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Green Transport Information Planning Route Guide

John Lindsay, Reader in Information Systems Design, Kingston University, UK

1. Ten commandments

  1. Anyone can do it
  2. Everyone is interested in something
  3. The motor car is not sustainable
  4. Public transport and walking is feasible
  5. There are no rules
  6. Every time I make a rule someone will negate it
  7. Planners are the problem
  8. Private gain is public loss
  9. If a route can be broken, someone will
  10. If a connection can be broken, someone will

2. Five information issues

1. here : there

When I am here, I don't have information about there unless I've planned for it.

2. now : then

Some resources tell me about now, some about then.

3. advertinform

Some resources are trying to advertise and therefore promote their view of information which is not mine; they are thus an impediment to my information

4. dystopia

Your utopia is my distopia: golf courses

5. planning and execution

Need to distinguish information requirements for planning, before the event, and execution, during the event.

3. Five information points

  1. and in logic means something different from in common sense
  2. order is never obvious or easy
  3. index means different things in different vocabularies and is in general done by people without training; it is much harder to do well than it looks
  4. union here means using co-ordinates to establish place on grid referencing; it is easy to learn to do but most people haven't
  5. intersect is hard to do for two tables and beyond patience for three; almost no public transport journey can be made without being able to do it

4. Five information resources

1. Maps

Ordnance Survey

The 1:50,000 Landranger series is broadly enough for being able to do quite a lot and as it is the only widely available standard for the whole country must form a key resource and the OS grid reference must be a key component of any attempt to build a plan. One problem is you need a lot of them at nearly a fiver to cover the range of places you might be interested in.

Another is that the attitude of the OS to intellectual property makes it difficult to use them in publications for promoting green transport. That is why in part I adopted the idea of the visual index about which more later.

The 1:25,000 Explorer series is now being published in full colour in a new format which makes them expensive for the area covered and adds little extra functionality. There is plenty of scope for annotation but they are expensive for what they provide.

There are other problems of a more detailed nature. They show nothing of public transport except black lines and red blobs. Surface railway lines are shown with stations but without station names unless the station name is the name of the place, and underground stations not at all. They show green spaces according to land cover, not according to access, though some change is shown on the new 1:25,000 Explorer series. The white road problem too deals with access. You have no way of knowing whether it is possible.

Philips, Geographers, Bartholomew's

These publishers among others produce a wide range of maps generally available in bookshops either in foldout form or as books. The price of desk top publishing is falling and standards are in some way improving; new publishers are also entering the market. Some do not use the OS map data as a base and are therefore free of copyright difficulties. It remains contestable whether the OS grid referencing system itself can be copyright but some of them do not use it and their own, usually mixed notation referencing has no standards and so adds to complexity in trying to reference.

Universally they provide a gazetteer which makes finding roads easier than on OS but they are usually weak on footpaths, most often being concerned with the urban. When in colour they add complexity with a loss of clarity. Their use of green for land cover does not indicate access and their indication of roads does not imply right of entry.

The major weakness is that in order to get the road names into the spaces roads have to be made very wide in comparison with the land they occupy thus distorting the spaces in between. This makes them very hard to use for walk planning as you can't really see what sorts of spaces you think might be walkable. They need to be used in conjunction with OS maps to get a picture of what is feasible.

They also say nothing about public transport. This is a complete mystery to me. This sort of map, all over Europe, is produced by the Public or Transport authority and gives full indication of stops and routes. There is plenty of space.

The book versions are easier for putting into the glove boxes of motor cars and using on the road, but they are harder for planning as you lose continuity from one page to another, particularly vertically. The foldout ones give many fewer four map corner problems.

I much prefer these in black and white so my colour coding of green for walks, green circles for points of interest, blue for rivers and canals and blue circles for pubs and restaurants, leaving me the rest of the palate of coloured pens to indicate public transport routes, red for recognisable London Transport, purple, orange and brown generally enough to cover variations. I use blue also for cycle routes as this is the standard though it causes some confusion.

Town maps

I've separated these from the above as they deal usually with smaller towns, are on single sheets, sometimes combined, from small publishers and often available only in the town of reference.

Stamford's in London has an extensive collection for sale of all maps and should be a first port of call for anything not immediately available.

Transport maps

These are increasingly being produced by County Councils to unify competing companies as a matter of policy. Their design quality varies though two companies seem to dominate in their production, FWT and Pindar. In London you need thirty two, produced by London Buses which show minimal rail information, though there is a single one for all London, difficult to read. County Councils and other local authorities in general have internet sites accessible from www.open.ov.up but they vary enormously in their handling of transport. Buckinghamshire is exemplary at this time.

