Maximizing Route Efficiency with Software

Posted on June 22, 2009 by Thi Dao, Assistant Editor

Page 3 of 3

Smartmaps: Simplifies Routing Data for Riders

Smartmaps Inc., based in Knoxville, Tenn., designs and produces system-wide maps, individual route maps and timetables for more than 100 transit systems nationwide. The company gathers route and schedule information from transit agencies and designs easy-to-understand maps and schedules that are directly geared to the rider. "We believe that clarity and user-friendliness are the most important design objectives, and our goal is to create designs that virtually anyone can understand," says Kathy Hart, founder of Smartmaps.

In business for almost 20 years, Smartmaps' simplification of maps aims to promote ridership and "increase public understanding of available transportation options," says Hart.

She believes it is essential for map designers to understand the transit industry in order to know which map elements are important to emphasize. If the designer doesn't understand what is important for riders to know, they're simply laying out raw data. "It's important to selectively filter map and schedule data to effectively communicate with transit riders," says Hart.

Hart has seen an improvement in transit graphics, but worries that while graphics look better, they are still not helpful to riders planning their trips. With the large amount of data to work with, she sees an overload of information in many maps and schedules, which can cause confusion for the rider. Maps that are difficult to understand can discourage potential riders from using public transit. "Well designed maps make using public transportation easier," says Hart.

Smartmaps creates a hierarchy of information based on relevance to the rider, stressing general information, and giving less emphasis to information not needed by all riders, such as infrequent service. Smartmaps presents route information in a logical, clear format and uses clear graphic conventions such as large typefaces, universal icons and distinct route colors.

When the company designs a system map, the map base is created that includes a street grid. Routes are added, usually using five or six route colors, then rail lines and express routes. Insets for dense areas are also created. Smartmaps designs both geographic-style maps, with a street grid, and schematic-style maps, with a simplified map. Route variations such as loops, forks and detours are incorporated into the map instead of using symbols, codes or footnotes, which minimizes confusion for the rider, says Hart.

Large system maps could take months to create, but revisions can be made in hours, says Hart. Printing and display production is done in the Smartmaps facility, allowing the company to manage all processes for accuracy and quicker output.

In addition, Smartmaps repurposes its designs for use in Web graphics, bus stop signs, shelter graphics, transit center displays, and it also provides graphic design for marketing and advertising.

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