by Worldchanging Chicago local editor, Patrick Rollens:
Over the last few weeks, Google Maps' Chicago schematic blossomed with small, unobtrusive icons denoting all the city's major Metra and El train stops. In addition, the online utility's visual portrayal of the city's blocks was enhanced to show additional detail -- the shape of individual buildings, etc -- as the user zooms in. Both are relatively minor upgrades, and they coincide with similar additions on maps for New York City, Boston and other cities. But upon closer inspection, these small deliveries showcase worldchanging at its best.
At the end of January, Greg Hinz wrote a far-reaching investigative article in Crain's Chicago Business describing the sorry state of Chicago's public transit system. In the story, Hinz analyzes mismanaged funds, aging equipment and shoddy stopgap repairs, all of which adds up to millions of dollars lost each year due to an inefficient system.
A decrepit elevated train system is sliding deeper into decay that eventually will threaten service on almost every line. The Chicago Transit Authority says repairing the system will cost $6 billion, money it doesn't have. Even if the state and federal governments cough up the money, repairs will take years — meaning years of additional delays and other inconveniences for Chicago commuters.
However, as with all things worldchanging, progress doesn't always have to come from within the system. The addition of Chicago transit stations to Google Maps adds another dimension of efficiency to the premier internet mapping tool. Moreover, it's an example of how a small utility enhancement can improve the user's experience, even if the system itself (CTA in this case) can't offer its own solutions. Case in point: my biggest frustration with the Chicago Transit Authority's online Trip Planner is that it doesn't show you visually where the various stations are. With Google Maps, it's easily visualized.
The system isn't without problems. Various Chicago-centric blogs have already pointed out that the transit icons don't identify which line they're associated with, nor does the Chicago map feature an El grid overlay. The city's expansive bus system is also not represented in the schematic. But the potential is there; it's one more step toward open-source public transit mapping, something Jeremy Faludi advocated in 2005:
What people need is to be able to type in their start address & end address and have the website show them a map with directions, just like driving directions except for transit, with the route on the map showing where to pick up, where to get off, and where to walk between stations or destinations.
Small, incremental improvements to a system like this are the core ethos of this web community. Now that we have this new tool, the question becomes: what can we do with it?
I notice this shows up in San Francisco maps too:
This literally put transit on the map! So far most road maps are 100% automobile oriented. Many people I know have no awareness of where train stations are located, let alone to have used it. Hopefully Google map can help raise the awareness.
Right now it just seems to be a first step. As you have observed the route itself not presented. Trip planning using transit, especially when transfer is involved, is frankly too complicated for many people. There is a lot of room for a information service to help.