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Ohio highways tube map

2012 January 19
by Matt

Here’s something I started working on way back last September, actually, and finally have ready to share: a schematic diagram of Ohio’s major highways in the style of the iconic London Underground map of Harry Beck.

Simplified Ohio highway system in the style of the London Underground Connections map

Click the map for a larger version

This one has really turned out to be, perhaps as much as anything else, an illustration of the value of acting on novel ideas rather than sitting on them.

The original inspiration for this project goes back at least a few years, to this post on the Strange Maps blog featuring a (simplified) diagram of the entire US Interstate System, the work of one Chris Yates. It’s dated 2007, though I didn’t stumble across it until at least a few years later, probably around the time that Strange Maps was really taking off. I absolutely loved the Yates design, and saved a copy of it to admire.

I don’t recall anything specifically prompting me to make the leap from that work to an Ohio version, though there may have been at least indirect influence from seeing the original Tube Map itself in the news once or twice last year. (Such as the 60/30 degree redesign I read about back in July.) In any event I started actually working on this project in early September, and made a decent start. And then, for various reasons, it kind of languished until the past week or so.

And in the meantime, I have to confess I’ve felt like some of the novelty has been lost. Obviously, the project was “riffing on” a couple of older designs from the outset, anyway. But in late September, Strange Maps featured another even-wackier metro map mash-up, highlighting the wine regions of France. And then earlier this month, an Economist blog featured a metro-style map of the Route network of the entire United States, almost as if to kick sand in my face.

Though in fact it may have been for the best, motivating to finish up this design before I found someone else publishing even this exact permutation of the render-it-like-the-tube-map concept.

Design notes, hmmmm, I think I ought to begin by just noting how much I adore the classic Beck Tube Map design. I have a big copy of it as a poster in my apartment, and I love walking past it because, first, it carries me back to London for a moment, and second because I think it’s just an all-time delightful design, even beyond its practical achievement. It features a fascinating display of complex information, while at the same time being an accessible, and moreover orderly, graphic world. Simple straight lines along the cardinal and secondary directions make everything seem so reassuring (which I think this redesign, by contrast, really sacrifices in exchange for greater spatial accuracy), plus gentle rounded corners on everything. With the clean, elegant design livened up by a rainbow of bright, cheery colors. Thinking about it, I’ve realized that it’s practically a kind of Fisher-Price world, for grown-ups.

So I mostly patterned my “Ohio Connections” map after the “London Connections” map, as much as possible. I think it works out pretty well, and in fact there was even an interesting, unexpected parallel, in the way that the colored “primary” lines thin out toward the bottom of the map, with much of the lower section being a nest of the monochrome “secondary” lines instead. Just like the Tube Map, below the Thames, is mostly National Rail lines. (At least, if you have a “Connections” version that shows them.)

In this case, I’ve made the “secondary” lines gray, instead of the solid black double lines used for National Rail lines, mainly because I wanted to use both solid and dashed lines. The basic conceit of this design being that it depicts “major” highways, basically divided highways of four or more lanes. Full-fledged Interstate highways are treated like individual tube lines, with their own color; other such highways are also shown, in gray, but the catch is that unlike the Interstate system, state highways as well as other national highways may have some “superhighway” segments and some segments of plain-old two-lane. So I use dashed lines to show the latter, sort of like “there’s no train line here, but you can transfer to a bus and then continue on to rejoin the train network further on.”

Of course, just like Yates’ Interstate Highway System diagram and the Tube Map itself, this too is simplified, “rounded off” and/or abstracted to some extent. I didn’t fit every single urban freeway or spur highway, even those with Interstate System numbers. “Stations” are mostly named for the nearest town at that point, but there are a few exceptions, and some of these towns are some ways off the highway route, as well. The positioning of lines and stations around large cities are particularly dense with arbitrary decisions: I just collapsed down Youngstown and Toledo into single “stations,” for example, while the Cleveland area is by contrast a complex nest of cris-crossing interstates, including two urban freeways (271 and 480) which seemed long enough to work at this scale, but not by much.

Other possibly curious points, um, most of the highways continue beyond Ohio and end in arrows; a few of the “other” highways just end, with flat bars, as even though they continue on they don’t continue on as “major highways,” at least not immediately, so I decided there’s not really a “connecting service” at those points. The “exits” are, again, fairly arbitrary selections and, moreover, have little relation to where there are exits on the actual highways; there probably is near almost all of those depicted but I didn’t check. This is mainly an “art” project, and if you want to plan an actual road trip through Ohio I suggest you consult Rand-McNally like I do.

Another admission, I don’t have anything representing toll highways vs free-access highways. I thought about it aaaand, well, didn’t. The map as-is feels like a good balance between density of information and friendly accessibility, so this is how it is for now. I have checked the map completely a few times, and corrected various outright errors, however there may still be a few I missed. By all means feel free to point them out.

Likewise, if anyone just wants to ask about “why did you do this” or “what about that” which I haven’t already addressed, of course, go right ahead; I love to get comments.

2 Responses
  1. January 19, 2012

    Nicely done, sir! And I’m highly amused that my old stomping grounds of Avon is listed, as if it were worth actually stopping at for something other than visiting my parents! 🙂

  2. Matt permalink
    January 20, 2012

    Heh, well, there was at least some element of personal bias in the selections of which cities became named “stops” on the lines, particularly in the Cleveland area; I have a friend who lives in Northfield, e.g.

    Anyway, glad that you like it! I had fun.

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