First of all, let me be clear: I really like the LRT system in our city. I use it almost every day, and I find it reliable, fast, clean and efficient. When new extensions open, I’m there riding the rails and admiring the new stations. Heck, the new pedway at Health Sciences/Jubilee is genuinely worth a stopover: some of the architectural details there are just exquisite. So no, this is not a rant about the system in general, or about the service. It’s about their new system maps.

The photo at the top shows one of the new maps in situ. They are visible across the tracks from the platforms, and there are two versions, for north and southbound tracks. Below is the northbound version up close: the train comes from the right, so the northbound stations are to the left. This is a small detail, and not everyone appreciates it, but it works really well.

lrtnow

So far, so good. But there is so much else wrong with this design that it’s hard to know where to start. Most of the problems are caused by the fact that someone thought it important to identify those parts of the system that are underground. Why they did this is a mystery. It cannot be meant to address accessibility issues, since all underground LRT stations have elevator access. Perhaps it’s intended as a warning for claustrophobics. Regardless, let’s look at its impact.

  • The main issue with the map is the area showing the six stations that are underground. The multiple red and blue stripes are clumsy at best, and moving the station symbols so that they “cover” all the lines, breaks the horizontal alignment and gives those stations undue prominence, without explaining why in the legend.

  • In the legend area at the top, the text reads “Capital Line – Underground Line – Surface Line”, and “Capital Line” is in a larger font to make it more prominent. But use of the word “line” three times is immediately confusing: it would have been so much clearer to say “underground section” and “surface section” or something similar. Or are there in fact three separate lines called Capital, Underground and Surface?

  • The odd red icon beside the words “Metro Line” (which indicates that some of that line is underground), just adds more confusion, but even leaving it as it is, it would have been better to align the names of the two lines, and note the opening date underneath.

Other issues are mere quibbles in comparison:

  • In the legend, the large, square icon that identifies a Transit Centre Connection doesn’t match the equivalent icons on the map itself, where they appear in circles (and are much smaller).

  • Also on the legend are the words “Metro Line to be Opened 2014”. Why does the word “Opened” have a capital “O”? For that matter, why doesn’t it just say “opening 2014”?

  • The circles showing the underground stations are not quite centred along the lines.

  • Pickiest of all, perhaps, where the track crosses the river between Grandin and University, it’s in the air, not underground.

I do understand the need to create a system map that in some sense “belongs” to Edmonton, but given that the London Underground map has sort of underpinned transit map design around the world for 80 years, there’s doesn’t seem to be any point in entirely reinventing the wheel.

As a designer, I know this map could be so much better and more effective. But my rant is not just about this particular map, because for all its failings, I recognize that it more or less does the job. The real issue is the future. This design will completely fall apart when they have to show three or four lines intersecting in the same location.

So here’s a solution that addresses the points I brought up: the map and the legend are clear and uncluttered, elements like the interchanges are distinct, and explained, and it learns from the London Underground system without being derivative. Edmonton’s own!

lrtnew

Is it perfect? By no means. Are there better solutions? Very likely. But hey, at least I identified the stations that are underground. I mean, just in case it’s vital information.

As for other rants, like the long station names? Don’t get me started.

Nigel Brachi works for the University of Alberta Students’ Union, and has been involved in graphic design for most of his career. He wrote his undergraduate thesis on urban transit, and he’s never met a streetcar he didn’t like.