How many times have you paused when thinking about getting from point A to point B through a different mode: on the subway versus by foot or car? Often times, the maps of a subway appear to etch out a different city structure altogether, because the map designer needs to make decisions that affect the shape. For example, should the map emphasize accuracy of distance from point to point, or fit comfortably within a brochure or website image? How should connecting lines be displayed to minimize confusion? How much information should go on a map without cluttering it? What do people really need to know? Questions like these are things that a good design must answer well.
While the map we use today is one that may be taken for granted, it's not the only way to think about mapping a city subway. Because the tunnels and trains follow their own rules, sometimes its best to allow a geometry rule over geography. Designer Max Roberts subscribed to this rule, having designed the L map as an interpretation of local lingo. In this map, the center radiates out from a literal loop.
The map that we use everyday, below, is the result of such decisions.
But, designs have changed over time. Compared to a map of yesteryear, it's definitely easy to read. While the first revenue service of the 'L,' the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad, began revenue service on June 6, 1892, the first formal visual subway map for the city was the 1909 Plan of Chicago, incorporating designs from Paris, New York, and Boston. This map shows streetcars as well, depicted as dotted blue lines. The orientation started with a landscape as a standard.
In 1921, the map shows the loop as the root, from which every stop is an angle.
Clearly, as the city's architecture changes, so does the subway that serves it. After the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) assumed control of the L in 1947, it demolished seven entire lines and branches. This map from the period of 1944 shows the design of the time.
Designs change with the city, and it's always a work in progress. Right now, there are people like Max Roberts who think that the subway map can be better, and are sketching out a new design.
·Why designers can't stop reinventing the subway map [Washington Post]
·Map Route [Chicago L]
·Remants of the Route [Forgotten Chicago]
·Chicago L [Wikipedia]
·Cool Map Thing archives [Curbed Chicago]