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TRANSIT likes maps – they tell us so much about a public transport system (Update #2)

Update: TRANSIT received a message from Eddie Jabbour, designer of the Kickmap, recently, which is as follows:

On Dec 7th there is going to be a NYC Subway Map “Form vs. Function” forum which the KickMap will be a part of. See:

Are there any readers in the New York City area interested in attending and updating us on the discussion?

TRANSIT took note of two very interesting blog posts which discuss public transport maps and how they can help divine (as in, extract) information about a public transport system – such as its history, future growth patterns, strengths & weaknesses, and the organizational culture of the authority that is in charge.

The first post in the Bricoleurism blog compares the route maps for underground systems in Shanghai and London. Shanghai’s underground recently took over as the world’s largest (in terms of kilometres of track) with 420 km of track compared to London’s 402 (not including the Overground and Docklands Light Railway). On top of that, Shanghai is still on track (pardon the pun) for growth towards 2020 which intends to double the size of the existing network!

What is even more remarkable about the Shanghai system is that it started in 1995 – meaning that in 15 years, Shanghai’s metro system has managed to overtake one of the oldest and largest metro systems in the world!

If that is not worthy of accolades, we at TRANSIT do not know what is. But enough talk – check out the images below!

Shanghai Metro today, up to 2020

Full current regional network diagram of Shanghai Metro, July 2010, move over with mouse to show 2020 expansion (credit: Shanghai Daily via Bricoleurbanism)

Click here for a larger view of the image above.

London Underground, Overground & Docklands Light Railway today

Full regional network diagram of London Underground (including Overground and Docklands Light railway) (credit: TfL via Bricoleurbanism)

Click here for a larger view of the image above.

The blog then goes on to compare the two systems by their route maps. The London map, for example, emphasizes Zone 1 and 2, the city centre, while the Shanghai map emphasizes the lines radiating out of the city centre.

The blog also comments on a common feature of both systems, a circle line roughly covering most of the “City Centre” area. But to do this properly, the blogger explains that one must compare the systems using geographically accurate maps on the same scale

Geographically accurate map of Shanghai metro system – click here for a larger view

Central area of Shanghai Metro, July 2010 (geographically accurate, showing historic city centre districts)

Geographically accurate map of London Underground & metro system – click here for a larger view

This comparison gives us a good understanding of the role that the Shanghai metro plays for the residents of Shanghai and its suburbs, compared to the different role that the London Underground plays for London and its inner suburbs. We will leave the rest of the analysis to the blog post itself.

Do note one interesting thing though – if you include London’s vast network of surface trains, the number of kilometers of public transport serving Greater London is simply astonishing. And in order to expand the capacity of the service, Transport for London has introduced the “Metro” concept which allows the Oyster Card to be used at all Network Rail stations within Zone 1-6 (along with the Underground, Overground, Docklands Light Railway, Croydon Tramlink, Ferries and London Buses). This functionally makes the Network Rail train services a part of Greater London’s MRT system.

The second post, from the Radar O’Reilly blog, is an interview with Eddie Jabour, who designed the new “Kickmap” for New York City’s MTA Subway. His goal was to distill a complicated system of 26 lines and 468 stations across 5 New York boroughs into something that was easy to understand and would encourage public transport users to take full advantage of the system that was available to them. You can see his work below or follow his blogsite,

Jabbour describes the first map that he ever saw (below) saying, “It reminded me of a complex electrical diagram that I couldn’t understand; it looked very “adult-serious” and even a little scary. I hoped I’d never have to deal with it.”

The 1958 New York City Subway map designed by George Salomon. 1958 New York City Subway Map © MTA New York City transit. Image courtesy of

Click here for a larger version of the map above.

Compare this map with the Kickmap (below) – which is more stylish, close to accurate geographically, and colourful – it encourages people to take advantage of the map and explore the subway system and the communities that the system serves.

The Kickmap, released in 2007. Courtesy of

Click here for a larger version of the map above.

The blog goes on to give a detailed explanation of how Jabbour designed the Kickmap, including his emphasis on the effort to make the map accurate, detailed, and easy to use. On top of that, the Kickmap is available in applications for the iPhone & iPad.


The understanding of maps and how they are used to convey information is a new field that is receiving a great deal of attention. It combines information about the system with effective ways of communication of that information – from the use of certain colours, to map and route design, to signage and fonts

For example, compare the Kelana Jaya line strip map on a white background to the Kelana Jaya strip map on a blue background: there is a clear difference in style and the ease of communicating the information visually.

