Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Columbus: Fantasy Transit Maps

There’s a sort of genre of urbanist creativity out there of fantasy transit maps. These are maps of transit systems that don’t exist and usually aren’t even proposed yet, but rather just express some dream of the creator, often quite epic in scope.

What I find interesting is how much better these often are than actual transit maps or proposals. I noted before how the Cincinnati streetcar people basically don’t even have a decent map of the line. Contrast that with this example that Columbus Underground points us at. If you click the image, you’ll get a high resolution PDF.

Now that’s a pretty slick map. It is, for locals at least, recognizably Columbus. The crisp, modern design, 45 degree angles, and relatively equidistant stations recall the famous London map and others from cities around the world. The idea being to show how Columbus could position itself among these global cities by creating a transit system. You can even buy it as a poster! A nice possible marketing tool.

This map was created by designer Michael Tyznik and is part of his online design portfolio and is reproduced with permission.

People who are pushing actual transit system improvements could learn a lot from these fantasy maps. Coming up with high quality collateral that demonstrates what the end state looks like is important. And if you can make short term progress and update the map to show reality being made, even better. Transit advocates should take note.

Update: Here is a collection of Columbus fantasy transit maps.

Additional fantasy maps some people linked to. Indianapolis:

New Orleans:

Cincinnati (printed on a T-shirt):

St. Louis:

Topics: Transportation
Cities: Columbus (Ohio)

41 Responses to “Columbus: Fantasy Transit Maps”

  1. D R E W says:

    There’s a similar tongue-in-cheek transit map for Cincinnati that’s several years old:

  2. I couldn’t find the link at Columbus Underground. Can you point it more precisely?

  3. My comments on this map from a transit planner’s perspective here:


  4. Brad, thanks for the links. I had not see the top one. It is pretty good.

    Jarrett, it was posted originally in this thread:

    Thanks for the write-up and additional perspective. It’s a nice complement to my look at the graphic design.

  5. David Cole says:

    As part of my undergraduate thesis, I’m proposing a regional transit system for Cincinnati. It’s still a work in progress, but here’s a diagram map as it currently stands:

    Also, some years ago I remember seeing an incredibly elaborate website for a fantasy transit system for Dayton. Not only did it have a map showing almost every imaginable form of rail transit (metro, light rail, commuter rail, streetcar, etc.), it also had detailed fare and schedule information. It was all very professional looking, and could easily pass for a legit transit agency’s website. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s online any longer.

  6. John says:

    We have a page dedicated to our dreams in Columbus here:

  7. Josh says:

    Does anyone know of some Louisville, KY fantasy maps? I would love to check some out, or even better, does anyone know if there are any Fantasy Map Generators online?

  8. Alon Levy says:

    I don’t think there’s any fantasy map generator anywhere. You could just draw lines on Google Maps and send us a link to your map.

  9. Jake says:

    The Cincinnati Streetcar desperately needs a real map. Something like this, to toot my own horn.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    I think those cities need subways more than they need subway maps… Let’s look at what comparably sized cities in Europe have:

    Lyon, with a metro population of 1.7 million, has 4 subway lines, totaling 30 km, with 700,000 weekday boardings, plus 4 tram lines, a couple of trolleybuses, and an RER system to be opened in 2011.

    Hamburg, with a metro population of 2.9 million, has a subway of 3 lines and 100 km, with 190,000,000 annual boardings, and an S-Bahn of 6 lines with 200,000,000 annual boardings.

    Naples, with a metro population of a little under 3 million, has a subway of 6 lines totaling 54 km, with 470,000 weekday boardings; it is expanding its system rapidly, and projects four more lines by 2011, bringing up the total ridership to 700,000.

  11. Evan C-F says:

    Here’s a fantasy light rail map for New Orleans. Quite the dream….

  12. David Cole says:

    >> “The Cincinnati Streetcar desperately needs a real map. Something like this, to toot my own horn.”

    Stay tuned.

  13. Wad says:

    I would like to know if the maps incorporate any real-world transit ridership experience from what Columbus has now.

    Do these lines mimic the existing COTA system map or improve upon the existing services?

  14. John says:

    The Columbus maps mostly follow freight rail lines, although there are some streetcars along busy existing bus routes too. I don’t think anyone has given a ton of thought as to how the fantasy rail lines would interact with the bus system, but I think a rail line would certainly improve on the existing system.

  15. Jason B says:

    Fantasy Metro map for Indianapolis:

    This is at least a year old, not sure how old it was when a friend and I stumbled across it. But it was made by someone who knew Indy pretty well.

  16. cdc guy says:

    Alon, what’s the physical size and population density of the European cities you cite versus Indy, Columbus, and Cincinnati?

    I recently drove all the way through the Cinti metro (NW to SE) on I-74, I-471, and KY 9. The stretch from the Indiana border to Cincinnati State (about twenty miles) seems very sparsely populated even though it’s in the core county. A similar drive from Westfield, IN to downtown Indianapolis is through a fully built-out corridor.