Some towns are producing local bus maps using different notations but in others you'll have to work the whole thing out for yourself. It is in general true that there is no public transport integration and minimal indication of walking potential. Becks' diagram for London Underground needs mention as it is the one innovative public transport system in one hundred years and hasn't been improved upon, though sometimes clumsily imitated by other segments of the railway or public transport system. The failure to innovate remains perplexing.

Internet maps

There are now a variety of companies making map sets available on the Internet, www.streetmap.com and www.multimap.com being notable. Trying to describe these on paper to those who have no access to the Internet is futile. To those who have access, I don't need to describe them. The Internet form of this will have clickable links.

2. Timetables

Now we deal with a different class of information object and one where the here - there problem above all dominates. You can't even rely on these being available at the stops to which they refer.

Though green transport desirably deals with integration, the separation of bus and rail is so complete that I must needs deal with them separately.

Bus

You would think that a bus company would understand the need for a timetable to be available. Extraordinary indeed it is difficult they make it. They seem systematically not to understand that in order to know where you want to go, you need to know what is available. Getting timetables out of them from a distance is an exercise designed to drive you mad.

Sometimes County Councils provide consolidated books, linked sometimes to the transport maps referred to above. In London the thirty two maps have frequency indication and the bus stops timetables, but none other are available. Outside London are ten counties which on average produce six booklets. This means you have to collect one hundred documents to use buses around London.

Local detail will vary in this section more than elsewhere so I'm not sure I can usefully generalise. Two design points I would make though: there are only two service types which makes representation easier; four per hour or more; four per day or more. Anything less frequent than that is too specific to be worth representing.

Britain bus

This is close to the design parameters I outlined above, published twice a year by Southern Vectis with a comprehensive map and the use of table numbers to overcome the complexity of bus route numbering. It is available in Libraries, Tourism Information Centres, Rail and bus stations through a complex funding process. Whether it is in fact available will depend locally on efficiency.

Bus ticketing and pricing is a special information problem which I'll avoid. It is a matter of such local detail that only a local expert can understand it; this is unlikely to include bus drivers.

Rail

The Great Britain rail timetable is available twice a year commercially and on the Internet at www.railtrack.co.uk. Local timetable leaflets are available free at local stations, sometimes. Timetables in stations follow two general patterns, place and line. Both have advantages and disadvantages but neither show connections which makes real time planning difficult. Staffed stations should be able to answer questions but queues increase uncertainty and does ticket buying times. Through ticketing for buses is increasing but not staff training it would appear.

3. Guide books

The most expensive single items are the commercially published guides such as Michelin, Rough, Blue which cover the whole of Britain and are little use for walk planning except they tell you about the five star tourism attractions, which is either a plus or a minus. Widely available in bookshops. Less widely available are the imprints of Vermilion and Exbury.

Which, publisher for the Consumers' Association provide a list of Good Guides and the motoring organisations, AA & RAC, produce commercially published books though they are predictably nil on the public transport front. HMSO increasingly getting into the act. Ordnance Survey.

Pevsner is crucial if you share my interests, but at 25 per volume an expensive collection. Second hand often available more cheaply and his first editions have been seldom added to in value by his successors. He used 4 figure OS referencing on very simple maps which are detailed enough to find on the OS later however he says nothing about whether properties are open to the public or not and churches are usually locked.

Any other green transport information planner will have a list of necessary resources determined by enthusiasm, such as Vinter's series on walking destroyed railways.

A number of organisation produce handbooks for their members which might also be on sale commercially. From my perspective the most important is the National Trust. The handbook is the best in its description of public transport though it describes only its own properties, which are indicated on OS maps. You'll have to do all the work to build walks. The handbook is on the Internet. Bodies such as the Woodland Trust, Ramblers' Association, National Gardens Scheme, English Heritage all help out to bulk up the bookshelves and give you more things to mark on maps.

Old books make a special resource for green walking. In the 1930s there was a real enthusiasm and these are often available in second hand bookshops. Great Western Railways, London Transport and others all promoted their services in a way unimaginable now. The transport details haven't changed much apart from the destruction by Beeching and the paths have survived remarkably well through public rights of way. These gems have variable standards of mapping as that sort of publishing was expensive but they often have rather attractive line drawings and etchings indicating the graphic design of the time. Old railway and bus maps frequently showed the public open spaces, there is a notable one for London transport in 1934 which shows the total system of rail, undergrond, bus and coach for 35 miles around London with all the public open spaces.

4. Leaflets

Thousands, from promotional advertinforms to well worked out walks. Almost always completely deficient in public transport - you'll have to work it out. Usually don't use Ordnance Survey grid referencing so you have to work out where they are too. Finding them and organising them could be a cottage industry in itself. Often not available in public libraries and TICs.

