, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 23-44,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 29 Nov 2007

Drawing Subway Maps: A Survey

Abstract

This paper deals with automating the drawing of subway maps. There are two features of schematic subway maps that make them different from drawings of other networks such as flow charts or organigrams. First, most schematic subway maps use not only horizontal and vertical lines, but also diagonals. This gives more flexibility in the layout process, but it also makes the problem provably hard. Second, a subway map represents a network whose components have geographic locations that are roughly known to the users of such a map. This knowledge must be respected during the search for a clear layout of the network. For the sake of visual clarity the underlying geography may be distorted, but it must not be given up, otherwise map users will be hopelessly confused.

In this paper we first give a rather generally accepted list of rules that should be adhered to by a good subway map. Next we survey three recent methods for drawing subway maps, analyze their performance with respect to the above rules, and compare the resulting maps among each other and to official subway maps drawn by graphic designers. We then focus on one of the methods, which is based on mixed-integer linear programming, a widely-used global optimization technique. This method guarantees to find a drawing that fulfills a subset of the above-mentioned rules (if such a drawing exists) and optimizes a weighted sum of costs that correspond to the remaining rules. The method can draw even large subway networks such as the London Underground in an aesthetically pleasing manner, similar to maps made by professional graphic designers. If station labels are included in the optimization process, so far only medium-size networks can be drawn. Finally we give evidence why drawing good subway maps is difficult (even without labels).