Sunday, June 27, 2010

Making a Subway Map VI

[ I started writing about the new version of my subway map in progress here in Making a Subway Map I in May. ]

Long Island City. This is an awful area. Look at the old map.

The most ugly part is that mess above Queens Plaza. But that's not the only part that is a twisted, congested mess. To some degree, this is the fault of the Transit Authority's practice of what I feel is excessive merging and diverging. The Queens Boulevard route (above and to the right of Queens Plaza) is the worst case in the whole system. But it is my job to make this as reasonably understandable as possible.

I showed you last time my first stab at re-drawing this. Here it is again.

So what do we have here? First of all, there is a change in the real system: the light green line now ends at Court Square all the time. I am still not sure that will last, so I wanted to draw the new map to allow for it it to run on to Queens Plaza.

I was able to eliminate the awkward dip of the orange line to the right of 21st St station, but I introduced a different squiggle on the orange and blue line to the left of 23rd St / Ely Ave. I don't like little reverse curves. It pretty much says "I couldn't get this to line up". Maybe it's necessary sometimes, but I don't like it.

As I mentioned last time, the arrangement to the right of Queens Plaza, while satisfying in some ways, was not quite right. Here is the next change I saved.

Changes to the purple line and railroad in the lower left let me get rid of the kink in the orange and blue line. The cluster of stations around Court Square is also better. There was just not enough room there before.

You can see above that the railroad is about to hit the name of Queens Plaza, and that I still had problems with the way the purple line was going to cross the multi-colored Queens Boulevard line on the right.

Several manipulations later, here is the next one I saved. I had simplified the purple line, and moved the location and name of Queens Plaza to better positions, and started resolving the relationship of the various lines on the right.

This was starting to look good. I had enough room for all the names, and the lines were getting simpler. The four grey railroad lines in the center were excessive.

I spent some time on the area right above Queens Plaza. I had wanted the blue line to be below the orange line, but a simple solution was blocked by the grey railroad line (the Long Island Rail Road route to Grand Central, under construction). Could I turn the grey line to run down and to the right? No, it would hit the name of Queens Plaza. I drew the orange line making a little reverse curve just enough to run above the blue line. I didn't save that for you, but it didn't look good. So I ended up with the blue curving ninety degrees there, passing over the horizontal orange line and under the vertical orange line. It's not ideal. But the alternatives looked worse.

It ends up like this.

That's not bad at all. Considering how crazy the train routings really are, this looks pretty clean and simple.

The last big thing is Jamaica. I just started sketching this out on Saturday. Essentially, the horizontal from Long Island City meets the diagonal up from Brooklyn. But I had shortened it on the old map, to save space, by bending the horizontals as they got near Jamaica.

My half baked idea now is to bend the horizontals much sooner. One reason is that changes I made so far have put the horizontal lines farther up, and the diagonal farther down, so that they'd meet even farther to the right.

Below, see how it might work out. On the black sketch line for the brown line, which has a lot of stations, I even put station circles to make sure they wouldn't be too close together. This looks promising, so I think I will try to draw this during the coming week.

Someone asked why I do this. For fun? The feeling I get from this is similar to the feeling I get from working out a crossword puzzle, or the feeling I get from writing a computer program. It's something about going over the same details repeatedly until I get a result I like. Of course there is no precisely correct way to translate the subway system into the controlled space of a diagram. I just need to find a way that I consider pleasing. Then I can put it out of my mind and work on the next section. And then I can not think about it until some change in train routings years from now forces me to re-draw some section. I have to make myself stop at some point.

Continued: Making a Subway Map VII.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Making a Subway Map V

[ I started writing about the new version of my subway map in progress here in Making a Subway Map I in May. ]

This week I worked on north Brooklyn, and I even made a start on Long Island City.

I got stuck for a few days at East New York. This is a problem area where three lines cross. Whatever solution I adopted would affect the diagram for some distance around it.

Here are some old variations. When I started the diagram, the three stations had three different names for the station at the crossing: Broadway Junction, Eastern Parkway, and Broadway - East New York. That made it even harder, since I had to allow space for three names.

That's October 1998, November 2001, and March 2009. As you can see, all three stations are now called Broadway Junction. That helps.

You'll notice the dip I added to the Broadway El (brown) line, and the straightening of the Eastern District line (grey). I think that was to bring the three stations closer together. There's still extra space along the brown line between Chauncey St and Eastern Parkway / Broadway Junction, solely to let me get the name in. For the same reason the distance between the Broadway Junction and Atlantic Ave stations on the grey line is a little more than I'd like, since they are really very close.

Here's what I started with. It's something like March 2009. The grey line comes down vertically, but the dip and the extra space in the brown line is eliminated.