  17. cdc guy says:

    The makers of these maps have DC Metro envy, methinks.

    But there are unique socio-economic aspects of DC not true of state capitals in the Midwest. DC METRO primarily serves Federal sites, agencies, employees, and rent-seekers because that is what’s in DC. And they are clustered in extremely dense employment centers. DC is Aaron’s “midrise city” today: in the CBD away from the National Mall almost everything is 4-10 stories and built to the sidewalk.

    I will concede that in the case of DC, when “they” built it, the developers did indeed come in and construct transit-oriented developments. It’s a very different-looking city today than 25 or 30 years ago.

  18. BeyondDC says:

    The Columbus map is graphically very cool, but none of the trunk light rail lines go downtown. That would be a problem.

  19. @beyondDC:

    I recently read a study about how that Union Station location is within walking distance of a large percentage of downtown jobs and recommended using that site for the main station of a commuter rail system. It makes sense, because you wouldn’t have to tunnel under downtown (there are no existing train tracks downtown), and those that work further into downtown can hop on one of the streetcar lines that run past Union Station. That was my reasoning, anyway.

  20. John says:

    The Arena District stop is actually at the north end of downtown, about 5 blocks north of the statehouse. The Franklinton station, although across the river, is also just 5 blocks west of the Capitol. I would say that the gray box showing downtown needs to be adjusted.

  21. Robert Munson says:

    Fantasy maps are fun.

    But I vote with Alon: we need more subways, not fantasy maps. But hopefully, the fantasy will motivate transit advocates to get the systems we need.

    For those who want the real maps and a few statistics to continue Alon’s thoughts comparing American systems to Europe’s, I must share with everyone an absolutely splendid book that I just found when visiting the London Transport Museum.

    “Metro Maps of the World” has the real and historical maps of the top 94 systems. But the two-fer is the book also is a fantasy tour on-the-cheap (important given the weak U.S. dollar and how little time we have for travel.)

    I am proud to say that Chicago is listed in Zone 1, along with seven other global centers. (The Zone categories are based on each system’s age and ridership.) Although 8 American cities are listed in Zones 2,3 and 4, the next Midwest cities (Cleveland and Pittsburgh) do not get listed until Zone 5. So, all Urbanophile readers have work to do!

    So thrilled to find this book, I am giving it as holiday presents to two fellow transit advocates.

    You can find out more about the book at
    Amazon U.S. has a softcover version.

    Fantasy maps may be fun, but the real thing is a thrill also.

  22. BeyondDC says:

    >It makes sense, because you wouldn’t have to tunnel under downtown (there are no existing train tracks downtown)

    One of the primary benefits of light rail is that you can run it on city streets like a streetcar instead of being forced to tunnel. This is how many cities bring their regional light rail lines downtown, including Denver, Dallas, Houston, Baltimore, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake… most cities with light rail, in fact, do it that way.

    If you deviated from the freight tracks near COSI and ran on the street (in a dedicated lane like this or this) across either the Broad Street or Town Street bridge, you could provide direct no-transfer service to the heart of downtown. From there you could turn left onto any number of streets (Front, High, 3rd, etc) and go up to rejoin the freight tracks somewhere near the convention center. I guarantee this would draw more riders than stopping 5 blocks from where they all want to go.

  23. John says:

    If only there were still a Town Street bridge.

    You’re right about the downtown circulation though.

  24. Alon Levy says:

    CDC Guy: Lyon and Naples are very dense. However, Hamburg isn’t – the city proper has 1.7 million people, at a density of 2,300/km^2, lower than underperforming Chicago, and comparable to depopulated Midwestern cities like Detroit and Cleveland.

    In addition, low density isn’t an obstacle to high transit ridership. Calgary, with 1,400 people per km^2, has built the busiest light rail system in North America. The C-Train’s annual ridership per person served is between 80 and 90, depending on how you count; in New York, the comparable range is 90-105, and in Hamburg it’s 134. Counting only the subway, the figure for Lyon is 123.

    I don’t think that Columbus can turn overnight into Tokyo, where there are 391 rail transit trips per person per year. But Calgary is well within reach, and so are Lyon and Hamburg.

  25. Alon Levy says:

    Robert: the Chicago L is actually a good case study of how not to build rapid transit. The L doesn’t work well as a network – it only gets you from outlying points to the Loop and back. Only three lines run from one side of the Loop to the other, and of those one (the Green Line) duplicates parallel service on the other lines. The entire Loop system is a bad idea: transit works best when it doesn’t terminate in a one-way loop downtown, but rather continues to serve more neighborhoods.

    The L is listed as a top performer on Metro Maps of the World because it’s old and has high route length, but it isn’t very busy.

  26. BeyondDC says:

    >If only there were still a Town Street bridge.

    Haha. I guess there’s more to planning than reading Google Maps.

  27. thundermutt says:

    Yes, there is much more to transportation planning than studying maps, development (residential and commercial) density, commuting patterns, and cost per user.

    Why that is, I’m not exactly sure.

  28. AmericanDirt says:

    The New Orleans fantasy transit map smacks of a pre-Katrina conception. Many of the areas with the densest network of stops and convergences are very de-populated these days.

  29. Alon Levy says:

    I don’t know how any of those maps works with the city it’s supposed to be in. But the New Orleans map works well with itself, with a good combination of linear and circular lines and plenty of transfers. The Cincinnati map is also fairly coherent, for being less ambitious. But the St. Louis map looks weird – it has too many U-shaped and noose-shaped lines, and very little connectivity in East St. Louis.

  30. west town ed says:

    Chicago’s public transport is organized as a centralized system (with the downtown Loop as the focus) because when it was built, and improved in later years, that’s where people needed to go for shopping (State Street), entertainment (Randolph Street), the financial district (LaSalle Street) and culture (South Michigan Avenue). Today, people may not see the need for this hub-and-spoke system but it was absolutely vital at the time. Time for a factoid: when the new and grand Marshall Field store opened on State Street in the early 1900’s, 200,000 people entered the doors. How do you think they got there?

  31. Robert Munson says:

    To Alon and west town ed:
    Seems like this thread wants to keep going and, interestingly, we keep improving on the comments of one another.
    (although we are off the topic of fantasy maps.)

    But as a key lesson for every major Midwestern city…. The CTA is an excellent example of how difficult it is to update a system after it has been built; especially so when government lets its planning lapse.

    The CTA has been trying to modify the hub-and-spoke for over a decade with an Ashland corridor that could connect 4 METRA lines and 4 CTA lines. Because of local politics (a weak planning authority), CTA’s poor management (fiscal and marketing) and the larger economic forces that mitigate against transit, progress on achieving inter-connectivity on the Ashland corridor is embarrassingly slow.

    If this corridor had been part of the CTA’s early post-war priorities and we have paid less homage to expressways, we today would have the benefits of an excellent Ashland corridor and Chicago’s inner-city would not have declined as much and its current rebound would have been more efficient.

    We are attempting not to repeat history with CMAP’s 2040 Plan and I encourage all Chicagoland citizens to add their comments. To catch up on the Plan’s process, go to the home page of and click on one of its top stories “The Preferred Scenario.” This is a draft of the second-to-last phase before the 30 year Plan is approved in 2010. I am on its Citizen Advisory Committee, so feel free to send me your comments. ( A revision for public comment on the web should be available in January. So beat the holiday rush and send me your comments now.

  32. Robert Munson says:

    for Alon and The Urbanophile:

    I was intrigued by Alon’s comments about how ridership was high in some cities without compactness; citing Calgary among others.

    Perhaps sometime we can have a more focused discussion of this as it strikes me as a strategic issue for getting out from under transit’s present pile of rocks: government’s are broke, their monopoly has made capital improvements astronomically expensive and the private sector has high obstacles from entering.

    What does Calgary or some other low-density success story do that can be specific next-steps to increase ridership ?

  33. Alon Levy says:

    Calgary Transit has the spiel here, explaining how it got its system at remarkably low construction cost. The crib notes:

    – The city had reserved rights of way for future expansion in the 1960s, before it even knew it was going to build light rail. Once it chose light rail over BRT and freeways, it was easy to build the system.

    – The city upzoned near stations and reconfigured the bus system to act as light rail feeders. It avoided building freeways to compete with light rail, and restricted the availability of parking downtown instead of mandating free parking as US Sunbelt cities do.

    – To minimize construction cost, the C-Train is as at-grade as possible, and runs in a transit mall downtown instead of underground (though there are now plans for undergrounding because of the high ridership).

    In addition, they don’t say so, but I think one of the key factors for high ridership is the compact nature of the C-Train. The system doesn’t extend very far into the suburbs, instead serving the closer urban neighborhoods, where TOD is more feasible. You can see the difference on Radical Cartography.

  34. Nick Bilz says:

    i’ve made numerous fantasy transit maps, specifically for Indianapolis. here’s one of my favorites:

    i’ve got plenty of others, but this one is the most complete. it grew out of an “alternative histories” thought experiment, presupposing that Indy’s original streetcar system was never dismantled but maintained and expanded as the primary mode of public transit in the city. as such, this map uses several “streets” that don’t really exist anymore, having been paved over with highways or development. this map is pure fantasy, but i’ve also developed several i think could work in real life, using Light Rail:


  35. Alon Levy says:

    Nick, I only looked at your second map, but it’s not very well thought-out. You’re repeating the BART error of prioritizing service to far-flung suburbs instead of urban connections. The hub and spoke system you’ve drawn, with spokes extending up to 20 miles away from the center, works for a commuter rail system that has a lot of local urban rail to connect to. For light rail, it’s a disaster. Calgary has a hub and spoke system too, but the spokes there extend 8-12 miles from the center, and most extension projects add new spokes instead of extend existing spokes further out into the exurbs.

  36. Nancy says:

    Matt, did you make that St. Louis map?

  37. Wad says:

    David, is Cincinnati proposing two streetcar lines that meet at Findlay Market, or is it one continuous line?

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