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2006 05 08
Lost in Translation: The Argument for a New Toronto Transit Map

Sample TTCMap.jpg

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Toronto, at times, can be especially talented at under-representing itself — maybe due to Canadian modesty. The design of our transit system map might be one of those times.

Toronto’s subway map models itself after classic systems such as New York and London, displaying our subway as separate from the rest of the network. Because of this technique of ‘isolation as clarification,’ our City is rendered as provincial; four lines surrounded by a vast field of black emptiness. This is the map used in guidebooks to describe transit. According to it, Toronto has very little to offer.

It’s interesting however, that when explaining to a visitor where to go in the City, it’s usually to a place in the ‘blackness’ – a place which according to the main map doesn’t exist and is impossible to get to. But when looking to the full system map for transit clarification, one is overloaded with technical schematic more suited to engineers than the general public. Usually it’s faster just to ask someone.

Toronto has North America’s largest streetcar network. The network itself is perhaps the urban gesture which best describes the City, at least downtown. This is in part thanks to Hans Blumenfeld, the infamous Metro planner who left the US during the McCarthy era. While much of the US was tearing down their streetcars, he ensured ours remained. (That Blumenfeld was also the architect behind the Spadina and Corsstown Expressway is an irony). Today the streetcar is in many ways the jewel of the system, and key to plans for expansion into light rail. Our streetcars are celebrated; both as a civic icons, and for the neighbourhoods they define.

Connectivity is the real success of Toronto’s system. Streetcar exchanges at Broadview and St. Clair West, and GO transfers at Kipling and Dundas West are examples of what makes the system work. Most transit riders don’t use the subway in isolation, but transfer between multiple modes. Yet finding the best rout is often a matter of trial and error; a trade secret among experienced riders. Clearly illustrating the connections within the network would show the extensiveness of the system we already have, and hint at the areas best suited for future expansion.

Many cities have been successful representing their systems as an integrated network. For example, Paris shows it’s Metro with the RER, as does Montreal. Berlin pairs the U-Bahn with S-Bahn as well as light rail, and Stuttgart its subway with trams.
If we adopt this ‘system’ approach to representation, Transit in Toronto suddenly looks like something to be proud of.

Graeme Stewart

[email this story] Posted by G Stewart on 05/08 at 10:58 AM

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