Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for May 18th, 2011

Book Review: Railway Maps of the World

with 2 comments

There is a web page for this book but it does not appear to be working properly.

The author, Mark Ovenden and the publisher, Viking Books both have more information on their web pages. He also has a blog. Naturally.

I was offered – and requested – a review copy, and it is one that I will not just keep but consult. My first reaction on opening it was that I would need a magnifying glass. The hardback book is 11¼” x 9¾” – which is sizeable if not exactly coffee table size. In fact I was pleased initially since I have too many such books – most on railway topics – and the bookcase will clearly not accommodate another. The shelf is sagging as it is. And some of these maps seem likely to exist online as they are the current passenger system maps. For every country in the world that has a passenger service. It is the historic ones that interest me most, and I think that most were originally designed as large posters. Being a convenient size means the book is easier to handle and reasonably priced. Though as usual we Canadians are charged a higher price than those people a little to the south. (US $35  Canada $40.50) You probably have your own views on cross border shopping so I am not going to open up that here.

I am also going to ask for his other books if anyone asks me what I want for Christmas. I will start with “Transit Maps of the World” and wait a bit longer for “Paris Underground”. Unless, of course, someone wants to send me review copies of those too.

To give you some idea of the sort of material that is available here is his flyer (from his blog page)

Even at the size on this page, the amount of information and the way it is conveyed is striking. It is not just the maps either. There are lots of illustrations and well conveyed ideas in text too. Since he had to cover the whole world in this project, some places get a bit less than I would like, but sometimes his choices are uncanny. For instance he has the line diagram put out by the LMS railway when they took over the London Tilbury and Southend line. That includes the links that were then in place so that through trains could run from the Circle Line to Southend! As a small boy I thought that was a splendid idea. Once the underground was electrified that sort of thing became rarer and ceased altogether by the time of nationalisation.

I think everyone who has any interest at all in the subject matter of this blog will find much to absorb them. There is quite a lot about how the railways shaped development – both urban and rural. Specific attention is paid to areas such as the Canadian prairies and Los Angeles. But I am equally sure that many people will be tracing rides they have taken and would one day like to take. The decline of railways in places like Canada, the US and Argentina (mind you they did go a bit overboard originally) is strongly contrasted to what is happening in Japan, China and other more forward thinking nations. Sad, of course, are the countries not mentioned simply because they do not have any passenger trains at all.

You should buy this book if you are at all interested in railways, or how transportation affects the way we live or if you are interested in design and cartography. Actually I think everyone gets caught up in maps – being “put on the map” is still a concern (almost as much as the indication “you are here’) but undoubtedly important is the way that maps deceive us – sometimes intentionally. In fact many railway maps were produced to persuade the traveller to take one route in preference to others (crossing from Dunkerque to Tilbury was a lot longer than Calais to Dover, for example, but don’t expect the marketing department to tell you that).

“Metro Maps of The World” was published in November 2003 and sold out its first run in a matter of weeks. In September 2005 Mark moved to France to focus on his next book about the Paris Metro. Meantime his original publication was picked up by a Dutch Publisher (‘Metrokaarten van der wereld” 2006) and also by Penguin in the USA. The American version, “Transit Maps of The World” was published October 2007. Media coverage was phenomenal and led to unexpectedly high sales, and a Top 100 ranking in the Amazon Sales Charts where it is still often the number one best-selling book in it’s category (Mass Transit)!

I suspect that this book will equal that performance, so it might be a good idea not to wait around too long if you want to get your hands on a copy. And (before you ask) no, this is one book that I am not going to lend anyone!

Written by Stephen Rees

May 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with ,

“External transit review needed”

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The Times Colonist has an opinion piece with the above title. It starts with an interesting revelation

Buses in the region have the ability to extend green lights at 21 intersections, improving travel for thousands of people. Transponders have been bought, installed and tested.

But almost two years after they were announced, they’re not being used. The City of Victoria has apparently not made the necessary changes and B.C. Transit has not succeeded in pressing for action.

That’s a disservice to travellers and a waste of money. The devices were forecast to reduce fuel costs by more than $1.5 million a year. Those savings have been foregone.

Actually it may or may not be a waste of money. It depends on what happens to the rest of the traffic: it might be argued that while the transit system might save some fuel all those vehicles idling longer at the light waste more.

Of course, it is not money we should be looking at on its own but the “generalized cost” – mostly the value of time but you could also look at externalities like pollution too. Then what matters is not the vehicles but how many people they are carrying. If the bus is empty (for instance going to “Not in Service” as so many seem to) and there are lots of carpools and vanpools then again the City that controls the traffic signals might be right. I doubt it, but it is a consideration.

The opinion piece then gets into the Light Rail proposal – and the need for a vote on it – even though it would be “non-binding”. And thus a complete waste of time.

The linkage it seems to me is tenuous at best. Yes, the lack of signal priority for transit is a concern, but don’t blame BC Transit for that. Blame the municipal politicians. In fact the very same people on the “seven-member Victoria Regional Transit Commission is appointed by the provincial government from the ranks of local councillors and mayors”.  As the Colonist notes that has limited powers – but obviously if the mayors and councillors of Victoria thought transit was important, they would issue direction to their engineers. The fact that they haven’t suggests that they care more about the votes – and money – from their local supporters than they do about transit – or even environmental justice. Poor people use transit: rich people drive (a simplification but broadly correct) so current policies that favour car drivers are regressive. Just like sales tax.

The Capital District is not alone, of course. The shameful neglect of transit priority is common in BC – in fact is arguably worse in this region. There are bits and pieces – mostly grudging. One of the oddest is the new bus lane on (provincial) Highway #99 – which has been almost finished for months, but is still not open. What is that all about?

The unfinished bus lane

The unfinished bus lane - my photo

Who might do a “transit review” anyway – and “external” does not mean “independent”. I cannot say that the ones the Colonist cites – of Translink and BC Ferries – inspire confidence. It may indeed be that once again transit governance needs to be revisited. But it is not the structure that causes the problem. It is the political direction of the provincial government – and the strong small c conservative bias of local governments – that results in transit being given short shrift. Because as we have heard so often spending on transit is a subsidy but spending on roads is an investment. And you simply do not see Very Important People like Mayors and Councillors riding the bus.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm