Here’s a new rail map for Dublin

A detail from the Dublin Rail map. Image: Chris Singleton/Richard Hart.

There has been something of a rail revival in Dublin in recent years, with a significant expansion of the city’s tram network and the re-opening of commuter rail lines. But graphic design has failed to keep up: go to any railway station or tram stop in Dublin and you’ll be struck by the lack of a map which highlights how all the various rail lines integrate with each other. Although route maps for individual services exist, it’s strangely difficult to find a comprehensive –and high-quality –map of all the rail routes in Dublin.

As a former Dubliner and somebody with a love for good design, this is a situation which has always bothered me, and for many years I wanted to create a new map which addressed these shortcomings. And when I read this Citymetric piece on Dublin’s new tram map, which described it as “a crime against cartography,” I felt the time had finally come to get on with this piece of work.

So, working with my good friend and fellow designer Richard Hart, I set out to create a new Dublin rail map that would:

  • include all rail and tram routes on one single map, along with Dublin airport bus information;
  • be of a similar quality to those found in major European cities like London, Paris and Berlin.

Importantly, we wanted to ensure that wheelchair accessibility information was included on the new map; the existing maps are very poor in this regard.

We also wanted to provide clear information regarding which stations provide bike and car parking – again, something which is not really present on existing maps.

We also decided to include the two key Dublin airport bus routes on the map, to make it easier for visitors to the city to understand where they could switch onto other modes of public transport.


Design decisions

In terms of the aesthetics, we drew considerable inspiration from the London Underground map, believing it to represent the gold standard of design in public transport maps.

However, we wanted to ensure that our map had its own character: hence the green colour scheme (as you might expect, green is often used on Dublin train liveries) and the choice of an alternative typeface to the Tube map’s famous Johnston font.

For the typeface, we plumped for the appropriately named Transport, designed by graphic design heroes of ours, Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert. Transport is a font which will be familiar to Dubliners, being used on all road signs across Ireland, but it also arguably has a more modern “feel” than Johnston. With the pace of change in Dublin being pretty intense at the moment – not just in its transport system, but in terms of urban development, too – we wanted to ensure that the design of the map reflected this sense of modernity, and we thought that the clean, sans-serif Transport font would help us in this regard.

We also wanted to make improvements where possible on the London Underground design – notably in the station index for the map. On the LU map, the grid reference comes before the station name; on ours, we made the assumption that users of the index will be attempting to locate a station name first in order to find the grid reference, not the other way round.

The full map. Click to expand.

A new website for Dublin public transport

During the course of our map design project, it became apparent that Dublin wasn’t just missing a map, it was missing a website too: there isn’t currently a TFL or RATP style transport portal for the city, where information about all the forms of public transport in the capital can be found.

In order to rectify this — and also to provide a home for our new map — we created a new Dublin public transport website, which aims to give users:

It’s my hope that both the new map and website will make travelling around Dublin on public transport considerably easier for both residents of and visitors to the city.

It would be wonderful to see a large poster version of our rail map displayed at every train and tram stop in Dublin, but even if it just has a life as a PDF on a lot of passengers’ phones, I’ll be happy.

Chris Singleton runs the digital communications and design blog Style Factory and when not doing that, fronts London-Irish art-rock band Five Grand Stereo. His new rail map and Dublin public transport website can be accessed here.

 
 
 
 

Barcelona’s car-free “superblocks” could extend lives. So will they catch on elsewhere?

Barcelona. Image: Getty.

The world’s biggest cities have larger populations and higher economic outputs than some countries. But as they grow in size and complexity, cities are also facing thorny challenges that threaten the health and happiness of residents. Congestion, pollution and a lack of community spaces have become major drags on people’s aspirations and experiences of urban living.

In response, cities must manage their resources and priorities to create sustainable places for visitors and residents, and foster innovation and growth. Enter Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia, in Spain – where a bold stroke of urban planning first introduced “superblocks” in 2016.

Image: ISGlobal/FAL.

