Maps and Reality

David Alpert recently linked to a study which shows that people make travel decisions based on the scale of maps, even when doing so doesn't make otherwise rational sense. Personally, I don't particularly like maps that distort distance. I think there's some evidence that the DC Metro map does just that, like it or not.

(from OZinOH on Flickr)

Consider these few examples.

When traveling from Arlington, what's the best way to get to Dupont Circle? The obvious choice is to take the Orange/Blue line to Metro Center, transfer to the Red Line, and get off at the Dupont Circle station. But doing so requires unnecessary back-tracking, especially at off-peak times. It's nearly as easy to get off at Farrugut West and walk north along 18th Street. Of course, only someone well-versed in the local geography would know this.

How about people traveling from East of the River to see a ballgame at Nats Park? They could take the Orange/Blue lines to L'Enfant Plaza, transfer to the Green Line, then back-track to Navy Yard; but this scenario is very similar to the one above. It would be just as easy for them to exit at Capitol South and walk south on New Jersey Avenue.

Perhaps the most egregious example comes from people who are going to an event at the Verizon Center. The distance between the Metro Center and Gallery Place stations is so minimal that there's very little reason to transfer if you're coming in on the Orange or Blue Lines. Yet, you'll see tons of people doing exactly that, either before or after the event is over.

Now, there are certainly benefits to using a simplistic map that's very easy to understand; but without orienting it to a more detailed city map, people will use it in some less-than-ideal ways.