We’re used to public transportation maps looking a certain way: a rat’s nest of lines with dots marking stops. This doesn’t represent the reality of an underground train system, where tunnels cross over and under each other, sometimes very deep below the surface. London-based developer Bruno Imbrizi found a way to represent London’s famous Underground closer to how it really looks.
Imbrizi’s original idea had nothing to do with making a map. Jumping off a previous sound-based experiment, he wanted to build a program that played a different noise every time a train arrived in a station. That was before he found out that Transport for London rounds trains’ arrival times to the minute. “I couldn’t play a note every time a train arrived, because it would be like a minute of silence and then all the sounds at once,” Imbrizi says. But the data gave him another idea. The TFL provides the GPS coordinates of each station to developers who are interested in building apps. Imbrizi thought if he found out station’s depths, he could use the data to make a 3-D map.
With some poking around, Imbrizi found a website which collects the FOIA-style releases from the British government that already had the depths of Underground stations on file. Now, all he had to do was piece the information together in a way that looked appealing. This presented some challenges. “The biggest station, King’s Cross has six lines going through it. I had to create an algorithm to spread them apart or they just would stack over each other,” Imbrizi says.
His final map lets you highlight one line at a time, or all of the lines at once, click on the stations to see their names, and watch a simulation of trains moving through the system. The trains’ movements are based on the scheduled arrival times for the next half hour, so what you’re seeing is accurate enough, although Imbrizi wouldn’t recommend using it to plan a trip, as he can’t account for unforeseen events like train delays.
Imbrizi’s simulation is fun, but, he says, not as accurate as it could be. To make a true model of the Underground, he’d need blueprints of the station and other detailed data. His DIY map has provoked the ire of some online transportation “purists,” who he’s caught griping about his inaccuracy. “They say it looks too low or too high, or I should show the terrain because it gives a better reference point,” he says.
But not bad for someone who only moved to London three years ago from Brazil.