Superblocks are neighbourhoods of nine blocks, where traffic is restricted to major roads around the outside, opening up entire groups of streets to pedestrians and cyclists. The aim is to reduce pollution from vehicles, and give residents much-needed relief from noise pollution. They are designed to create more open space for citizens to meet, talk and do activities.


Health and well-being boost

There are currently only six superblocks in operation, including the first, most prominent one in Eixample. Reports suggest that – despite some early push back – the change has been broadly welcomed by residents, and the long-term benefits could be considerable.

A recent study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health estimates that if, as planned, 503 potential superblocks are realised across the city, journeys by private vehicle would fall by 230,000 a week, as people switch to public transport, walking or cycling.

The research suggests this would significantly improve air quality and noise levels on the car-free streets: ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) would be reduced by a quarter, bringing levels in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The plan is also expected to generate significant health benefits for residents. The study estimates that as many as 667 premature deaths from air pollution, noise and heat could be prevented each year. More green spaces will encourage people to get outdoors and lead a more active lifestyle.

This, in turn, helps to reduce obesity and diabetes and ease pressure on health services. The researchers claim that residents of Barcelona could expect to live an extra 200 days thanks to the cumulative health benefits, if the idea is rolled out across the city.

Space to play. Imag: Mosa Moseneke/Unsplash.

There are expected to be benefits to mental health, as well as physical health. Having access to such spaces can stave off loneliness and isolation – especially among elderly residents – as communities form stronger bonds and become more resilient.

Stumbling blocks

It was Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, who first championed the introduction of superblocks – and he argues that the idea could be used in any city. Even so, authorities looking to expand the concept in Barcelona or beyond will need to be mindful of some concerns.

Changes like these require capital investment. Even as the car-free streets are transformed with urban furniture and greenery, the remaining major roads will likely have to accommodate heavier traffic.

Nothing comes for free. Image: Zvileve/Flickr/creative commons.

Further investments in local infrastructure – such as improving surrounding roads to deal with more traffic, or installing smart traffic management system – could be required to prevent serious congestion. Then the question remains, how to finance such investments – a higher tax rate is unlikely to be popular.


What’s more, whenever a location becomes more desirable, it leads to an increase in property demand. Higher prices and rent could create pockets of unaffordable neighbourhoods. This may lead to use of properties for investment purposes and possibly, displacement of local residents.

It’s also worth noting that Barcelona is an old and relatively well-planned European city. Different challenges exist in emerging global cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America – and in younger cities in the US and Australia. There is a great deal of variation in scale, population density, urban shape and form, development patterns and institutional frameworks across the cities. Several large cities in the developing world are heavily congested with uncontrolled, unregulated developments and weak regulatory frameworks.

Replicating what’s been done in Barcelona may prove difficult in such places, and will require much greater transformations. But it’s true that the basic principles of superblocks – that value pedestrians, cyclists and high quality public spaces over motor vehicles – can be applied in any city, with some adjustments.

Leading the way

Over the history of human civilisation, great cities have been at the forefront of innovation and social progress. But cities need a robust structure of governance, which is transparent and accountable, to ensure a fair and efficient use of resources. Imposing innovation from the top down, without consultations and buy-in, can go squarely against the idea of free market capitalism, which has been a predominant force for modern economies and can lead push-back from citizens and local businesses.

Citizens must also be willing to change their perspectives and behaviour, to make such initiatives work. This means that “solutions” to urban living like superblocks need to have buy-in from citizens, through continuous engagement with local government officials.

A man speaks at a public consultation on the Eixample superblock in Barcelona. Image: Ajuntament Barcelona/Flickr/creative commons.

Successful urban planning also needs strong leadership with a clear and consistent vision of the future, and a roadmap of how that vision can be delivered. The vision should be co-developed with the citizens and all other stakeholders such as local businesses, private and public organisations. This can ensure that everybody shares ownership and takes responsibility for the success of local initiatives.

There is little doubt that the principles and objectives of superblocks are sound. The idea has the potential to catch on around the world – though it will likely take a unique and specific form in every city.

The Conversation

Anupam Nanda, Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate, University of Reading.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.