Transit Mapping Symposium

Last June, I went to Paris for WordCamp Europe. There, I met up with Jug Cerovič, an amazing transit map maker, whose maps are truly works of art. We talked about his book and his work, and during our conversation, I said that it would be absolutely fantastic to be able to gather all the people who work in this admittedly niche world of transit mapping, and to share ideas and thoughts on all aspects of it. Jug told me, “Let’s do it!” At first I thought it was a pipe dream, how could we possibly pull it off? But after thinking for a bit, I realized that it wasn’t that far-fetched! Since I knew that I had a 3-month sabbatical coming up this summer (thanks to my employer, Automattic; every employee gets 3 months off after 5 years of service), I had already decided that I wasn’t going to organize another WordCamp, so I knew that I would have the time available to fill the hole in my heart; I really like organizing things! And, I have the skills and experience in event organizing that would make putting a much smaller conference together relatively easy. From Jug’s side, he has the contacts in the field, as well as his own clearly-articulated vision of how transit mapping should progress in this age of apps and smartphones. Lacking both of those things, I needed him to put this gathering together, just as much as he needed me to handle the organizing and logistics. And thus, the Transit Mapping Symposium was born!

After several months of contacting different potential participants, Jug was able to put together a great list of speakers:

  • Sam Vermette, from Montreal’s own Transit app (which I love!)
  • Joey Reid, representing the very influential Human Transit, founded by Jarrett Walker
  • René-Claude Bouchard and Francis Brisebois from the STM
  • Peter Lloyd, author of a book on the Vignelli NYC subway map
  • Representatives from Naver, South Korea’s biggest search engine and web destination
  • Kickmap’s very own Eddie Jabbour
  • Anton Dubrau, a key blogger on Montreal transit
  • Representatives from Apple Transit
  • Jens Unger, a representative from
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Eddie Jabbour from Kickmap

Quite the lineup! We unfortunately had a couple of speaker cancellations due to circumstances outside of our control. However, as luck would have it, one of our attendees had flown all the way from Singapore to show us the work on mapping and signage that he’s doing in their transit system, and he agreed to prepare a presentation for us. It was a great way to finish the Symposium; Samuel Lim’s presentation was expertly done, funny, and informative. Thanks Samuel, and thank you to all of the other speakers who attended!


Drinks at the pub after the Symposium ended (photo by Samuel Lim)


So, now the Symposium is over….  for this year! After the success of the event, Jug and I have agreed that we have to do it again. This year it was in Montreal, so next year, we’re going to do it in Paris! See you then!


I’ve always loved maps. As a kid, I waited excitedly for the National Geographic magazines, hoping that this would be one of the lucky months with a beautiful double-sided highly-detailed map. I’d pore over every feature of the map, looking for any oddities in the route a road took, for example, or what I considered to be strange naming conventions (West Virginia and Virginia? Baja California and Baja California Sur?). I’d try to imagine myself living in that location, and how the geography of it would affect my daily life. How would I get to school? Where would I play with my friends?

That fascination and imagination continues to this day when I look at maps. I am fascinated by enclaves, exclaves, and any other -claves you can think of. The quirks of human history and geography, laid down on a map with different splashes of colour. I try to imagine what it’s like to live in the various exclaves in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Are they cut off from their families and friends?

My love of maps evolved, however. As is well known, I am an admirer of public transit maps, especially metro maps. Why? At its core, the fascination is for the same reason. How do people go to school, to work, to play, to shop, every day in their city? Which stops are the busiest, and which are the quietest, and why? Beyond that, it’s also because the maps bestow a certain order on the organized chaos that is any modern city. No need to navigate traffic, or get lost by taking a wrong turn. You look at the map, you find your starting point, and you take the shortest route to your destination. Of course, in the larger cities (Mexico, New York, Moscow, Japan) the systems are quite complex and the shortest route may not be so obvious; but still, taking the metro is much, much easier than driving in an unknown city.

Last year, I read a book by Ken Jennings, who holds the record of the longest win streak on Jeopardy!, called Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonksand I was pleasantly surprised that I’m not the only person with this “affliction”; I nodded my head in vigorous agreement many times while reading it, saying “That’s me! That’s me!” while the cats stared curiously.

And then there are metro maps. In many cities, the metro/subway/tube is almost a symbol of the city itself. When I think of the world’s great public transit systems, I think of Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Mexico City, Madrid, Barcelona, and of course, my home city’s system, Montréal. And oddly enough, I am not the only one who thinks like this. There are many other people out there who are as fascinated by metro maps as I am. Take a look at this site, for example, as a recent one I found. And of course, the classic UrbanRail.Net. And then there’s the well-known book, Transit Maps of the World.

To finish off this exploration of maps, here are a few interesting videos:

Weird choice of music on this next one: