In August, Jarrett Walker at Human Transit posted about the need for transit agencies to create transit maps that distinguish between high frequency routes, ordinary routes, and express routes. There have since been a great series of follow-up posts featuring the work of aspiring cartographers.
COTA’s system map does a good job of distinguishing the limited service express routes (in red), but doesn’t make any distinction for the higher frequency routes in the system. This means that every local bus route looks the same on the map, whether it runs once an hour or every 10 minutes. That’s not necessarily a huge problem for a rider if he or she has a schedule or can access one on the web, but many people don’t want to carry around schedules or even look them up. They want to take a quick look at a map and understand how the system works. Furthermore, if they show up to a bus stop at random without a schedule, they don’t want to wait too long.
This is the concept of the frequent network; buses that come so frequently a rider doesn’t need a schedule and won’t have to wait very long. There’s no precise definition of “frequent.” Many places seem to use 15 minutes, but bigger cities with more high frequency services might go lower and for longer spans of the day. Los Angeles Metro has a “12-Minute Map.” On the other hand, Portland Tri-Met has had to eliminate mid-day 15-minute service due to budget constraints, so they’re just saying it’s 15 minutes or better during rush hour. The exact frequency and duration isn’t as important as letting people know where your best services are.
This concept of mapping frequent service routes isn’t new to me. Several years ago, I suggested creating a frequent transit network map for COTA on my bus plan website (see #4). I even drafted a suggested starter network and a more extensive future frequent network. However, those were just ideas and didn’t reflect COTA’s existing levels of service. The Human Transit post inspired me to create something that is useful now, today. Click on the image of the map below to open my PDF showing COTA’s existing frequent-service routes: #1, #2, and #10. The routes run every 15 minutes or better from at least 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday through Friday.
Color – I’ve given each of the three frequent routes their own color. When most cities build a rail system, they tend to make two of the first lines red and blue, probably because they stand out well against a map background and against each other. I made the #2 red because of OSU. I am saving blue for a route to the airport (planes –> sky –> blue). The next best colors to use are green, orange, purple, brown, pink, and maybe gold and silver. I gave the #1 green to reflect the school colors at Northland High School and the #10 orange for West High School. Admittedly, this is somewhat arbitrary. Northland isn’t even that close to Cleveland Avenue. So I could have easily chosen different schools or colors, but I didn’t.
Line Weights – The three frequent routes are marked with the thickest lines. I also added a small black line down the middle to make it more obvious that they were different. This is how Portland used to show their frequent routes and I always liked the look of it. At some point, all the routes branch out to multiple terminals. This allows COTA to trade frequency in exchange for service coverage in the outlying areas where demand for transit is lower. At that point, I show less thick lines to indicate “standard service” instead of frequent service. Some of the routes also take little diversions for just a handful of rush hour trips per day. This is extremely confusing on the COTA system map, but I made a dashed “limited service” line style to show that these are relatively unimportant.
Stops – There are too many to show on the map, but I showed the official COTA timepoints (and a few extra ones) to help users with orientation. This also provides an opportunity to show the routes where you can connect to the frequent service routes.
Connections – The buses available for connections are shown as circles adjacent to the timepoints. Local routes are dark blue and crosstown routes are dark green like the COTA system map. Express routes are maroon instead of red to avoid confusion with the #2.
Speed – There’s nothing on here about speed of service, but I’m thinking of adding a screen line for 15 minute and 30 minute rides from downtown, similar to my 30-minute COTA map. Stay tuned for updates.
Other Benefits – Other than providing better information for riders, a frequent network map can help people make decisions about where to live or locate a business. If you were moving to Chicago (and I mean the city, not the far-flung suburbs) I can guarantee you would look at an “El” map before choosing your first apartment. Developers try to build near the stations too, because that’s where people want to be. I think that was the idea behind the proposed (formerly proposed?) streetcar. The service level wouldn’t change that much, but it would provide a psychological magnet for urban development. With my frequent network map, I’m trying to capture some of that psychological benefit without the cost of a new rail line.
I would hope that the route would also be a new tool for transit planners. When planners like us see a map, we instantly start thinking about how we can extend lines or add more lines to it. It would be great to see COTA focus on expanding the coverage and hours of frequent transit service in Columbus’ core. It would be even better to see citizens requesting it.
Drawbacks – Clearly the coverage could improve. The east side has good service, as do the two main spines on the north side and one on the west side, but there’s nothing going south or northwest and frequent coverage doesn’t get very far outside of the city. No suburbs have a frequent service route except for Bexley and Whitehall. I’d love to add the #6 and the #16 to the map as the next steps, and send the #6 to the airport.
The span of service also isn’t as long as I would like to see for a frequent network. It’s 11 hours long (7 AM – 6 PM) and doesn’t necessarily extend to weekend service. I’d love to see something more like 6 AM to 8 PM on weekdays and 8 AM – 6 PM on weekends. But as I said earlier, it is better to provide information about the service that exists than to not provide it because you’re waiting for demand to increase before you can expand service levels. People need to know where the best bus service is in a city. Here it is.
Other than available connections/transfers, this map doesn’t show the relationship between the rest of the system and the frequent network.
I plan to create a full system map soon with the frequent network shown as well as other changes. Check back. This map does.
Comments – Please let me know if you find any errors or have suggestions about how to improve the clarity of the map. I’m especially having a difficult time depicting the schedule pattern near Mt. Carmel East Hospital. It’s overly complex.