Project: U.S. Routes as a Subway Map

U.S. Routes as a Subway Map

36″ x 24″ Poster – $39

At long last, I present the latest in my series of transit map-styled designs. This time, we have the U.S. Highway system (that’s U.S. Routes, not to be confused with the newer Interstate Highway system – which as most of you well know, I have already mapped).

I have to say that without a doubt, this is the most complex network that I have yet attempted. Not only are there far more numbered routes than in the Interstate system, but there are also historical extensions and branches of many routes to consider. In some cases, numbers that were used once were reused in different parts of the country (see U.S. 48, which has been used for three completely separate roads!). I have attempted to show these historical roads as thinner route lines “behind” the main network, including the most famous U.S. highway of all – Route 66, which gets special treatment, being solid black in colour.

Like the Interstate system, the U.S. Routes (mainly) conform to a numbered grid system. Evenly numbered highways run from west to east, with low numbers in the north (U.S. 2 is the lowest) rising to the highest numbers in the south (U.S. 98 in Florida). Numbers ending in a “0” are considered “major” routes and are given their own unique colour on the map. Odd-numbered highways run from north to south, with low numbers to the east (U.S. 1) rising to high numbers in the west (U.S. 101 along the Pacific Coast). Numbers ending in “1” are the “major” routes.

Interestingly, this numbering system is the mirror of the Interstate system, which numbers from I-90 in the north to I-4 in the south, and I-95 in the east to I-5 in the west. This was done intentionally to prevent the occurrence of like-numbered U.S. highways and Interstates in the same areas. It’s also why there is no I-50 or I-60, as they would cross much the same terrain as U.S. 50 and U.S. 60.

However, being an older road system, cobbled together in the mid-1920s from a scraggly collection of road trails, the U.S. highway system sticks to its grid far more loosely, with many routes starting or ending well out of their ordained position. This map has taken me well over a year to complete (between other projects) and I restarted my work on three separate occasions, each time almost convinced that this map was impossible. This last time, I started at the most complex intersection of roads on the map – Memphis, Tennessee – and solved it first. Once that resolved itself, clues were revealed as to how to approach the rest of the map and things got a lot easier. So much so, that in the end, I was even able to add some of the longer “child” three-digit routes, some of which are actually longer than their so-called “parent” route. U.S. 191 runs from Canada to Mexico, while U.S. 91 has been cut back down over the decades to a very short stretch between Idaho Falls, ID and Brigham City, UT.

Huge thanks should be given here to the ridiculously comprehensive website, usends.com, which helped me sort out the tangled web these roads make, especially with historical routes.

As always, comments and suggestions are most welcome!

Zoomable On-line Preview of US Routes Map Large JPG Preview of US Routes Map

73 Comments

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  7. Marianne

    These are beautiful, really a gift to anyone who appreciates cartography, transportation, connectivity, perspective, and design. Thank you for realizing your vision and sharing it; I look forward to adding your map to my collection. Thanks for the links, too–long live the geo-artist carto-geeks!

  8. Another interesting idea would be a subway map based on the most populous cities in each state, connecting them in some way. As a person without a driver’s license or car, I’m dreading moving back to the states in the fall because it’s so difficult to get around! These maps are making me salivate.

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  10. CB Fellerhoff

    Hi. I discovered your maps today. They are pretty groovy. Inland rivers/navigable waterways might lend themselves to this treatment as well.

    • River maps in this style have already been comprehensively and excellently done by Daniel Huffman over at his somethingaboutmaps blog. Everyone should really check them out: a most impressive body of work.

  11. Stan

    I did buy the map and the first thing I noticed is that the east-west main rouites… 10, 20, …, 80… seem to be upside down on the copy I got. … or maybe I;’m just not reading it right… I don’t see routes 75 and 95 at all???

    It’s pretty, but I guess I’d have done it differently… more clearly. But that’s just me.

    • Stan

      Mea Culpa (my mistake)… I didn’t realize that there were both Interstate and US route maps. I got a nice e-mail from Mtr. Booth explaining that. Like I told him… at my age, you’d think I would know the US routes better than the Interstates.

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  13. Andrew

    Great graphic! Congrats!
    ….Eh! Where are the Canadian cities for the Detroit-Windsor link (busiest border crossing in North America), the Buffalo-Niagara-Falls link?

    – Andrew

    • They’re in Canada? Seriously though, this diagram was already complex enough without adding cross-border cities (Canadian and Mexican) to the mix.

  14. Steven

    I am looking for info on the old US highway concrete markers. I live in CT. and some of the routes still have these markers, however they are weathered badly and some show a reminder of emblem that use to be there. Any more info or pictures would be neat.

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  21. Andy

    Hi, I would buy this but first you would have to add my hometown of Tucson, Ariz. to the historic parts of US-80 and US-89! Thanks!

    • Sorry, towns that are served only by historical lines aren’t shown. The map is detailed enough as it is!

      • Andy

        I understand however I hoped you would make an exception for Tucson considering one million people live in the Greater Tucson area and it is the second largest city in Arizona by far. So it’s not insignificant. There is plenty of space in that area to add the white dot.

        Andy

      • Andy,

        The interesting thing about this type of map is that population/regional importance has nothing to do with inclusion – it’s all about connections. If a city is at the intersection of two or more major (coloured) routes, it gets a big dot; if major and minor routes cross, it’s a medium dot; minor routes only get a little dot. Very rarely, and only if an existing route is present, I’ll also use a tick to denote a city. Tuscon doesn’t fulfill those requirements (US 80 and US 89 having been decommissioned through Tuscon), so it doesn’t appear. It’s the same for cities like Eugene in Oregon where old US 99 and US 28 cross, but there’s no marker.

  22. TJ from Jacksonville

    FYI, Interstate 10 begins in downtown Jacksonville, FL (not Jacksonville Beach, 10 miles to the east). Not to be picky, but I’m guessing you have a penchant for accuracy!

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  31. Jon

    What a cool, unique find. I’m about 50 pages from finishing the book: Interstate 69.

  32. Ryan

    This is a very cool map. There’s a few things I noticed that might be mistakes, but if not, I’m interested in why you chose the design you did:

    • Why is Park City, UT a T symbol, but Wyoming, MN is a circle?
    • Why doesn’t the circle for Bay City, MI have a blue center?
    • What criteria did you use to choose which routes to color?
    • Eagle eye! You are entirely correct, Wyoming MN should be a “T” and Park City should have a blue circle in it… added to my list of corrections and amendments – thank you. The colored routes are the ones determined as “major routes” way back when the highway system was set up… ending with “0” for the east-west routes (US 2 is really “US 0”), and ending with “1” for the north-south routes.

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  45. Michael Hunt

    I can’t even imagine what it would be like if there were really a network of trains linking every part of the country to every other part! Magical!

  46. Russ M

    Great map! I’m a big fan of researching transit infrastructure in a bunch of countries, I’d definitely love to purchase this as well as the interstate poster as well if you have any intent of reprinting that.

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  48. Larry

    Great map! Has an interesting relation to Genealogy. Several towns that are small now, use to be major hubs. I can trace several of my historical family moves along these routes.

    I think you sell quite a few of these on the family tree sites!

  49. Tina

    I would pay some serious bank for the interstates map bundled with this. I hope you’ll reconsider marketing them.

  50. Tina

    Please publish this as a big (affordable) poster.
    Exquisite work and groovy idea.

  51. Christophe

    Oh, yes, definitely: I will totally buy a poster of this when one becomes available.

  52. Pingback: The US Highway System As A Subway Map

  53. Charles Fulton

    Looks great, as always! The Michigander here wants to know what happened to US-127 and US-131.

    • Sorry, I should clarify – the map shows all two-digit routes and then only the eight longest (and they’re all over 1,000 miles long) three-digit routes. After that, the crowded east coast made further additions pretty much impossible. I had to draw the line for detail somewhere!

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