Twin Cities 2030 Transitway System: The Metropolitan Council lacks Visualization Skills

On p.148 of the Regional Transportation Policy Plan of Metropolitan Council is the 2030 Transitway System (shown to the right). I don’t like this map.
There are substantive reasons I don’t like this map, having to do with policy.

  • For instance, why does downtown Minneapolis act as the hub of this hub and spoke system (and St. Paul a secondary Hub) when it accounts for only 8 percent of the region’s jobs, and less than 1 percent of its residents? Shouldn’t there more of a web-like system, so that people can make cross connections. The plan should be reconceived as a grid, obviously with some importance for the historic center cities, but with a recognition of the decentered world of 2030. This is a perception bias of planners, who work in downtown St. Paul, about the residual importance of where they work.
  • Second, why are insignificant (from a ridership perspective) routes like the Northstar given so much space while important routes, like many local buses on the high-frequency network, not even considered. Are buses not transit? Are bus routes not transitways?
  • Third, why are serious plans (not to say wise plans, but there is definitely money behind it) like the Minneapolis Streetcar network essentially ignored.

But there are also a lot of visualization reasons I don’t like this map. The poor visualization is a factor in poor-plan making, as it is indicative and reinforcing of muzzy thinking. A good map clarifies.

  • Why are there arrows at the end of all the lines, don’t we know where they will end in 2030? If they keep going, use an arrow by all means; but if they stop, use a terminus symbol.
  • Why are solid lines used both for things that are built (or at least under construction) and things that will be developed. Traditionally solid means exists and dashed means under construction or proposed. Here dashed red means “to develop”, but solid blue also means “to develop”, while yellow doesn’t say “develop” but seems to mean that at least in part, since most of the lines drawn yellow don’t have any real transit advantages yet (e.g. bus on shoulder, signal pre-emption, ramp meter bypass). (otherwise it should have been placed on the top with existing services). The legend should show existing services before proposed services.
  • The thickness of lines is obtuse. Typically it should be standardized or represent something like frequency of service. Northstar is very thick, but has infrequent service, especially outside the peak. (Perhaps thickness is indicative of the money spent, rather than service provided).
  • I know there are differences between Arterial BRT (which means a bus running on an arterial with transit advantages) and Express Bus Corridors with transit advantages, presumably having to do with the frequency of service, spacing of stops, and the exclusivity of the right-of-way. Nevertheless, this is quite confusing, since the point of using buses is the flexibility of switching links, having a bus route go from freeway to arterial, or arterial to neighborhood, etc. Further, red is used for existing HOT lane Express Bus service and I-35W BRT and Cedar BRT (and why is I-35W BRT different than I-394 HOT Lane? One station?) The existing BRT should be solid blue, the proposed future BRT should be dashed blue.
  • The map should have both Miles and KM on the distance bar.
  • There is nothing happening out west, why is valuable space used for that when the center could be blown up to good use instead.
  • Lines overlap when there will presumably only be one service. Central Avenue has a blue line, then a yellow line, and next to both of those a dashed red line. Okay the Metropolitan Council does not know what is going on, but they will either develop it as one thing or another, not both. Similarly I-35W, or Broadway/Bottineau. Perhaps they mean it is an Express Bus Corridor with transit advantages, which might get upgraded, which is why solid and dashed lines should be distinguished. Then they could use a red/blue dash or something to indicate.
  • The modes should be distinguished more clearly. Commuter Rail, LRT, and BRT all use red, but are quite different. There are a lot of colors in the rainbow (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet), and others as well (Silver, Gold, Black, White) that could be used here. The report has photos, so 4-color printing is not the constraint.

2 thoughts on “Twin Cities 2030 Transitway System: The Metropolitan Council lacks Visualization Skills

  1. That’s an ugly map. Speaking of hubs and spokes.. there is recently some politics/spirit-wisdom in favor of extending Northstar to St Cloud and sending half our MSP airport traffic over to the shiny and empty STC terminal, to “stimulate travel demand” to St. Cloud. It really makes you believe in magic.


  2. Could it be that the amount of time/money they invested in creating this map reflects the amount of time/money they invest in the mode it depicts?
    Contrast it a moment with the maps in Chapter 6 – they still feature some of your visualization issues but on the whole are more consistent and certainly more accurate.
    Btw, the City of Minneapolis raised some of the issues you mentioned about the confusion of modes and omission of the streetcar network in their comments on the plan – which were apparently ignored. I posted about it here:


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