram” to describe the Green Line… which I’m pretty certain has never been the preferred Bostonian term!

Our rating: Seriously flawed, but an interesting look at a very different approach that never went anywhere. Three stars.

In 1891, the West End Railway Company sent this sketch of a proposed street rail car to the Board of Aldermen’s  Committee on Railroads. The car featured a new type of fender which had been suggested in a report by the Railroad Commissioner a year earlier.

Sketch of street railway car with new fender design, 1891, Committee on Railroads, Box 23,  City Council Committee records, Collection 140.001, Boston City Archives

Submission – Official Map: Boston MBTA Commuter Rail Zones Map

Submitted by alr2659, who says:

I found this map of the MBTA commuter rail zones in the Central Square T station on the red line in Cambridge. Strangely, this station does not have any commuter rail service, so I’m not sure why this was there at all.

I guess I’ll start with the obvious part: those colors are pretty hideous, and the mud-brown color used for zone 1A does a really good job making it difficult to actually see the line in that zone (which is a shame, since almost all of the system’s complexity is within this zone. Second, despite the zone borders wavering all over the place, the spacing between stations is not consistent. This is most apparent on the Lowell line – Wedgemere to West Medford is more than twice the distance from Wedgemere to Winchester Center. On the subject of inconsistent spacing, the space between station dots and their labels is inconsistent (an example of this that jumps out particularly is Wellesley Square in zone 3 on the Worcester line).

Labels in zones 1A and 1 go every direction imaginable, and the stop between Morton Street and Fairmount in zone 1 on the Readville line isn’t doesn’t even have one (and that’s not all – it doesn’t even exist yet.) And Fairmount itself - Zone 1 or Zone 2? (It’s actually in zone 1A, but I think this map predates that change.) My favorite station on this map, though, is Foxboro, in zone 6. It mentions that it is serviced for special events only, but not where trains come from to get there (Both from South Station via the Franklin line and from Providence via the Providence line). 

The geography of the coastline is very detailed; unfortunately, it doesn’t really resemble the actual Massachusetts coast, and even the parts that are recognizable aren’t in the right spots relative to the stations (Cohasset should be east of that peninsula that sticks up north). The rivers in the immediate Boston area are very detailed, but rivers elsewhere are simply omitted.

Having moved past the glaring issues, there’s not a lot of information presented on this map. For example, it would be useful to know that Amtrak connections are available at some of these stations, or some indication of service, since Framingham gets 43 trains on weekdays while Plimptonville gets 2. This map has the same problem as the rapid transit map that it is unclear which trains stop at Readville.

Transit Maps says:

Despite not being available anywhere on their website, I’m pretty certain that this is an actual official MBTA map, though it does seem a little weird that it’s not branded as such anywhere.

I agree with much of what has been noted above – the rainbow zones are both ostentatious and ugly, in particular – though I do note that a very similar diagram that was discussed in a Reddit thread three years ago has a label for the future Blue Hill Avenue station and draws the connecting route lines to Foxboro… so who knows what happened in the intervening years to delete them?

I agree that more information about connections would be nice, but adding frequency information is well beyond the scope of a simplistic diagram like this. Really, its only purpose is to assist with fare zone calculation, and that’s it.

Our rating: Yet another example of a zone map being the ugly stepsister of the transit map world. One-and-a-half stars.


Historical Maps: Rail Transit in North America, 1984 by Dennis McClendon

I thought I was all done with “to scale” maps of North American rail systems, but then Dennis McClendon (see previous posts from him) sent in this beautiful series of maps that he produced for Planning magazine back in 1984. I’ve split his double-page spread up into two separate images so that they can be viewed in better detail on Tumblr. Dennis himself says:

Given this week’s Tumblr theme, I thought you might be interested in these maps that I did in 1984, when I worked for Planning magazine. The “new wave” of modern light rail systems was just getting started. My initial idea was to do them all at the same scale, but integrating them with the text into a two-page magazine layout eventually required a compromise of doing them at two distinctive scales.

No GIS or even Illustrator in those days: I created these using Rubylith and Chartpak flexible line tape.

Of note is the large number of systems that were either brand new or still under construction: Portland’s “Banfield” line – now the main section of line between downtown and Gateway – being especially noticeable to me. Also – massive extensions under construction for the Washington DC Metro, and the parlous state of streetcars in New Orleans, with service on the historical St. Charles line only.

And just to throw further fuel onto the fire regarding the categorization of certain systems as either light rail or streetcar, which many commenters on Matt Johnson’s map brought up. In 1984 at least: Pittsburgh and Boston’s Green Line were classified as “light rail” while Philadelphia and the San Francisco Muni were seen as “streetcar”. Make of that what you will.

Source: Dennis McClendon via email.

Photo: Trader Joe’s/MBTA Map

“This Red Line train is bound for Chard of Many Colors via Black Beans”.

Taken at the Trader Joe’s West Newton store… mostly recognisable as the MBTA “T” map, but with a few additions and exclusions. The Silver Line is now a light shade of blue and promises wild salmon, while the commuter rail lines now seem to sprout randomly from the end of “T” lines in a variety of different colours. Nice hand lettering, though!

Side note: “Heart Healthy Whole Grain Cranberry Oatmeal” is still a shorter station name than “U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo” from the Washington Metro. 

Source: Alisa Zomer/Twitter