The Hartford Metro map elides several of my deepest interests: maps, travel, Hartford, urban planning and graphic design. I still stumble across old notebooks with sketches of imaginary maps, Utopian cities with concentric bands zoned commercial, residential, industrial, recreational, infrastructural, etc. The urban models usually feature perfect circles with wide boulevards radiating from vibrant city centers. Like many of my fancies, these sensibilities are indulgently Parisian; I’ve always been big on symmetry.
Eventually, the realization has come that symmetry is an obvious-but-not-unique mechanism to achieve balance. Interesting graphic design usually employs more complex forms of balance that I’m just starting to recognize and incorporate into my own work. To this end, grids and visual design concepts, like the rule of thirds, have helped immensely.
Imposing balance on something organic and seemingly chaotic is both challenging and fulfilling. Hartford is clearly not a circle. Its roads aren’t perpendicular. Its neighborhoods aren’t neatly bounded. Its river doesn’t run at 45 degree angles. But through a map, those irregularities can ironed out. Particularly in a metro map, the cartographer has license to compress, expand or otherwise warp distance and geography to accommodate the purpose of the finished product: as an aid to quickly and easily navigate the transportation system.
In the Hartford Metro map, I had the extra benefit of being able to place my own stations, which was the logical starting point. Hours of poring over a gigantic Google Maps screenshot of Greater Hartford helped me decide on most of the station locations. Reading Hartford blogs and discussions with friends gave me other ideas. As the map began to take shape, a few other stops emerged that seemed to make sense.
Hartford not being particularly large, it made sense to extend the network beyond the city limits. This allowed me to include many more stops, making the map fuller and more interesting. It also kept it more plausible than it would have been if I had put stations every hundred yards within the city. There are only a few stops that were somewhat shoehorned in, namely Hockanum, Trout Brook and Westmoor Park.
To me, the biggest existing problem with Hartford’s public transit is the disconnect between the downtown area and the West End. I-84 effectively cleaves the city in half, both a physical barrier and a symbol representing the dominance of the car as the preferred method of transportation here (though Hartford bicycles seem to be on the rise). The twin hubs of State House (downtown) and West End (in the West End) admit the dual “centers” of the city. Still, with only one stop in between, the areas are well-connected by rail.
The inclusion of several schools (M.C.C., Trinity, UHart, UConn-Hfd/SJC) reflects the importance of affordable transport for Ramen-subsisting college students, giving them access to explore and contribute to all areas of the city. The Buckland Hills and UConn Health Center stops were placed to create a link between me and my friends, Dan and Marta, in Farmington and thus obviate the need to get in a car.
With the most necessary stations selected, connecting them provided the next challenge. Strong north/south and east/west axes were fundamental, providing a functional and aesthetically pleasing backbone to the map. The lines needed to accommodate easy travel within the city and extended service to its suburbs, suggesting a loop in the middle with lines radiating outward.
The orange line, my personal favorite, was tasked with running down Farmington Avenue to link downtown with the West End and West Hartford. Much of the map looks to Harry Beck’s iconic London Underground map for inspiration, and the idea of a downtown loop (Yellow Line) was one product of that. The Red Line was designed to connect the north and south ends of the city, filling a gap left by the downtown loop.
Running NW to SE are the Blue and Brown lines, providing downtown access to those on the fringes of the city. From SW to NE, the Green Line offers a route to the airport, while the Gray Line connects Hartford to both Boston and New Haven, or The Rest of the World.
With only seven lines, colors seemed the most appropriate nomenclature (as opposed to numbers or letters), though I did also number the lines. This was mainly a nod to the Paris Metro, which I studied extensively in Paris Metro Style: In Map and Station Design, and simply because I like the way numbers look in circles.
Harry Beck famously made a map for the Paris Metro that employed his signature axises and 45 degree angles. He also stylized the Seine. He apparently didn’t appreciate Parisians’ fierce pride in the geography of their city and their river, because they wholeheartedly rejected his map. I hope Hartfordians are less fanatical about how the Connecticut River is represented, because I think the stylized version adds quite a lot to the Hartford Metro map in terms of color, shape and balance.
My previous experiments in logo design and using negative space haven’t been hugely successful. Naturally, that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm and conviction that an imaginary metro map would certainly be branded with the system logo. Such details are the difference between raw and polished. Aesthetically, I love the simplicity of some of the old Parisian logos (sensing a theme here?) with a slab serif “M” in a circle. However, I wanted my logo to be original, and incorporate an “H” to reinforce the “Hartford-ness” of this particular metro system. With the H&M combo, it didn’t take long to see that there was an opportunity to put some arrows in the negative space.
By itself, I actually prefer the version with just the vertical arrows to the one where the diamond is completed. In the interest of legibility, though, it made sense to go with the latter.
System Fares and Hours of Operation
It was important that the Metro be cheap in order to cement its place as the preferred method of intracity transit. It was equally important that it be a flat-fee system, which makes journey planning easier and prevents coin-related entropy. Paying $2 to get to Boston or BDL would’ve been a bit outrageous, and thus was born the State Departure Surcharge. Calling it a “surcharge” instead of a tax satisfied me more than it should have done. To me, that sort of spin-doctoring gives the map a bit more humanity.
My initial idea was to generate complete timetables for every stop on every line. That would’ve taken far too long and wouldn’t have fit on the map anyhow. As it was, the Hours of Operation had to be set in very small type.
Map Design Rules I Obeyed
- Use a consistent typeface. I chose Gotham Condensed: clean, legible, narrow, civic.
- Type shouldn’t be kerned or sized inconsistently in order to fit text into the map.
- Station names should be close enough to clearly indicate which station it is referring to.
- Station names shouldn’t crash over lines.
- Station names should be on the same side of line when possible.
- Lines should run horizontal, vertical and at no more than one other angle (45 degrees looks cleanest).
Map Design Rules I Disobeyed
- Lines shouldn’t change direction under stations.
- Lines shouldn’t change direction unless necessary.
While I think the finished product looks good, it was the experience in overcoming design challenges and the sheer enjoyment of working on the map made this project so rewarding. You can get a 27″ x 16.5″ print and support ConnectiKids by pledging $25 on Kickstarter.