Map of the Week: Subways

Some of us here at Maga, myself include, ride the Metro to work every day. D.C.’s metro system’s map is a common sight around the city. Daily commuters have their route memorized, the result of day after day trekking to work in the morning. Tourists flock around the big lit up boards to study the squiggling, colorful lines, seeking out their destination.

Washington D.C.’s Metro System

While it may seem like a pretty typical thing to residents of the District and it’s surrounding communities, subway systems are pretty rare in the United States. Only 12 cities in all of the states can boast of a subway system (13 counting San Juan, Puerto Rico), while there are only 15 major systems in North America.

The Metro maps for these different cities differ in their shape and style. Largely dependent on both the topography and population density of the cities they serve, trains may run in loops, grids, or crisscrossing lines. Though they may not help you navigate the streets above, they offer an interesting model for the skeleton of a city. Where are people going, where are people coming from. Even cities that can’t afford or don’t require such systems have had maps of their potential tunnels modeled based on these factors.

One thing almost all of these subway maps share is the existence of multiple tracks (or lines as we call them here in DC). To distinguish between these lines, the quick moving trains adopt the most recognizable characteristic: different colors. In Washington we have the red, blue, green, yellow, orange and soon to be silver lines, and most other subway systems follow a similar style.

Which brings us to our map of the day, an interesting (if not entirely to scale) map of what a giant, cross-country system of rail would look like. From the web-comic XKCD, “Subways” links together the maps of all the subway systems in North America. Linked from the Waterfront in Vancouver to Coney Island in New York, it shows a much longer commute than anyone should ever have to subject themselves to.


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