Some of these are increasing in price as local authorities push up graphic design fiddling with twee little drawings.

They often go into interminable detail about birds and beasties and plants, a matter of almost no interest to me but they are driven by environmental enthusiasts or Agenda 21 political purposes. In general don't have much to say about useful things like good pubs.

Almost never on the internet though probably now produced with desk top publishing.

I've put a design limitation on my thinking of an hour' travel and a fiver's cost to avoid creating a whole world problem, though in practice I've had opportunities to look further afield. This has meant that I've not included substantial work on accommodation. Roughly the rule is that if it costs more to make return journeys on two days than a night in a Bed and Breakfast then prefer the latter. But there is so much within an hour of where I live that I don't need to travel further.

My detailed collection therefore covers London and ten countries, I have only sporadically material on other places to test the points I'm making here fit there.

5. Places

Public libraries - almost anywhere people will know where the public library is; opening hours insufficiently reliable; but usually exemplary for local knowledge about hereness; never know about whereness. All should have Britain bus. Vary enormously in collection of local walking material.

TICS - a strange mixture of hereness - sometimes have public transport, sometimes not; usually well informed on accommodation and major attractions; much weaker on walking; very variable on whereness - usually major promotional brochures only. All have Britain bus (if they can find). Funded by a complex combination of local interests so opening and effectiveness will vary widely.

Stations - bus and rail - almost always a waste of time except for rail timetables in railway station which are usually available. Bus timetables usually aren't but Britain bus should be.

Bookshops - remarkably unreliable - only if something can be sold at a profit

5. Five information technologies

Green transport information planning has become possible and useful only because changes in information technology have changed the way we can organise the objects I've referred to above.

1. Computers

The first is the wide availability of cheap personal computers and printers. Photocopiers have made a difference too. Colour adds a considerable additional set of options but make life more difficult.

2. Software

The word processor is the obvious starting point for preparing transport plans. Drawing packages such as Powerpoint enable the production of diagrams. To move to database management is much more complex and only for specialists. Electronic mail is a key component but that means a client and a server, the server being provided by an Internet service provider most usually.

PowerPoint is a useful tool for diagramming. It is quite cheap and easily available for most basic platforms. Again, without a knowledge of what it is it is difficult to explain. Most universities provide it too all their staff and students and a lot of colleges will have it so finding someone who can help out shouldn't be difficult. Many departments will have staff sympathetic to green transport and possibly even with a need for projects and case studies in geography, social studies, economics, civil engineering, information systems design, environmental studies and so forth.

Photoshop and Illustrator are more professionally oriented and require some expertise in graphic design. There is a danger in expertise! The professional enthusiasm drives up costs and expectations and causes trouble. However being able to pull maps off the Internet and overlay them with your notations means that you can visualise your plans.

To move into geographic information systems is beyond most enthusiasts and needs a professional.

3. Internet

It is the Internet which is going to make the difference. This means that anyone interested in green transport information planning can produce local resources and make them widely available. All that is required is some organisation. trip@mailbase.ac.uk has been set up to allow for this to happen.

The Rough Guide to the Internet at a fiver is a very good place to start.

4. GSM

It might well be the case that the mobile telephone will come into wider use for walkers to be able to reduce uncertainty in execution. There is scope for an industry here. Most resources so far have gone into driver information. One day the balance will change.

5. GPS

The will make a difference - already something but doesn't yet integrate well with gsm. Still beyond enthusiasts.

6. Five design issues

1. Boundary

Where you set it is up to you. I went for an hour and a fiver.

2. Granularity

There is a bit of skill here in designing the limits so that you don't give yourself more work than you can be bothered with. See my visual indexes.

3. Scalability

The same problem here - get this wrong and you'll be bored by the tedium.

4. Abstraction

This one is a little more difficult to explain and only becomes an issue when you have got the three previous towards the engineering level of complexity. Is a hotel a garden? a restaurant? a pub?

5. Change

...

7. Five steps

1. Collect the material

This depends on your patience and determination: you can see why the motor car wins

2. Pick the anchors

This level of planning will be very personal: depends on all sorts of things - where you live, family connections, key interests;

3. Build the networks

Here is either work or pleasure according to attitude. You need to take the right map at the right level of scale for what you are trying to do. Mark the railway stations and name them- they don't move - code the lines from the timetables with origin, destination and frequency plus timetable and headcode numbers.

Now from the bus timetables and bus maps mark out those which have four an hour (only in major urban centres) four a day; the rest are a waste of time unless you can do very precise planning. There wont be very many, the timetables and maps are made much too complicated. Draw these routes with some notation on the OS map or the other key resource you are using. You'll never need more than about five colours - avoid green, black and blue as you'll need them.

Sometimes major walks are marked on OS maps, increasingly on the 1:25k but only the major ones. Sift through the piles of leaflets and booklets and attempt to mark the map with these in green. Writers of these things have very different ideas of the information you need and they usually say drive to carpark as the only approach information. Sometimes there are OS refs, often not but places can be identified. Sometimes this is being done beforehand for planning, in which case it is difficult as you can't imagine what the place is like. If it is being done afterwards for record and future planning it is easier. making use of someone else's notation remains to be explored. Getting the key green fingers for major urban areas is the important bit for me as walking any distance on a busy road is unpleasant. Most towns have these if only you can find them.

4. Identify the interests

From your collection of books find the key point of interest on the maps. Sometimes they will already be marked if major attractions. Very rarely will promotional material have OS refs. I use a green circle. Pubs and hotels are sometimes marked, sometimes it is luck. Rivers and canals are nearly always marked, which is why I avoid blue for routes. Where public rights of why are shown it then becomes easy; as it is where someone has written a guide, even if not walking oriented. Rivers tend to be an important part of community life so are more contentious in ownership. They provide good anchors and routes plus for reasons beyond aesthetics, make for lovely walking if not too meandering and muddy.

5. Recognise the impediments

There is a class of objects which are problematic as they interfere with access and interest according to taste and determination.

I've grouped these in five categories.

Clubs

Golf, sports, are the ones you'll come across. they have very strange ideas of freedom. You will never be able to tell till you get there what is passable.

Reserves

Strange bundle this. People who want nature sometimes don't want people so these might be closed. You just can't tell. The Woodland Trust will always be open. But others vary widely and finding out about them is hard

Authorities

Hospitals, school, military, whether these are public or private is a strange manipulation of language. Whether you can or may walk through them raised political, moral and legal issues you'll need to decide for yourself. It will also determine what different people will produce. Clearly a local authority web site cannot promote lawbreaking.

Commercial

Hotels, restaurants have often good gardens and might be in beautiful places. Whether you can or may walk through them is tactical. You might need to buy a coffee. You might want to spend 100 on a meal.

If industrial they are likely to have almost insurmountable fences and perhaps dogs as well. Often a major impediment for no purpose. This is where planning, taxation and the law get most important.

8. Five outputs

1. Much annotation

My collection of much marked maps is unique, as is yours.

2. Many files

My collection of leaflets organised in used washing powder boxes by county is now substantial and in frequent need to sub-division. It is unlikely that anyone other than a nutter would ever have started on this.

3. Visual indexes

These I have drawn in Powerpoint for my own use. Whether this is a useful form of representation we don't yet know.

4. Web pages

I've done a demonstrator on the Wey & Arun Canal Trust and the Wey South Walk as someone had the interest. I've prepared notes for the Hogsmill, Beverley, Ravensbourne. For this to be developed further requires more enthusiasts.

The National Trust has its handbook on the web but other organisations are remarkably backwards. Local government is accessible via www.open.gov.uk - they vary in transport. Transport page are organised by Austin Analytics among others.

5. TRIP

But proper Green transport information planning is my hope. I've outlined elsewhere the broad structure I'm aiming for but not yet achieved critical mass.

9. Five arguments

  1. Motor cars are not sustainable, nothing more needs saying
  2. Walking frees you from circularity. Self evident, you don't need to come back to the beginning but you do need transport information planning, and at some level of precision and confidence.
  3. The approach is the pleasure. This is a subjective and aesthetic argument which might not be widely held. I find the walk to some historic object part of the approach of pleasure and appreciation which you just can't have by driving. This is not the same argument as the calvinist need to suffer for art.
  4. Pubs and restaurants allow the pleasure of drinking; driving then kills;
  5. Public transport lets the train take the strain and the bus the booze.

10. Information economy

You'll meet this as soon as you try to do anything on the Internet. You can pretend it doesn't exist in the comfort of your own room. Using an OS map ghost background for a green transport plan is almost certainly going to attract their intellectual property lawyers. We managed it simply by referring to British Telecom Yellow Pages!

Interchange engineering

Now I'm going beyond green transport information planning to changing reality. Whenever I approach a bus stop as a walker I am making an interchange. What do I need to make a bus stop?

As soon as there is more than one route at a bus stop I need a notation. If there is a railway station with more than one route, the same problem. If there is a bus stop near a railway station or two bus stops then I have what anyone will recognise as an interchange and it is remarkable how little there is in the world of engineering on how to engineer them. And in reality how little has been done to make interchanging possible. London Transport has produced a remarkably faulted study. See my comment on trip@mailbase.ac.uk.

Producing the interchange information engineering handbook is the step beyond this green guide.

Appendices

Worked out case studies and examples:

Last update: 05 July 2005 | Impressum—Imprint