The first draft of the newly-designed Lance Wyman Washington DC Metro diagram has been out for a while now, and people have had a lot to say about it – some good and some bad. As I’ve stated before, any changes to this venerable institution were only ever going to be gradual, and this draft definitely shows that as it takes the tiniest of baby steps away from its original look.
Good changes include the substitution of standard parking symbols for the “boxy Volvo”, removal of the incredibly intrusive callout boxes regarding timetabling, a general thumbs up for more even spacing of some stations and a huge, positive two thumbs up for the use of subtitles for long names.
And there’s one improvement that I think I can take a just a little bit of credit for: the realignment of the southern leg of the Green Line so that the Naylor Road station is aligned to the District border as it is in real life. As you can see in the image above, the original diagram ignored this totally, placing Naylor Road well into Prince George’s County. My version of the diagram locates the station more correctly, and it seems that the new draft follows suit, although I find the acute angle between Congress Heights and Southern Avenue a little jarring visually.
Elements I don’t like include the drop shadows behind the dashed “peak only” lines, and the white dots on the Yellow Line between Mt Vernon Square and Fort Totten – both seem too visually complex and distracting. The hatched stub Silver Line is one solution to showing future service, but doesn’t seem a particularly elegant one to me.
The attempt to show terminus stations by way of an extra black dot also feels a little forced, especially when a terminus station is also a transfer station. Surely there’s a better way to denote the different types of stations without all of them using a white circle with a thick black outline. Users of the diagram should be able to instantly tell the difference between a normal station and a transfer station without having to decipher the legend.
Maybe the attempt to visually show terminus stations is asking too much of the diagram, especially without timetable information to support the symbol. When do trains terminate at Silver Spring instead of Glenmont? The diagram doesn’t tell us that, so what is the point of the terminus symbol at Silver Spring?
In contrast, the London Underground diagram makes no attempt to justify the different branch endings of its District Line (Standing on the platform at Earls Court station, you can take westbound District trains to Wimbledon, Richmond, Ealing Broadway and – sometimes – Kensington), instead relying on announcements and destination boards on the trains themselves.
Similarly, in Sydney, Australia (where I grew up), every train line of its extensive CityRail commuter train network runs different patterns of trains all day. There are express interurban trains that stop at just a few select stations, local trains that stop everywhere and “one-two-skip a few” trains that call at most stations, but pass through low-traffic stations without stopping. The CityRail network diagram makes little attempt to show these service patterns, yet thousands of system users get to their destination every day, simply because they pay attention to destination boards and announcements.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that here’s a limit to how much service/timetabling information can be contained in a static diagram without affecting its overall impact and ease of use, and the DC Metro diagram is struggling somewhat in finding the right balance. Giant callout boxes denoting peak/off-peak services is too much, but unlabelled terminus stations in the middle of a line don’t seem to be too useful. The more I think about it, the more I’m in favour of adopting the London and Sydney method – simply show the total extent of the line and let people work out whether the train that’s arriving will take them where they want to go. Services that only run during peak times – like the new Yellow and Orange Line service patterns – need to be clearly shown, but if final destinations simply alternate, like on the Red Line, let the users work it out on the platform. The next train to your destination will only ever be a few minutes away.
Finally, this tweet made my week… although it’ll never happen.