A graphic designer just got his unauthorised redesign adopted as the official Luxembourg bus map

Artist and creation: Jug Cerović finds his new map in the wild. Image: Jug Cerović.

Remember Jug Cerović, the Serbian graphic designer who last summer sent us his take on London’s tube map? The city of Luxembourg just adopted his unauthorised re-design of the municipal bus network as its official transport map. Cool.

We suspect Jug has an ulterior motive in publicising his maps: his day job is working for Parisian mapping consultancy INAT. All the same, we thought you might like to read about how an unofficial map became official...

Transport maps are probably the only thing that all inhabitants of a city have in common. The Eiffel Tower or Tower Bridge are not unifying features; the tube map is.

And metro or subway maps are remarkably powerful artefacts. Not only are they accepted as a familiar tool, but they are absolutely trusted by everybody. Nobody questions them, or their origin, or the information they sport: we all take them for granted.


So, he who controls the map controls the mental image of the city that it projects. He who controls the map controls minds.

Tremendous power, isn't it?

I’d go as far as to say that the map is more important than the network itself. Without the map, a multibillion dollar network might as well not be there, since travellers will be unable to navigate it. If a station is erased on the map, for anyone who doesn’t live or work close by, it simply ceases to exist. In this paradoxical situation, it’s the physical network that is actually virtual, while the artefact picturing it is its only reality. The map is the network.

Once you appreciate the power the map has over a city, you start to believe that its creation is too important to be left only to some administration without public scrutiny. As French prime minister Georges Clemenceau once said, “War is too important a matter to be left to the military.”

The Luxembourg Genesis

In May 2015 a reader posted the then official Luxembourg municipal bus map on TransitMaps.net, describing it as “the city’s spaghetti monster”. I must say, he was quite right about the poor quality of the overall design.

The original official map. Click to expand.

The US news site Vox reported the story – and when the news reached Luxembourg, it caused much unease among politicians and officials alike.

When I discovered the map on TransitMaps, I wondered if it could be redesigned to make it more legible. So I started disentangling it:

The existing tangle...

...gradually disentangled. Click to expand.

After managing to tidy up some of this mess, I realised that the network was actually pretty good – but that the map was not representing it well at all.
So I set about designing a brand new version.

My new map encompasses the entire area served by the bus system with two different scales: a pedestrian scale, in the dense central area; and a territorial scale on the periphery.

It shows an enlarged and geographically accurate city centre, surrounded by a smaller, more schematic view of the suburbs.

Symbolically, the Old Town (Ville Haute) is placed at the exact centre of the map for immediate orientation. Its peculiar pentagonal shape is emphasised, and it is shown as a dense urban fabric with packed building intersected by streets and squares.

The structure of the map corresponds to the morphology of the city: all the angles are multiples of 36°, relating to the pentagonal centre.

In terms of information hierarchy, 19 lines go through the city’s central corridor.

These are shown in bright colours...

Click to expand.

...and grouped by their direction.

Click to expand.

The width of the line represents frequency. Thick lines are high frequency services (those that run at 5-10 minute headways); thin ones are low frequency.

Click to expand.

A further 11 lines make up a secondary network.

These are shown in lighter, pastel colours.

Click to expand.

Lastly, I included various elements of the cityscape, to aid navigation: remarkable buildings, parks, rivers, railways and bridges.

Click to expand.

When it was complete I sent it to the place where everything started, TransitMaps. From there, it was picked up by the Luxembourg media – and the local citizens placed such pressure on the politicians that they had no choice left but to contact me. After six months with the Luxembourg Bus Administration, fine tuning the map, last week it was finally made official.

Now everybody is happy: the citizens enjoy a great map, the public transport operating company can show the excellence of its network, the politicians contributed to developing a stronger identity for the city – and I am happy to see a city adopt my creation.

Here’s the map:

 

Click to expand. Or you can download the full sized version on the city of Luxembourg's official website here.

This unlikely genesis for a public transport map is a sign of what awaits us in the near future: a combination of actors (media, social networks, politicians, officials) influencing each other and coming together to create something new. We have finally moved from a vertical decision making process to a deterritorialised and horizontal creativity network.

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Which pairs of capital cities are the closest together?

Vienna, which is quite close to Bratislava, but not quite close enough. Image: Thomas Ledl

It doesn't take long to get from Paris to Brussels. An hour and a half on a comfortable Thalys train will get you there. 

Which raises an intriguing question, if you like that sort of thing: wich capital cities of neighbouring countries are the closest together? And which are the furthest away? 

There are some that one might think would be quite close, which are actually much further part. 

Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, sits on one side of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, while Montevideo, Uruguay's capital lies on the other side. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But at 207km apart, they're not really that close at all. 

Similarly, Singapore – capital of, er, Singapore – always sticks in the mind as 'that bit on the end of the Malaysian sticky-out bit'. But it's actually pretty far away from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. A whole 319km away, in fact:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Thinking of 'countries that cause problems by being close together', you inevitably think of South Korea and North Korea. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And while Pyongyang in the North and Seoul in the South are pretty close together, 181km just isn't going to cut it. 

Time to do some Seoul-searching to find the real answer here.

(Sorry.)

(Okay, not that sorry.)

Another place where countries being close together tends to cause problems is the Middle East. Damascus, the capital of Syria, really isn't that far from Beirut, in Lebanon. Just 76km:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Seeing as Lebanon is currently host to millions of refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria's never-ending civil war and the atrocities of Daesh, or Isis, this is presumably something that authorities in Beirut have given a certain amount of thought to.

Most of the time, finding nearby capitals is a game of searching out which bits of the world have lots of small countries, and then rooting around. So you'd think Central America would be ripe for close-together capital fun. 

And yet the best option is Guatemala and El Salvador – where the imaginatively named Guatemala City is a whole 179km away from the also imaginatively named San Salvador.  

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Another obvious place with lots of small-ish countries is Europe – the site of the pair of capitals that drove me to write this nonsense in the first place. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And in fairness, Vienna and Bratislava do make a pretty good showing of it. Austria's capital sits on the Danube; drift downstream, and you swiftly get to Slovakia's capital. As the crow flies, it's 56km – though as the man swims, it's a little longer. 

There are more surprising entries – particularly if you're willing to bend the rules a little bit. Bahrain and Qatar aren't really adjacent in the traditional sense, as they have no land border, but let's just go with it. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Manama, Bahrain's capital, is 140km away from Doha, the centre of the world's thriving local connecting-flight-industry which moonlights as Qatar's capital. 

Sticking with the maritime theme, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago is 152km from St George's, Grenada. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Good, but not good enough. 

Castries, the capital of the Carribbean country of St Lucia, is 102km north of Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Better, but still not good enough. 

Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts and Nevis, inches ahead at 100km away from St John's, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But, enough teasing: it's time to get down to the big beasts.

If you ask Google Maps to tell you the distance between the capital of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it comes up with a rather suspect 20km. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

A short distance, but considering the only thing separating the two is the River Congo, something's up: Google places the centre of Brazzaville a little north of where it should be, and the centre of Kinshasa many many miles south of where it should be, in some sort of suburb.


So, in true CityMetric style, we turn to train stations. 

Though such transport hubs may not always perfectly mark the centre of a city – just ask London Oxford Airport or London Paddington – in this case it seems about right. 

Kinshasa's main train station is helpfully called 'Gare Centrale', and is almost slap-bang in the middle of the area Google marks as 'Centre Ville'. On the other side of the river, 'Gare de Brazzaville' is in the middle of lots of densely-packed buildings, and is right next to a Basilica, which is always a good sign. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And when marking that distance, you get a more realistic 4.8km. If you want to be really keen, the ferry between them travels 3.99km, and the closest point I could find between actual buildings was 1.74km, though admittedly that's in a more suburban area. 

Pretty close, though. 

But! I can hear the inevitable cries clamouring for an end to this. So, time to give the people what they want. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you ask Google Maps to tell you how far away the Holy See, capital of the Vatican, is from Rome, capital of Rome, it says 3.5km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you set the centre of Rome to be the Palatine Hill, the ancient marking point for roads leading out of Rome, that narrows to 2.6km.

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Fiddle a bit and put the centre of the Vatican as, well, the middle bit of the roughly-circular Vatican, that opens up a smidge to 2.75km.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Mark the centre of point of the Vatican as the approximate location of St Peter's Tomb within St Peter's Basilica, which is after all the main reason the Vatican is a thing and not just a quirky suburb of Rome, and 2.67km is your answer. 

Though obviously in practice Rome and the Vatican are as far away as one single step over the railings at the entrance of St Peter's Square, which fairly blatantly makes them the closest capital cities in the world. 

But that would have been a very boring thing to come out and say at the start. 

Oh, and if you hadn't worked it out already, the longest distance between a capital city and the capital of a country it shares a land border with is 6,395km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

I know it's tough for you, Vladimir and Kim. Long-distance relationships are a real struggle sometimes.

I can't make a pun work on either Moscow or Pyongyang here, but readers' submissions more than welcome. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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