Google Maps has gotten another makeover, and this one isn’t exactly an improvement. At most zoom levels, transit station icons have vanished from satellite view. This makes it difficult for users to find transit stops or see other stations in context. Freeway labels, of course, are omnipresent.

Google Maps. What is missing from this picture?

Metro station icons do still appear on “map” view as they used to. But for people looking at “satellite” view, finding subway stops just got a lot harder.

Even turning on the “transit” layer doesn’t help. This layer isn’t available in Washington, but in other cities, like New York, where it is available, it turns on rail lines but not rail stations.

If you zoom in far enough, you will eventually see the station icon. But at that zoom level, you really already need to know where the station is in order to find it.Even entering the address for the Gallery Place station, at 630 H Street NW, isn’t enough to see the icon, because the default zoom level for seeing addresses is too far out.

Image from Google Maps.

In fact, this is the zoom level where the different galleries in the

National Gallery of Art

National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum appear. We’ve zoomed in so far that we can tell that art about the Civil War is in the northeast corner of the building. And that’s the first zoom level where we can see that there’s a Metro station across the street.

But at this zoom level, the map is only about a block tall. It’s nearly impossible to see the city in context. Where are other stations? Is a different stop more convenient?

Transit stations are a fundamental thing to show on maps. For those already taking transit, it helps them know where they can find the station. For those who haven’t decided on a mode, it might make them think, “hey, there’s a Metro stop across the street, maybe we can take the train.”

For years, Google Maps has set a very high bar by providing excellent interactive maps. But this change is a huge step backwards for transit users.

Clearly, the designers have lost sight of where transit information needs to appear in the hierarchy of map data. (Hint: it’s much more important than the location of Civil War art in the

National Gallery

Portrait Gallery).

Google should at least revise their satellite view so that transit station icons appear at the same zoom levels as they do in “map” view.

Tagged: google, maps, transit

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Capitol Hill. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.