Kelana Jaya LRT strip map on a white background. Image courtesy of Bukhrin.
Kelana Jaya line strip map on a blue background. Image courtesy of Bukhrin

Effective design conveys information quickly and easily – maps and signage need to be scannable rather than just readable, but should still help users get familiar with where they are. The more effective the planning is, the better the maps will be, and more people will take advantage of the public transport system.

Unfortunately, the Klang Valley does not have a complete, effective public transport map or system of signage that encourages people to use the public transport system. The current strip maps, whether for bus or LRT, isolate each line from other lines and discourage people from using public transport beyond the reliable line that they are most familiar with.

Strip maps discourage people from using public transport and effectively limit it to a commuter service – one line, in to the city centre in the morning and out of the city centre in the evening. But if we want to encourage people to use public transport more (and take advantage of their monthly Rapidpasses) we need to design a map that incorporates both bus and rail (monorail, LRT & Komuter) and shows the entire Kuala Lumpur area, not just certain “areas”.

Right now we do not even have a complete map of the Klang Valley that even shows the zones for the bus service. The BastrenKL map (below) is informative but it is not a totally effective communications tool – its main advantage is that it shows the whole Klang Valley, rather than one area – emphasizing detail and style over geographic accuracy.

Bus Routes in the Klang ValleyBasTrenKL map showing bus routes in the Klang Valley - image courtesy of Vector Designs

TRANSIT hopes that those who are interested in design would look into designing a very effective map for the Klang Valley’s public transport system.

7 replies on “TRANSIT likes maps – they tell us so much about a public transport system (Update #2)”

Luvly and colorful… look like blood-vessels & nerves pumping blood or sending different signals to the heart or brain.

Shanghai does have about 5 times as many people as KL in the city alone.

Hence, KL will never get close – but we can and should have a well-designed, scannable and effective map that shows the whole Klang Valley and encourages people to use public transport regularly, beyond the typical “commuter” trip.

Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

Hohohoo.. We are the rabbit.. Start first, end last.

To the laymen, the interchange stations in round symbol in the map, could easily misread as a (lone) station. It shows how big and integrated their network are.

We are only familiar with 6 interchange stations 1) KL Sentral, 2) Masjid Jamek, 3) Titiwangsa 4) Bdr Tasik Selatan 5) Chan Sow Lin & 6) Hang Tuah.
But we are even famous with 5 poorest & terrible interchange stations as :-
1) KL Sentral Monorail
2) Pasar Seni KL Railway Station
3) Putra KTM PWTC LRT Ampang
4) Bukit Nenas Monorail Dang Wangi LRT KJ
5) Bank Negara KTM Bandaraya LRT Ampang

Designers on the new MRT should take example of the below good interchange station from London Tube with amazingly short walking distance.
– Finsbury Park (Piccadilly to Victoria)
– Highbury and Islington (GN Electrics to Victoria)
– Euston (Northern [City Branch] to Victoria)
– Oxford Circus (Bakerloo to Victoria)
– Baker Street (Bakerloo to Jubilee)
– Stockwell (Northern to Victoria)
– Hammersmith, Barons Court (Piccadilly to District)
– Mile End (Central to District)
– Edgware Road (District & Circle to Hammersmith & City)
– Finchley Road, Wembley Park (Metropolitan to Jubilee)

Btw, Greater London rapid transit system has approx 12 lines, nearly 500km coverage (exclude komuter/intercity train), nearly 400 stations with approx 70 interchange station. Greater London population is 16 million.

Greater KL rapid transit has 2 lines, nearly 60km coverage (exclude komuter/intercity train). 50 stations. 8 interchange station. Greater KL (excld Klang, Shah Alam, Sepang etc) current population at 8 million.

London transit system key-index out-beat ours (current) by avg 8 times. Population? They just win 2 times. Anyone fancy to get statistics, calculate & compare with Shanghai, Tokyo, Moscow, NY, Seoul, Singapore ?

[…] Beyond that, ask any local passer-by which bus to take to get to XYZ — in all likelihood, he won’t know. And how should he? There’s no information available at the bus stop, schedules are rough suggestions at best, and a decent route map cannot even be found online. How is anyone supposed to swap his car for a bus if it is easier to win the lottery than finding decent information on the bus routes? RapidPenangs map is barely understandable and gives no connection to the actual geography of the area. Even the locals have hard time comprehending the map, let alone tourists. We see the same pattern with bus maps in Klang Valley and Putrajaya. [TRANSIT: This is a common issue in Malaysia – and is it not interesting that routes designed by engineers would have route maps that look like electrical diagrams? […]

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