BART to Change Its Maps

Admit it: When a tourist family with more baggage than the Spanish conquistadors lugs its way onto a BART train and proceeds to loudly lament the difficulty of the route map, you've felt a smug Bay Area sense of superiority.

But before you get too full of yourself, remember that BART doesn't go that many places; deciphering route maps in Paris or New York City is calculus compared to BART's algebra. And very soon its maps will be so easy, even tourists — and journalists — will be able to understand them.

"We are working on new maps and we have gotten public feedback through targeted surveys," says Linton Johnson, BART's chief spokesman. The new maps, he says, "have more straight lines now and are easier to read and decipher."

For those curious about what cartographers are cooking up, Johnson noted that he can't release any details to the public. But thanks to the new book Transit Maps of the World, we can discern that BART's future maps may look a great deal like those of its visually superior past.

The peculiarly engrossing coffee-table book was penned by London-born journalist Mark Ovenden, perhaps the world's ultimate mass-transit nerd, and contains past and present maps of rail systems from Alexandria to Zurich. If you can take him seriously after he describes the Bay Area as "a public transport lover's paradise," his complaints about the BART map probably channel the frustrations of millions of gaping tourists. Since BART decided to accurately represent every twist and turn of its tracks as they snake their way out to Pittsburg/Bay Point or traverse a horseshoe among San Bruno, SFO, and Millbrae, the map now resembles multicolored strands of spaghetti tossed onto a picture of the Bay Area. In Ovenden's transit-speak, BART suffers from "slavish topographic accuracy."

It wasn't always so. BART's 1980s-vintage map is artificially straight and very readable, and its intriguing map from the system's primordial days goes one further: The travel time in minutes is posted between each stop. Goodness, that sounds – how shall we put it – convenient.

One note to BART: If you do revert to the earlier map, don't color the ocean brown and the land blue as you did back then. Because that's confusing to more of us than just tourists.

 
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