Rider proposes revised CTA rail map to show bus connections better

Robert Bielaski is so passionate about public transit that he went all the way to Budapest for a good suggestion on how to improve CTA rail maps by showing more bus and other transit connections better.

Well, maybe that's not exactly why Bielaski traveled to Budapest recently, but he recognized a good thing when he saw it. He noticed that "in addition to other subway connections, the in-train Line Map over the doors shows the various bus and tram connections at each stop in an easy-to-digest diagram." And he thinks the CTA "can employ the same technique to improve the visibility of its connections and make transit travel in Chicago better."

Here's the Budapest map (high-res version here):

Budapest Line Map-low res


Here's the current CTA transit map for the Blue Line:

Current Blue Line Map

And here is Bielaski's proposed Blue Line map (high res version here):

Proposed Blue Line Map-low res

This proposed map is chock-full of useful information on all CTA bus, Metra and Pace connections.

Bielaski helpfully provided potential reasons why the CTA might not want to change its maps, with their own responses:

Potential Objection:  The Proposed Line Map is too crowded.

Response:  The current map underuses its space with abundant blank background and an unnecessarily large CTA logo.  Our Proposed Map is an efficient use of available space.

Potential Objection:  The Proposed Line Map is confusing because too much information is provided.

Response:  Similar to the Budapest Line Maps, the Proposed CTA Line Maps would trust that users of the system are able to process the information on the map and select what they need.  If you know you want to catch the 73 Armitage bus to Lincoln Park Zoo, then look for it, find that the connection is at Western, and exit the train at that stop.

Potential Objection:  There is no information on the map(or anywhere onboard the train) about where a bus connection will take the rider.  Without that information, the information about a connection is useless.

Response:  The connection information gives the rider information that the connection exists.  The rider can later find out if this connection is useful to him.  The rider may have family in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, see on the map that there is a California bus connection at Kedzie-Homan, and research if the California bus will take him close to his family for a future trip.

Of course, he forgot the most important reason - replacement cost. But this is a good idea that's definitely worth consideration by the CTA when it's time for a map refresh.

Bielaski submitted his ideas with a work colleague, Brian Kravets. Thanks for your efforts, fellas!


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  • I like this idea because I'm tired of seeing people get lost on the CTA . . . and they LIVE HERE!!! Some even grew up here, they're moving back and they don't remember how to get around.

    I carry those CTA maps and I should charge a 25¢ for each one I've given out. LOL! I've even given out last year's maps because people and tourists were sooooooooooooooooooooooo lost since there are no conductors to ask at 9 PM at night. You get the college kids going on their first night out drinking with friends and you can tell by how they study and stare at the map, they're lost.

    This new map is good for females because "timing" is everything. You don't want to be out longer than necessary on some nights, ie, the full moon, because you know people just won't take their meds when their supposed to. This makes you subject to their crazy idea of life and that's usually dangerous.

    The CTA should take a good, long hard look at this just to avoid lawsuits from people and for the Native Chicagoans who just want to be independent and learn to get around on the CTA by themselves.

    If there's a place for me to vote for this new map, put up a link and I'm there!!!

  • In reply to ApresSki:

    There aren't any conductors on the CTA at any time anymore. That ended with one man operation of L trains.
    There are motormen/women & station attendants. That's it.
    The only thing conductors ever did on the CTA was to open/close the doors, take fares on Pay on Fare trains & make announcements over the PA system.

  • I have to agree with ApresSki on this one (except that I don't see any legal duty).

    CTA at least used to have bus connections noted on signs in the stations. But given that Bielaski is only talking about the line maps (not the system ones) the objections about lack of space don't seem to hold up.

    I have also wondered why (at least other than at the intermodal terminals, such as Howard and Jefferson Park) Mr. CTA didn't just say something like "This is Belmont. Transfer to the Brown Line and the 77 bus at Belmont." It is supposed to be an integrated system. And, as far as whether the connection is useful, CTA could put on the LED sign something similar to what they propose for the Jeffery Jump, i.e. "79th St, to Lakefront 4 minutes, to Ford City 6 minutes." Might be a bit confusing, but could be done.

    Maybe getting back to ApresSki's late night point, the sign itself might not convey that the bus quit running at 10 p.m., but my suggested announcement could (similarly to Belmont sometimes saying to transfer to Brown, and other times transfer to Brown and Purple).

