Washington DC Metro Map Distortion

In: Maps

21 Dec 2010

A very cool comparison, by Don Whiteside, of Washington DC’s stylized subway map versus what it would look like if the stations were mapped accurately. It’s shocking how different it looks, particularly as it heads out to the suburbs. (related WELOVEDC blog post)

Map of washington dc metro subway resized

Accurate map with station names:

Washington DC metro subway resized with station names

6 Responses to Washington DC Metro Map Distortion



December 21st, 2010 at 3:36 pm

This was first carried out by Beck for London, see for
It was adopted deliberately by London Transport, as it made people
in the suburbs think the city centre was closer, and boosted
traffic. A time travel map confirms the untruth:


Nick Smith

December 21st, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Great stuff! Thanks so much for sharing this.

A few weeks ago I went to a Pecha Kucha night in Nashville and one of the presenters showed a re-design he came up with for interstate signage around Nashville (which is currently abysmal).

His solution was really quite ingenius, I thought, and used this same concept of showing the idea of what’s going on rather than the actuality.

Jeremy Thompson – Interstate Signage



December 28th, 2010 at 6:01 pm

kagsio’s comment above isn’t completely on the mark …

the map was originally created by a worker at a tube station as an idea … an easier-to-understand logical map. the underground authorities rejected it immediately so he began making his own copies and handing them out at one of the center stations (hyde park, camden town, something like that) and then stopped because he got tired of paying for it.

people began asking for the “new” map, instead of the old ones because they felt they were easier to understand. the underground authority grudgingly started making them and the maps were an instant hit.

all subway maps in the world are stealing this early 20th century british idea. probably the most striking use is the moscow metro.

it was NOT to make the suburbs appear closer — it was to make the map fit on the page … and from a purely topological point-of-view, it made no difference.

the BBC ran a documentary on this about 20 years ago that explained it all in detail.



December 29th, 2010 at 5:48 am

It’s not shocking at all. It’s much more efficient way of showing the stations in a compact way.


Gregory Goldmaker

December 29th, 2010 at 12:41 pm


Thanks for that review of the history.



January 9th, 2011 at 2:42 am

For reference, here is another critique of the DC metro map that includes geographic/stylistic comparisons:

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