When the Silver Line opens later this year, the Metro map will have to fit in a silver stripe where the Orange and Blue Lines traverse DC. Metro has a two new drafts of the new map and wants to hear from riders.


Click on the radio buttons to toggle: Current (“Rush Plus”)  Previous “whisker” draft
New “whisker” option  New “capsule” option 

Click on an image for larger version including the legend.

The main challenge in the map’s design is how to show 3 lines all running together. Until the Silver Line, no track segment had 3 lines. When there are 2 lines, the map shows a small dot in between the two. But what to do with 3?

In our 2011 contest, people tried a lot of solutions, like much thinner lines (like most transit systems), striped lines, pairs or triples of dots, or just bigger dots and much more.

Metro’s first draft used little “whiskers” on each side of the circle. A few people liked them, but most hated them and pushed for “pill” or “capsule”-shaped station symbols instead, or thinner lines.

Metro now has a new version that incorporates those suggestions. It shrinks the line width by 24%, which still leaves fatter lines than in other transit systems, but much slimmer than the current map. In this option, the stations with 3 lines now use the “capsule” shapes. They also created a new version that keeps the “whiskers” but cleans up the map in other ways.

What works, and where there could be a few more tweaks

The capsule version is much better than the previous versions. The curves are very tight and clean. The thinner lines look better, and the capsules are superior to the “whiskers.”

It seems to me that for consistency with the circles, the capsules should be as large on the rounded ends as the small circles are today—basically pulling 2 halves of one of the current circles apart and putting a rectangle in between. Or as Cameron Booth put it, “an elongated ‘pill’ symbol with the same cap radius and the normal circle.” That would make them much larger in overall area, though. On the latest draft, they’re much thinner. What do you think?

Booth had very harsh words for the current map (redesigned last year). He pointed out many technical errors, like the way the parking P and hospital H icons didn’t line up with the text at all. Metro has corrected at least some of these, like one Booth pointed out:


Text alignment on part of the Red Line. Left: Current Rush Plus map. Image by Cameron Booth from WMATA base map. Right: New map. Image by David Alpert from WMATA base map.

Metro also abandoned an idea of abbreviating words like “Ctr” and “Hgts” in station names (another choice Booth panned), but they are abbreviating “Rd,” “St,” “Ave,” and “Blvd” for all stations. The original map abbreviated some but not all road types.

As the map goes through iterations, some have repeatedly pointed out that there is considerable parkland east of the Anacostia, including right along the river, but none appears on the map. Given that even the Pentagon (a large office fortress with parking lots and highways around it) gets to be inside a “park” space on this map, it seems reasonable to put some green along the east bank of the Anacostia.

It continues to mystify why Metro doesn’t want to put the “Farragut Crossing” out-of-system transfer on the map. If it did appear, that could entice some casual users to take it instead of crowding trains through Metro Center.

While Metro is adjusting lines a little, it also would be smart to move Metro Center and Gallery Place closer together, so that fewer tourists take the Red Line one stop and then transfer, and put Union Station nearer the Capitol, because it’s the station closest to the Senate.

Overall, the capsule map seems best, and the map overall is moving definitively in the right direction. Especially compared to the pre-Rush Plus map, where curves were all uneven, some labels were not even at a 45-degree angle, and everything was just a mess in so many tiny ways, the map has gotten far more professional.

Update/note: The image at the top does not show the legend and other information that’s at the top or bottom of the map. You can click on an image to see the full map including header and footer.

Update 2: The original version of this post said that Metro has a new version with capsule station symbols, but in fact they have 2 new versions, one of which has capsule symbols and the other with whisker symbols. I misunderstood the whisker version Metro posted as being the old one rather than a revised whisker one. The post has now been updated to show both new versions as well as the correct previous one and the current map.

Tagged: maps, metro, wmata

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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.