Monday, 17 December 2007

Nerd's delight

A wonderful new book offers transport nerds a rover ticket for all urban railway systems.

Masrk Ovenden's Transit maps of the world has maps of just about every rapid transit system in the world. There are old maps, new maps, a history of urban rail networks - this isn't just a book of maps, it's much more.

And as always, we see how maps fulfil different purposes in different ways. Harry Beck's fine map of the London tube, which reduces the geographical meanderings of the system to a neat diagram, is a case in point - personally I love to try to trace exactly where the underground underlays the London street system, but that's not the point of his map; it's getting passengers from A to B, and they really don't need to know what they're underneath at any particular point.

New York didn't have Harry Beck on board. They got a visually lovely  map in 1979 - but they've replaced it; it just didn't do the biz for passengers. So there is a tradeoff between visual quality and functionality - as so often in architecture and design - and following the tradeoffs is interesting, whether you're a graphic artist or simply someone who enjoys investigating the multiple ways we can represent reality in visual (and other) media.

You can see how much transport nerds love this book from the reviews on Amazon - it gets five stars from just about everyone, together with nerdy complaints like 'the map on p 86 is too small' or 'it would be more interesting to have the 1956 map'.

And here, I'm going to come out of the closet. Deep breath... I'm a transport nerd too.

I've really been repressing it for years. But when I look at the things I do when I'm using the Paris metro, I know ... I am what I am.

I derive great enjoyment from perusing the metro map and trying to find a station I don't know about. I've memorised the stops from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse (which is the quicket route from my home in Norwich to my home in Les Basses Lisieres). I even enjoy reading the history of the Paris metro that decorates the wall high above the conveyors at Montparnasse (including the story of the crickets who live on three of the Metro lines).

So please, would some kind person get this book for me as a Christmas present? Failing which, I may have to buy the book myself.

I did say this book has nearly every rapid transit system in the world. It misses one - the Ipswich Underground Railway.

We in Norwich like to think we are superior to Ipswich. But we haven't got a metro. Mind you, Ipswich hasn't got an underground any more either - it closed down years ago. But Simon Knott has done an excellent job of investigating the remains of this intriguing transit system.  His photographs are clear, his research detailed, and he has done architectural historians a huge service in discovering the contribution of Soviet architect Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky to the Ipswich Underground.

Surfers should however note the dateline on many of the photographs - April 1, 2007.


  1. Hey PodTour

    Mark here, author of the book which you hope someone will buy you, "Transit Maps of the world". Just wanted to say a quick thanks for your effervescent enthusiasm. Have been bowled over by the reactions of everyone from nerds to kids, designers to travellers. Hope you enjoy it when you get hold of it....and love your site on the Ipswich Underground....there used to to be another spoof subway system ran online by a guy in Dayton Ohio but I've just searched for it and cant find it right now. Also if you want to check where the subway lines run under the streets as it were, you would probably benefit from looking at the "track maps". The one of Paris for example is excellent. Check out this site for those: Happy holidays, :-) Mark

  2. Thanks for your kind words about the site. I hope you get everything you want for Christmas. Cheers, Simon