Current diversions: metro maps and self maps

Two ongoing things are keeping me entertained in my spare time these days.


Metro or subway maps are cool. They’re simple, effective topological diagrams showing you how to get from Point A to Point B in the system. And, I might add, they make great symbols of the cities whose metro systems they depict. (This, of course, has most successfully been the case with the famous London tube map.)

There’s usually a lot of manual labor involved in designing these maps, but they’re also an obvious candidate for automated layout attempts. I wouldn’t waste my time trying (and failing) to invent some algorithm, as more brilliant people before me have done so much better than I could, but I am interested in implementing one for some sort of tool that can be fed a KML or other geodata and spit out a simple metro map-like diagram.

I’m currently in the early stages of working through the method devised by Jonathan Stott for his Ph.D. thesis (25 MB PDF).

First attempt at automated metro map layout

Above is some early progress on a single subway line, a branch of the Red Line of Boston’s MBTA (or “T” if you like). It’s not great yet, but I’m not done yet. (Gotta get rid of those 90-degree turns!) In the end I’m hoping that I’ll be able to produce a map of any network of lines and nodes, be it a subway system, roads, or what have you. Stay tuned, and I’ll post when I have made some actual progress.


Speaking of transportation, the other mini-project is to keep track of everywhere I go and the mode of transportation to get there. I’m not carrying a GPS receiver everywhere, but I do keep unreasonably detailed memories of all my travel paths (at least for a short time). I’m hoping that after a while this map might be mildly interesting because 1) I work from home, so my trips are somewhat irregular in both timing and destination, and 2) my movement around town is pretty multimodal.

Here’s most of my January so far. (Green: by foot, Purple-ish: by car, Blue: by bus, Black: by subway)

Self-mapping, January '09

Hoping this will make for a sweet animation after some months. But you’re right; it’s probably stupid.

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  1. Hardly stupid! Very fascinating, especially for those of us (like you) who operate on several different modes of transportation and/or have different commutes on different days of the week.

    Keep it up!

    22 January 2009 @ 12:29pm

  2. Have you considered contributing to the OpenStreetMap project?

    Igor Brejc
    23 January 2009 @ 1:33am

  3. For sure. Most of my experience isn’t going to add to or improve the existing OSM data, but I do keep an eye out and have made a few little edits for my immediate vicinity.

    Andy Woodruff
    23 January 2009 @ 10:31am

  4. Great idea! I assume at some point you’ll add an orange line symbolizing transport via clown caravan? They typically take an irregular path, often digressing through abandoned public spaces and school playgrounds.

    Turd Ferguson
    26 January 2009 @ 9:51am

  5. Trying to re-map transportation maps is fun. I’ve made my own effort at it here (for the mbta commuter rail and others). The other one i’m quite proud of is

    5 March 2009 @ 1:20am