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Frequent transit service maps: a suggested map from David M

A frequent transit map drawn by David M. Click for a larger version!

Inspired by from Jarrett Walker’s two discussions last week, David M put together his own attempt at a frequent transit network map. Here’s what he wrote about it:

Okay, so Jarrett inspired me to work on developing a revised transit map for Vancouver. Of course I haven’t mapped the entire region, but I did a sample around Richmond and the airport.

Going in, I decided I wanted to use line width to denote service frequency expectations and I settled on three categories – Frequent, Standard and Limited (sort of like freeway, main road and side street). Then I decided to use colour to denote how long the services operate (5am to 3:30am, 6am to 11pm or later, 6am to 6pm, peak hours and night only). Of course, no route really fits these exactly, but it is a guide as to what you can generally expect.

The darker blue and the fatter the line, you know you’ll get a bus most times of the day and generally won’t have to wait too long. The thinner the line, the chances are you’ll need to check the schedule to make sure the bus runs when you want to travel.

I’ve also included express buses using dashed lines, or where the express is operating on a route covered by a local, using express bus stop symbols that denote whether the express is Frequent or Standard. The express stops are colour coded the same as the lines to give you an idea of when they run. A big fat square express stop means you can just show up and know you’ll get a bus without much of a wait; a diamond express stop means you might want to check the schedule. A symbol could be developed for limited express services too (such as peak hours only).

Anyway – I know there’s a lot of work on colour selection and line thickness and I’m sure this can be improved. I haven’t included all the detail, such as station names and I’ve only shown the Skytrain in one colour, but using the line thickness clue same as the buses. Using this, I would probably show SeaBus as “Standard Service” in light-blue and West Coast Express as “Limited Service” in a narrow dashed red line (as it is peak only and in one direction only).

If you feel it’s worth it, please share with your readers, I’m interested in feedback via the blog, but I have no plans to make any changes or expand it. I just wanted to see what it could look like. Somebody else can if they want and I’ll gladly send them the svg file.

David’s sent over the SVG file, so if you want it, feel free to drop me a note! You can also check out this past post for more on homegrown frequent transit maps of the Vancouver region.


  • By Sewing, August 13, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    Very nice looking, incorporating a lot of good, useful ideas!

    Your call for FTN maps a few weeks ago got my amateur mapmaking skills fired up, but I don’t have the right software (or time) to do anything like what David has done, and a hand-drawn map just wouldn’t cut it.

  • By Jeff, August 13, 2010 @ 10:44 am

    The map looks great! A few suggestions though…
    I love maps, so I spent time reading the legend, but it might contain a bit too much detail for most people, who will then go on to ignore it. Here are my suggestions…
    1) Drop the dashed lines for express service and use them instead for peak hour only service. There are very few roads with express service that don’t also have local service… hwy 99 as you indicated is an exception, but I think most people get there will be limited stops when the bus is on a free way, might as well remove this added complexity.
    2) Maybe only two categories of service span as in “day-time” – end before 9pm and late – run until later in the evening. The bus numbers indicate if the route contains service nightbus service.
    In general (my opinion of course) most info should be obvious through a quick glance at the map — the reader shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time studying a complex legend. As I said though, the map is looking great and I hope to see a full system version some day!

  • By Sewing, August 13, 2010 @ 10:53 am

    I was thinking some similar thoughts to Jeff.

    Visually, the map is extremely informative, but it might be just a little too informative. Merging the blue and teal categories into one might help, perhaps with a separate colour for NightBus routes.

    And like Jeff said, the (quasi-)express distinction might not be that helpful, especially if it’s only shown where there’s no local service (e.g., on Highway 99) and not marked distinctively where there is local service (e.g., the 480 on Granville).

  • By Sewing, August 13, 2010 @ 11:05 am

    David, I really like your map.

    But in line with above comments (Jeff’s and my own), what about reducing the 2-dimensional matrix of categories to one set of categories like this?

    1. FTN (15 mins or better, 15 hours/day, 7 days/week)
    2. Regular service (> 15 mins, 15 hours/day, 7 days/week)
    3. Daytime service (15-18 hours/day, 5-7 days/week)
    4. Peak hours only
    5. Limited service (infrequent, summers only, etc.)
    6. NightBus

    Also, the 19 is an FTN route. There is 15-minute service in both directions at Broadway & Kingsway until 9 p.m. (until 8:44 from Stanley Park Loop; until 8:27 from Metrotown Station).

  • By David M, August 13, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

    Thanks for the comments. As I said in the intro, it’s a concept and needs work. Feel free to have a go. I used the free open-source Inkscape to draw this (just google it and download). Only caution is if using Windows 7 it likes to crash to desktop, so save frequently. Jhenifer will send you the svg file if you want to try modifying. Look forward to seeing what you do with it.

  • By Chris, August 13, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

    I thought Jarret’s point with his frequent transit map was to not show any service that isn’t frequent. Remove your Standard and Limited Service lines and then you’re left with a usable map – of service that can be accessed at any time without ever thinking about schedules.

  • By David M, August 13, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    Chris – you are correct. Jarrett was suggesting just that for an FTN. I thought it would be fun to try something different. Mine isn’t really a FTN map – it’s just another way of looking at the transit system. Jarrett has commented on one of his blogs about the uniformity of lines on transit maps and how they’re misleading. My experiment and the comments on this blog shows me ow hard it is to depict routes in another way. I think one reason transit systems continue to depict all bus routes the same is because they can’t agree or decide on what to depict and to avoid this criticism. I probably went too far and it should be simplified – I agree with that fully. Easy to critise but hard to actually constructively think of an answer (no offense meant to anybody with the last point, but it is a fact).

  • By Chris, August 13, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

    Here is an interesting way of visualizing the speed and access of public transit:
    The guys who created WalkScore are creating Google Maps overlays to show where you can get in 15,30, or 45 minutes using public transit.

  • By Sewing, August 13, 2010 @ 6:29 pm


    Thanks for the pointers to Inkscape, etc., but I just don’t have the time to jump into that now. (It’s the kind of thing that once I got started, I wouldn’t be able to stop…and I’d keep on working at it until it was perfect…which would take forever.)

    I’m not trying to be an armchair quarterback here, and I look forward to your future endeavours on this…and I hope TL will pay you any royalties if they make use of your efforts. ;)

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, August 16, 2010 @ 10:36 am

    Chris: great link to the Walkscore item. Immensely useful to help people know what’s within a short bus ride away!

  • By David M, August 18, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

    Just thought I’d comment that Jarrett has picked this up and posted it, with his comments, on his blog – Frequent Network Maps: Ideas from Vancouver.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, August 19, 2010 @ 9:59 am

    David M: Very cool! Thanks for letting me know.

  • By Jacob, September 7, 2010 @ 9:36 am

    Why doesn’t the Transit Connections map have Fraser at broadway and Arbutus and Broadway?

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