    Finally as to the cost of replacement, CTA is going to have to replace the signs October the whateverth.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, I thought about that, but only the Red Line detail map will be replaced on Oct. 19 when the south rehab ends. Not maps for the other 7 lines.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Won't they just go back to the old ones?

  • In reply to whateva:

    On the Red Line ones, they can't, because they don't reflect the 3 stations being made accessible.

    On Kevin's general point, the question becomes what is the normal replacement cycle, especially since the system maps will have to be replaced. I don't know the answer to that, other than there was the stink when a set of misspelled maps was installed and had to be replaced, eventually.

  • In reply to jack:

    Do they really reprint for that? They've never heard of a sticker?

  • In reply to jack:

    I like the idea. There are so many people that only know how to take a train in the city and not a bus. On this blog, I think we take for granted, that the bus system can be confusing or intimidating for a novice.

  • In reply to jack:

    There's another problem with Mr CTA [Lee Crooks].
    At several stations downtown, he says that you can change for Metra trains, but doesn't say which Metra trains.
    I can just see some visitor getting off at Washington/Wells wanting to get on the Electric Line at Randolph/Michigan, instead of getting off at Randolph/Wabash.
    Would it be so hard to say change for Metra UP trains at Washington/Wells?

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Probably not in that instance, but just imagine Union Station (i.e. Quincy stop).

    Also, someone unfamiliar with the system would probably want "to Kenosha, Harvard, or Elburn." Or, maybe not, if they are really going to Indian Hill (south Winnetka).

  • In reply to jack:

    All I would want on the PA:
    Washington/Wells - Metra UP
    Quincy/Wells - Union Station, Amtrak, Burlington, Milwaukee Rd [no need for Southwest or Heritage line, too confusing & low ridership, plus Heritage riders are the same every day.
    LaSalle/Van Buren - Metra Rock Island Trains
    Randolph/Wabash - Metra Electric
    Clinton/Congress - Same as Quincy

  • BTW, you links to the hi res don't work.

  • In reply to jack:

    The high-res links work for me. Did you click on "here"?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    The "here" under the Blue Line map works now. Not sure about before. Clicking on the map itself results in a "Page not found" error. Sorry if I might have clicked on the wrong space.

  • In reply to jack:

    You're right about the page not found error on the map. It's a known bug with WordPress. That's why I provided the high res version.

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    Amsterdam, London, Paris, Barcelona (and many other cities I don't know so well) have a similar system. In addition, they announce it on the screens that are in buses and trains, and on the metro and the regional trains they announce it. The CTA appears light-years behind.

  • Speaking of maps, does any know of a decent Android app that provides detailed CTA routes, preferably using the location data?

    There are literally dozens of CTA tracker apps that simply provide arrival data, which requires one to know the specific route. In addition, Google maps' 'transit' option shows 'L' lines, and bus stops, but does not show bus routes. The CTA route maps are excellent, but don't integrate with a phone's location, so you wind up scrolling around trying to find your location, and they show all routes, rather than the ones near you.

    If I'm standing on a random corner, I would like to launch an app that shows a map with the nearest bus/rail stops, as well as the routes for them.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I don't know about Android. However, if you use Google Maps, choose get directions, click on the bus icon, and insert to and from destinations, it includes lines for the buses and scheduled arrival and trip times. It now also includes Pace, as well as Metra, making goroo totally superfluous. Here is a sample inquiry.

  • In reply to jack:

    It would be nice if you didn't have to enter the destination address/intersection, but rather be able to click on the map or the destination station/stop. 'Still, that's not too bad.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    BTW, you get the same if you go to transitchicago.com, and on the home page go to "Plan a Trip," fill in the Start and End, and click Google Transit. Do not click goRoo.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I haven't used it, but would the hopstop app be what you're looking for?

    Hopstop on the map gives good directions. I like it a bit better than google because it gives travel times from when you are leaving, not from when the bus is leaving. It also had Pace long before google did.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Thanks. That's pretty good. It still has a few issues. It appears to only have a rail map for Chicago, and not a bus map. Also, I'm in the Financial District, and I entered a destination of W Chicago Ave and N Kingsbury St. It had options for taking the Brown Line to Chicago and Franklin, but it didn't show the 66 bus from that point west. I assume that has some hard-coded minimum threshold for walking/bus.

