Without much fanfare, Metro has put new, more diagrammatic versions of its bus maps online. They incorporated most of the suggestions we had given them from the draft versions, and these maps are a huge improvement over the old ones.

Mid-city section of the DC bus map. Click any map for full version (PDF).

The old maps showed a bus route that runs every 10 minutes all day in exactly the same way as one that makes 4 trips, each a half hour apart, just at rush hours. The new map makes the most important, most frequent lines thicker and more prominent. It also smooths out the paths of each route to create something that’s somewhere between a completely geographic map, like the old bus map, and a diagram like the Metrorail map.

One of my main comments from the draft versions was to highlight frequent non-Metrobus lines, like the Circulator. To most riders, it doesn’t matter if the bus is a Metrobus, Circulator, ART, Ride On, Fairfax Connector, etc. — only where it goes and when it’ll show up.

To their credit, the map designers took this feedback to heart, and now frequent non-Metrobus routes like the Circulator get the same thick lines as primary Metrobus routes, just in a different color based on the operator (gold for Circulator, green for Ride On, etc.)

That means that, at a distance, the maps for Maryland and Virginia jurisdictions give you a pretty good sense of where the frequent buses go:

Montgomery County bus map.

Prince George’s County bus map.

Virginia bus map.

One item that we didn’t get to see in the drafts is the zoomed-in insert for downtown DC. Here’s what they came up with:

Downtown insert for the DC bus map.

The downtown network is pretty complicated, so it looks like there wasn’t room to give each route its own line on the map. Instead, the map groups them, which means you still have to scrutinize the lines to see which route goes where. But it does really highlight the overall grid pattern of the bus routes downtown.

On the full DC map, lines that end downtown turn into an arrow generally pointing at downtown, and you have to switch to the insert to see where they go. It’s too bad they couldn’t show where at least the major lines go downtown on the non-insert map, so you don’t always have to switch to the insert to get a general sense of the route.

The bus maps for Virginia, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County also have little downtown inserts of their own, these showing just the buses that go downtown from that jurisdiction. It seems like a clever way to show people riding into downtown from one of these places where their buses go and where to catch them to get back home.

Downtown inserts for the Virginia (top left), Montgomery (top right),

and Prince George’s (bottom) maps.

Perhaps, in the future, there could be a sheet of such downtown inserts for different parts of DC, like a downtown insert of buses that go to DC west of Rock Creek park, another for buses that go east of the Anacostia, ones to Northeast neighborhoods, and so on?

All of the maps also have a single overview map that shows the high-frequency buses, and Metrorail network, for the entire region:

Below that is a table of the routes in that jurisdiction and when they run. Before, if you were looking at the bus map and considering a few different routes, you’d have to find the timetables for each route online. Now, you can look them up in the table.

Portion of the table from the Virginia map.

It might be even better if the tables could list the average headway or some other frequency information, instead of just a dot.

Overall, Metro’s maps took a huge step forward. It’s also important to note that just 10 years ago, Metrobus maps were not online at all. Dennis Jaffe, the first chair of the Riders’ Advisory Council, spearheaded a campaign with the Sierra Club to get free maps distributed and the map posted online. Now, a decade later, we have a far better map as well.

What do you think of the new maps?

Tagged: buses, maps, wmata

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.