Every rapid transit system has its own sensibility, from the architecture of train stations to the fonts of wayfinding signage. But in the eye of graphic designer Peter Dovak, they’re all kaleidoscopic webs. For the past three years, he’s been meticulously turning public transit systems into minimalist illustrations in a series called Mini Metro Maps.
To date, Dovak has created 220 maps of cities large and small, systems simple as a single line and complex as a cat’s cradle, everywhere from Athens to Valparaiso, Chile.
“Originally I was only going to do the U.S. and Canada, but in going through the systems of the world, it was very fun to see how wildly different some of the more complex systems could be, while many of the fledgling systems followed a somewhat identifiable pattern,” Dovak says. “Particularly in China, where metro systems have evolved quite quickly over the past 10 to 20 years, it is very interesting to watch them evolve. Cities like Beijing and Shanghai look like a tangled web now, but it wasn’t long ago they looked identical to the one- or two-line systems such as Hefei and Nanchang. It will be very interesting to see how they continue to grow.”
Dovak’s maps reflect some artistic license, as do the original source maps from which he works; they have often been simplified for legibility. In the name of standardization, he sometimes combines parallel route lines, he keeps angles fixed at 45 degrees, and maintains a minimum distance between lines. (Here’s a side-by-side look at Dovak’s illustrations and the originals.)
The shapes that result tell a story about where people in cities travel and how planners have prioritized transportation. The messier the map, the more likely the system is old–and the more likely it is that residents can rely on public transit. Phoenix, Arizona–a notoriously car-dependent city–has just one line. Seoul, a more established system, has a flurry of intersecting lines. New York’s lines all lead to lower Manhattan, with virtually no direct way to travel between the outer boroughs without passing through downtown. Same with Buenos Aires, Argentina. Berlin’s, on the other hand, has many tendrils that lead to the center of the city, but also ring lines to make it easier to travel in all cardinal directions.
“The most interesting cities are definitely the larger ones–particularly Seoul and Tokyo–but also some of the smaller cities that break from the norm–like Glasgow and its infamous single loop line, or Oslo and its unique route structure and map that kind of looks like a Space Invader,” Dovak says.
Dovak plans to continue updating his maps and adding new ones to the roster. Eventually he’d like to create animations showing the changes over time. In the meantime, you can purchase a print of Dovak’s maps from Society 6 for $15.