This wasn't right though. The name on the brown line for Alabama Ave is really crowded, and it's not clear what the name of the blue line station is at Broadway Junction.

I had to think about this for a while. The solution came to me while I was out running. I used to think about story ideas while I was walking or running, and now I was thinking about graphic problems.

The key idea was to turn the grey line to a diagonal across the junction. This happens to be what it really does, but I was doing it because it makes the diagram work better.

However it had implications that carried all the way to downtown Brooklyn. The blue line and the railroad had to shift down and to the right. That forced Atlantic Terminal to be horizontal instead of diagonal, and the red and green lines would also be moved around, and so would the black line. There are a lot of changes here!

I like how the light green and dark blue lines now separate symmetrically (lower left of this image). And now there is equal spacing between light green, blue, and red-green. The whole thing is more pleasing in many small ways.

Once again, the new version is slightly larger than the old. The outer ends of the grey and red lines are farther out. The general trend here is to give the outer sections a little more space, to resolve some crowding and what I considered lack of clarity. I made only small changes to Manhattan, but I've been stuck a few times now on fixing things in the other boroughs.

The worst is coming. I'll show you the very unfinished solution to the mess of lines in Long Island City. The amount of branching and merging here, in the real system, is ridiculous.

What I have so far is better than the old diagram, and yet it's got some serious problems. I'm posting this to show you what can happen.

I have tried to open up enough space to clarify things and to get the station names in. I am happy with some of this.

It shows much more clearly how the express and local tracks on Queens Boulevard connect to Manhattan (the yellow, orange, and blue lines around Queens Plaza station). There really is a separate path for the local trains from 36th St to Northern Blvd, but I never showed it before. It's there now as a device to clarify the routings. I think the names for 36th St and Steinway St look crowded, but that might be all right.

The purple line might look crazy but it really does bend around like what you see here.

I set up the light green line so that if it ever does run beyond Court Square again to Queens Plaza, I have a chance of adding the line for it.

But I don't know what to do to the right of Queens Plaza. The location of the purple line at lower right makes the most sense, but it would cross the Queens Boulevard line too far to the right. You can see some test lines there that push it up and left. Wait and see how I will fix this. I don't know yet myself.

Continued: Making a Subway Map VI.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Making a Subway Map IV

[ I started writing about the new version of my subway map in progress here in Making a Subway Map I in May. ]

This week I worked mostly on southern Brooklyn, and just yesterday I started on northern Brooklyn, which is not finished yet.

I want to show my work (as we used to say in Math class), but I only saved one version, which you can see here. This is what I had done on Wednesday.

Here, I've brought the Fourth Ave line down to 95th St, and brought the West End and Sea Beach lines almost to Coney Island, and the Culver just to Church Ave. I also began locating the routes at upper right, mostly so as to locate the Franklin Shuttle (black) correctly.

What's new here? As you saw last time, I made the tangle of routes in downtown Brooklyn larger, and this has affected the rest of Brooklyn. It's all a little farther down and to the right than it was before.

The Franklin Shuttle looks very long now. I added a reverse curve around Botanic Garden mostly to fit in station names.

At De Kalb Avenue, as I mentioned I wanted to allow for the return of Nassau St (brown) service, and that accounts for the space between De Kalb and Nevins St. I could fit an extra color line along there from Lawrence to De Kalb to Pacific and south.

In the work file above, the locations of everything south of 9th St and 4th Ave are pretty much the same as before. The only deliberate change was to shift the southern part of the Sea Beach closer to the Culver, because it really is closer.

However, I had felt that southern Brooklyn was a little too small, compared to the similar area in the Bronx, and after looking at the big picture I expanded the space, shown below.

It's in the nature of this kind of diagram that the innermost area gets enlarged to show detail, and that the outer areas get increasingly reduced in size. But still the overall proportions of one outer area to another should be vaguely similar. It's an art, not a science.

Here is the same area, more finished.

You probably don't notice this, but compared to the previous image, I stretched everything south of 9th St and 4th Ave a little bit. This makes the Culver and Brighton Beach line stations (not yet shown in the previous image) a little less crowded together.

I also pulled Coney Island a little more down and to the right than it was before. There's a little space between stations below Bay 50th St and 86th St and Avenue X stations, and you can see how the Culver and Brighton Beach lines curve back toward then city as they come into Stillwell Ave. Now Stillwell Ave and West 8th St stations look almost equally far south, which is fair.

Trouble on the Brighton Beach line. Because the station names are on the right, and because the Franklin Shuttle is built to run into the local tracks, I wanted to put the all-stops line on the right. What I did on the old map was flip the orange and yellow lines up at De Kalb Avenue, but now I felt the De Kalb area looked much more clear if I did not do that. De Kalb looks much better now. But the result was that I now needed to cross the yellow over the orange south of Prospect Park.