  • In reply to Olaf1:

    Playing around a bit more, and boy, this app comes up with some pretty screwy routes. For example, going from LaSalle and Van Buren to 18th and Halsted, its top pick puts the rider on the Orange Line around the loop to Halsted and Archer, and on to a NB 8 bus. The shortest route is buried near the bottom of the list, taking the Blue Line from LaSalle to UIC/Halsted, and taking the SB 8.

    Also, the routing instructions at the stations need work. At the UIC/Halsted station, it describes a route exiting on the Peoria St side, and walking north to Van Buren, and east to Halsted, when the correct route is to exit the station on the Halsted St side where there is a bus stop. If I were a tourist, I'd be mighty peeved walking an additional 2 blocks.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Oh well. Thanks for trying it out and reporting back.
    I had a typo in my original message. I meant to say that the web version works pretty well and that I had never used the Android app.

  • I forget it's not just the tourists who don't know where they're going. I think this map is an excellent idea.

  • I like the idea of putting the ADA accessible logo in the circles for each station. However, the Legend could do a lot to simplify the map graphically. You could fill in the green square in the legend with just the Pace logo, & the block square with just the CTA logo. Then you could just have numbers in the squares on the map, this could make the squares smaller, and able to accommodate the "L" transfers below the line, instead of making the station name nearly illegible.

    In the end though, having full CTA system maps on each train would do the most to clarify these transfers, since you need to know the system to know which bus would best fit your needs. I agree that transfers to other modes of transit should be included on CTA "overhead" maps, but including local bus routes leads to information overload. Keep it to commuter trains, intercity trains, intercity buses, and BRT lines in the future.

  • I too think this is a really good idea.

    One reason for liking it is that it acknowledges people's need for information while they're actually on the system, not just before or after their trip. Moreover, it assumes the CTA's responsibility for presenting the information in a way that requires nothing more than a pair of eyes to receive--rather than expecting all passengers to invest in their own expensive state of the art communications equipment or be left uninformed.

    OK, now it remains for the CTA to accept the wisdom of this suggestion and the premises behind it.

  • Given that more and more travelers are carrying smart phones, why not combine the (medium-density) map with a code, or square barcode, for each station that would direct the traveler to a CTA webpage containing high-level details for the stop?

    That would allow the map to remain relatively clutter-free, while still allowing for details via the smartphone.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    But what about people who don't carry a smartphone, given that "more and more" isn't the same thing as "all" and may never be?

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    Using the Blue Line as an example, I think it'd be a lot easier and similarly helpful to just have station names and announcements include the cross streets. For instance:
    - "This is Harlem" [O'Hare] becomes "This is Harlem and Higgins"
    - Irving Park becomes Irving Park/Pulaski
    - Belmont becomes Belmont/Kimball
    - Western-O'Hare becomes Western/Armitage
    - Damen becomes Damen/North
    - Division becomes Division/Ashland
    - Chicago becomes Chicago/Ogden
    - Grand becomes Grand/Halsted
    ...and so on. The CTA bus system follows the grid system pretty well, so most people -- even tourists -- could reasonably surmise that the #9 Ashland stops at the Division/Ashland 'L' stop.

  • In reply to Scott Presslak:

    They'd have to know the #9 exists before they can know it stops there.

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    Might be easier to just start including cross streets in station names and announcements. On the Blue Line, "This is Division and Ashland" would be far more helpful than today's "This is Division and Milwaukee". We know it's along Milwaukee.

    I also wouldn't mind seeing the maps -- Blue Line especially -- updated to show that some rush hour trains only run to Jefferson Park and UIC-Halsted. Every morning in Jeff Park I see people, bags in hand, wondering why they're getting kicked off their O'Hare-bound train at Jefferson Park.

  • In reply to Scott Presslak:

    Can't they read the reverse blue destination sign on the train? Or isn't it there? Or can't they comprehend it?

    That information is also posted on the platforms and available in the schedule brochures.

  • Interesting Point. The CTA never changed the color coding on the original Jefferson Park and Rosemont end points - back when it ran to Jefferson Park with a bus to O'Hare & the short while it ran to Rosemont with a bus to O'Hare(or was it River Road?) - they are still White lettering on Blue. To correctly stand out as short-run trains, they really should be Blue lettering on White, just like UIC already is.

  • In reply to JohnT:

    Apparently that is no longer the case. In fact, someone documented on chicagobus.org that the current Jefferson Park reading is where a Green 61st St. one was.

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