Trains and Brains

Trains and Brains (Not Drawn to Scale)

The classic London Underground Map, created by Harry Beck in 1933, is the granddaddy of all those schematic maps that chart subway systems in a simplified manner, without regard to the true scale of distances between stations. These maps reduce complex systems to comprehensible basics, but a recent NYU study shows that users actually regard the maps as if they were drawn to scale, and act accordingly:

“The case study on the London Underground confirms that a schematic transit map indeed affects passengers’ path choices. Moreover, the map effect is almost two times more influential than the actual travel time. In other words, underground passengers trust the tube map (two times) more than their own travel experience with the system. The map effect decreases when passengers become more familiar with the system but is still greater than the effect of the actual experience, even for passengers who use the underground 5 days or more per week.

The paper also shows that the codification of transfer connections is also important. Different codification can make a transfer look more or less convenient on a transit map than in reality, which will either decrease or increase the perceived transfer inconvenience for the corresponding stations.”

— “Mind the map! The impact of transit maps on path choice in public transit,” Zhan Guo, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, via The Transportationist

 David Alpert reduces this to its schematic core:

“People believe subway maps over reality,” David Alpert, Greater Greater Washington

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not boring or obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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One Response to “Trains and Brains”

  1. Mike Licht Says:

    UPDATE: Forget the maps. All mature subway systems, worldwide, tend to have the same shape.

    “Long-time limit of world subway networks,” Camille Roth, Soong Moon Kang, Michael Batty, Marc Barthelemy, Physics and Society, Cornell University

    As Paul Kedrosky puts it, “All Happy Subways are Alike”

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