#TTCAccess -- Pilot for New Streetcar Shelter Maps, a Review

As I mentioned in a previous post, Ian Dickson (@TTCDesign) challenged me at the TTC's Public Forum on Accessibility to look at the TTC’s new shelter maps that they’re piloting at some streetcar stops on King. Apparently, there hasn’t been as much feedback as they normally get when they do something new. I went to a couple of streetcar stops on King and took a gander. I scratched my head at the one at King and York and walked on to find another one. The one at King and Bay was much easier to perceive, primarily because the map “faced” the direction I was facing. I didn’t have to turn around to look at the north-south street depicted on the map – I could look straight through the shelter opening and see the street depicted. All I had to do was move my eyeballs.

Shelter Maps

So here are a few thoughts. The good stuff first!

Good Things:

  1. Clean. The map is definitely cleaner in design than the old map.
  2. Direction facing where you’re looking. King and Bay map is oriented well because when you’re facing the map, you can look down the street you’re facing and have it be the same one in the same direction as on the map.
  3. Inset local area map well designed. Except for the numbers requiring translation, the use of colour (for my eyes anyway) and fonts make it easy to perceive and read.
  4. Provision of contact info. Having web, Twitter, and phone numbers all easily readable at the bottom, as well as providing names and icons of two apps, is very useful.
  5. Route frequency info.


  1. Looks confusing for some reason. Given its fairly minimalist design, it’s confusing that it looks confusing. It took me awhile  to realize why I had to stare at the local transit network map: with no route names on the map it looks confusing right away. Standard street maps have street names not numbers on them, unless the name is the number like with Highway 401. (I’ve noticed street names not Highway numbers became more common in urban areas.)
  2. Requires memory. I have to look down at the number chart – I mean the route frequency chart – to match numbers on the map with the names of the routes and subway lines. I then have to retain those translations in my head when I look back up at the map. If there were two routes – King and Bay, for example – this may not be a problem. But there are several.
  3. Direction opposite to where facing. King and York is oriented the wrong way for the direction you’re looking at when looking at the map. King and Bay immediately made more sense because it shows only the direction you’re facing.
  4. Inset local area map clear, yet not clear. The map itself is well designed. But again using numbers for streetcar routes and subway lines, thus taxing poor working memory to use the translation aka route frequency chart, doesn’t make the map instantly clear.
  5. Translation charts needed. Maps should be clear by themselves. There should only be “north” and, if needed, a distance icon; streets and routes should need no legend or translation chart. The need for translation charts not only clutters up the poster, but also makes the maps themselves confusing until one understands the translations. When you’re in a hurry, and the streetcar is coming, you don’t have time to translate. Also stress worsens cognitive abilities like memory and comprehension. A streetcar approaching you as you’re trying to read the map is going to stress you out and make reading the map harder.
  6. Legend. Has the frequency line style changed? I didn’t notice the difference in line thicknesses on the map until I looked at the Legend. Wasn’t the old infrequent service line style a dashed line? That’s more distinguishable than a thinner line.
  7. Subway Line Names. Again, the subway line names have been taken off the map. There’s plenty of room to put them on the map itself; it would make the map instantly understandable if the names were attached to their lines.
  8. TTC Route Frequency Chart. This is both a translation chart and a route frequency chart. The route frequency becomes less visible when you’re busy trying to translate the numbers on the map to understandable names. Having the names on the map lines means that when you’re looking at this chart, you’ll see the frequency first because you won’t be filling up your brain space with having to first translate numbers to names. The frequency lines will then look less like clutter – which they did to me when I was trying to figure the map out – and more like useful information.
  9. Glass glare. There’s an awful lot of glare from the glass that interferes with seeing the map clearly. It was worse at King and Bay than King and York, maybe from the surrounding office buildings?? Perhaps another material could be used that has no glare but is durable.

I would take a leaf from street maps which use thick yellow lines to denote highway routes and use a thick yellow line down Yonge Street on the inset map to denote the Yonge Line so that one can instantly see where the subway aka the high-speed underground public transit is.

These maps are a definite improvement on the old, and a good start to making shelter maps useful to the harried commuter and tourist alike.