Like many, I find the typical design of public transport maps rather gorgeous. They speak to my imagination on several levels. There is the challenge of simplifying complex and rich information, simplifying as much as possible, but not more. Then, an extensive public transport network also speaks to the level of service the state provides to its people. More public transport dovetails with other policies that favour the working class. And, public transport maps are roadmaps for extensive local travel.
The São Paulo metro is set to grow significantly in the next few years, even if there is also significant delay in bringing the planned new lines into being. Nevertheless, since I arrived in Brazil, I’ve seen the introduction of two new lines, as well as the addition of several new stations on existing lines.
São Paulo’s metro network is not yet comparable to the granddaddy of metros, that of London, or to the New York metro for that matter, but it’s slowly getting closer. See the comparison between the two metropolises below; São Paulo is much denser, but has much fewer metro lines.
We’re not yet at a point where you can travel the São Paulo metro system and trace the outline of animals. But, with the few connecting and looping lines, it is becoming more interesting to try and find the longest possible metro ride, something that’s a niche activity in a few metropolitan areas, like New York.
The typical public transport map we are now so familiar with was pioneered by the British designer Harry Beck in 1933. Originally controversial, he started a design revolution, with his simplification making it so much easier to pack a trove of information into a straightforward design.
But, the simplification also meant extensive geographical distortion. Curves are straightened, consistent scaling is abandoned, with distances away from the center shortened on the edges of the map.
It’s therefore mostly impossible, from looking at one of these maps, to understand the geographical layout of the underlying city. How far apart are stations that appear adjacent, actually from each other? Can you just walk from one to the other in a short space of time?
To provide some insight into questions like these, I adjusted the official São Paulo metro map, showing walking times between all adjacent stations, and between a few stations on different lines, but which are geographically reasonably close to each other.
My own main insight from this exercise is the emphasis on how incredibly huge São Paulo is. To walk between the two stations furthest apart, Jundiaí and Estudantes, would take more than 23 hours, uninterrupted.
I also can’t wait for the network to be expanded; I’m looking forward to finding the longest possible ride to be an actual challenge.