The Map That Could Fast Track Plans For High-Speed Rail

You might have seen it on social media somewhere, but in case you haven’t heard of it, Berkeley-based artist and high-speed rail advocate Alfred Twu recently posted a map he created on the Guardian’s website (the map was originally featured on the California Rail Map google group, where additional resources on high-speed rail are listed). It’s drawn a lot of attention, from graphic designers and cartographers to transportation activists to politicians alike.

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It’s not just any map. His US High-Speed Rail map is a powerful, graphically rich statement of where US transportation policy should be heading (and if Twu has his way, at 220 mph). This map comes to us after he published a rail map of California last year.

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/californiarailmap/us-high-speed-rail-system

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/californiarailmap/us-high-speed-rail-system

As for me, I like the map. It’s very legible, and uses bright colors to mark the new high-speed rail system, which is aptly superimposed on the grey network of existing railways. Additionally, Twu uses white lines to represent newly proposed railways, for which he currently envisions no single use; these could either become part of the high-speed rail system in a later phase, or handle slower train traffic. The three types of lines establish a certain hierarchy on the map, as the distinction between them that is implied is immediately understood and makes the map as a whole quite elegant.

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/californiarailmap/us-high-speed-rail-system

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/californiarailmap/us-high-speed-rail-system

Twu is no stranger to high-speed rail advocacy. He’s worked on getting California’s high speed rail approved in the 2008 elections. Yet the map might be his biggest impact yet on the debate surrounding high-speed rail in the US.

Maps like these are highly valuable to this debate, because they engage (and typically reach) a wide audience, and probably reach a larger part of the population than your average Washington topic. Daniel Burnham said it best, “Make no small plans.”

The commendable thing about Twu’s map is that it is actually based on several proposed maps from 2009, when President Obama announced his plan to build high-speed rail in the US. More than just a pipe dream, his map is likely to be the best proposed route to date, and a very artistic one at that. That’s partially because Twu’s map sparked a petition to the White House to “Fund a high-speed rail system that runs coast-to-coast and connects all metropolitan areas.”

The fact that the petition has already been signed by 35,820 people in one week, speaks to the communicative power of the map. Of course there will always be high-speed rail enthusiasts who will find their way to these petitions (we need those too!), it’s questionable whether the petition would have surfaced if it wasn’t for this map.

As the number of signatures continues to grow, and the map goes viral, planners have a solid reminder of how important it is to communicate plans or proposals in such a way that they are not just merely comprehensible, but excel in clarity and vision.