There is just no right way to show it. What really happens there is just that the yellow and orange come down on the same track into Prospect Park, and then the yellow splits off the to the outer tracks while the orange stays on the center tracks. There is no over-under crossing nor is there any need for one. I usually do this without crossing one line over the other. But in this case I had to. Visually, the reverse curve to the local tracks almost mirrors the curve above Atlantic Avenue station. I'm going to live with it, but I consider it a flaw.

I'll talk about north Brooklyn next time.

Here are images of the old and new map at the same small scale.  I bring them down to this size occasionally to get the Big Picture. Normally I don't see the design as a whole as I work on it. This shows how it's still pretty much the same design despite the many changes.

Continued: Making a Subway Map V.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Making a Subway Map III

[ I started writing about the new version of my subway map in progress here in Making a Subway Map I in May. ]

Last time I was still hung up on the 149th St junction in the Bronx, but I got it to my satisfaction, and with about six hours' more work I finished the borough.

It needs a little touching up. I want to fine-tune the location of station names, and check the whitespace between parallel lines, and make sure the lines and curves line up exactly. But it's done well enough to leave for now. Later I will continue the mainline railways some distance into Westchester.

I really like that grey for mainline railways now. It looks good. In the future I will say that I always knew it was the right way to go. I ended up using a double line when there are more than two tracks for passenger service. The station circles are the same ones as on the subway lines. The station names are smaller and without the italics I used previously.

I left out the old map background in the image above, so I probably need to point out the few changes. Firstly the Bronx is a little taller than it was before, mostly to avoid the crowding on the line to 241st St, and the green lines on the right run a little farther to the right. The end of the orange at 205th St now turns to the right, which is geographically correct but also looks good.

I've given some vague thought to making underground and elevated lines look different, possibly with shadowed lines for the outdoor lines. I'm still not sold on the idea. If I do it, I think I'd better apply it to the mainline railways too, which are mostly outdoors.

On to Brooklyn. This is the Big Deal of the map redesign. I've been unhappy with the tangled mess of downtown Brooklyn ever since I did the old map. Fifteen years is a long time. So the rest of this essay today is about me working my way to a solution that I'm not sure I have found yet. I've saved images of some of them so you can see what I'm going through.

The biggest single problem is De Kalb Avenue, a unique six-track station. I can thank the cutbacks for reducing six colored lines to five, but I suspect the extra line will come back sometime in the life of this map and will plan accordingly without actually drawing it in.

On the old map I put the bypass track on the lower left side. That was done mainly because the station name did not fit on that side. Other than that, it would really be clearer to put the bypass on the upper right side, so I started off trying to that.

What is really the biggest problem is a triangle formed by the orange and yellow diagonal down to De Kalb, the horizontals coming in from Manhattan, and the orange vertical. It's just too small an area.

Here is the first one I saved for you, which is already hours into my work. I'm sorry I didn't save any earlier version so you could see the tentative lines I started with. (This one has the palimpsest of the old map showing through.)

The idea here was that all the lines would cross the East River as diagonals. This would drop the red, yellow, and green lines to a lower position and give me some more room for the station names. I also have the orange and blue vertical line a little to the left of its old course.

This opened up enough room to get the De Kalb Avenue name in there where I wanted it. I thought the yellow route from Whitehall St to De Kalb was a little awkward. The yellow and green lines would both bend halfway across the East River (shown by narrow red lines). The red, blue, and orange lines would bend just above or below their river crossings.

This was better than the old map but not quite what I wanted.

After a series of changes, I straightened the yellow line, by lowering it and the green line, making them horizontal again. This involved some changes in lower Manhattan. By this time I also fixed some of the transition curves, notably the diagonal approach to De Kalb Avenue.

There were two problems remaining. I started to think the East River should look wider. I also started thinking about the Second Avenue Subway running downtown, and even though that won't happen for a long time, making room for it worked together with the idea of the East River being wider. So I wanted to push the Brooklyn area down and to the right.

So I went back to the idea of everything crossing the East River on a diagonal. Below, the Second Avenue Subway is drawn in a thin red line, which will not be there on the finished map. I had to give up that nice symmetrical thing at the upper end of the Manhattan Bridge (the orange and yellow near Grand St), but that let me push Second Avenue station to the left, which is good.

Below, it might not be instantly noticeable, but all of Brooklyn is now down and to the right from where it is in the previous map. The new awkwardness is the bend on the orange line near York St station. It's not great but I think it will be all right.

Once I have downtown Brooklyn worked out, I'll probably do southern Brooklyn, northern Brooklyn, and Queens, in that order. Then New Jersey. Then carry mainline railways out to the borders. At the end I'll check the overall layout, indicate the part time services, put in the water features, and check all the details.

Continued: Making a Subway Map IV.