I was glad to see that COTA has recently updated its system maps.
With all the recent service expansion, the maps were very out of date. Major omissions included a new express route between OSU and Hilliard, a new express route to Gender Road in Canal Winchester, the #81 extension to Rickenbacker, and the late night #21 route on High Street. Also not shown were new route numbers created to clarify the difference between traditional and reverse commute express trips, and the renumbering of the #69 to the #13.
I still have problems with the clarity of the map though. My philosophy on transit cartography is that an average person unfamiliar with the system should have no trouble determining the route of a bus on the map. Not everyone will be carrying around schedules for the whole system or web-enabled phones, nor should they have to. This clarity goal of mine just isn’t being met for portions of COTA’s map. As an example, see this section of the west side:
I don’t think the path of the #3, #6, #10, or #53 is easy to determine without a schedule to provide more details. On the map, the #3 – West Mound Street route appears to have three different end points; Westland Mall, the Georgesville Road Wal-Mart, and a loop into a residential sub-division off of Demorest Road south of Clime Road. In fact, only the latter two are actually end points, with the residential loop only served by a handful of trips per day. But if you’re on a bus going to Wal-Mart, do you know if it’s going to divert down Demorest Road before going to Westland? Do you realize that it’s going north to Westland before it goes south to Wal-Mart? Is there any way of knowing that the westbound route goes to Westland, but the eastbound route does not? And what’s with that loop around Wedgewood Drive and Maurine Drive? Does the bus go that way or does it stay on Eakin? They’re both labeled with blue lines. I assume regular users understand these things, but people unfamiliar with the system or even the individual route will find it confusing. People don’t like to be confused, so many will drive instead to avoid the whole hassle of figuring out how the system works.
Here’s another example using the new #21 Night Owl route on N. High Street.
Where exactly does this route end? If you are a regular user or have planned out your trip, you know it’s at the Park of Roses. But if you live in North Clintonville, do not normally take the bus, and spontaneously decide to take the #21 instead of letting your drunk friend drive you home from downtown, it might not be obvious how far it will take you until the bus actually shows up at the stop.
There are a couple of solutions to these problems.
1. Limit branches of the trunk line to simplify the route structure. This would improve frequency on the main line, but you would lose coverage to those odd places like the residential loop off of Demorest Road.
2. Change the map. I think the map could be more clear by adding letters to the end of the route number for different end points.
Combining mostly #2 with some of #1, the west side map might look like this (click for larger version):
I would refine this more if I had time, but I think it’s more clear than the existing version.