Laura Bliss is CityLab’s west coast bureau chief, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Riders can easily determine the perfect place to await a train, relative to where they want to end up.
When you embark a train on an unfamiliar subway system, there’s rarely any way of knowing precisely where on the platform you’re going to wind up. Getting off the train almost always takes extra time and steps as you look for the right staircase or elevator. Each platform is a long scroll of repeating benches, poles, and system maps; there’s often little in these cavernous spaces to give you a clear sense of orientation.
Now a clever software engineer has done some time-saving legwork to address that problem, at least for one city’s metro. Nicolas Kruchten has photographed and aligned panoramic views of every station on the westbound side of Montreal’s green line, so that riders can more easily figure out the perfect place to await a train relative to where they want to end up. By referencing how a particular feature (such as an assistance phone or an ad) on one platform lines up with the desired exit on another, riders can maximize efficiency and avoid confusion when they reach their destination.
Curious riders can compare each of the 27 platforms within one beautiful graphic, in which Kruchten stacked them all on top of the other, or within a simple interactive that compares two platforms of your choice at once.
Kruchten drew inspiration for the project from information displays he noticed in German train stations, which show “where each car of each scheduled train will stop so you can position yourself accordingly on the platform,” he writes on his personal blog. But those graphics, and similar signage in other cities’ metro systems, are essentially train-centric rather than platform-centric. “The problem is that, in Montreal at least, when you’re standing on the platform, there’s no way to know where the third door of the second carriage will be!” he writes.
His approach to the solution was decidedly DIY: Kruchten sat in the rear-most car on a westbound green-line train, riding from origin to terminus, and captured an iPhone video of the length of each platform at which the train stopped. He stitched together the frames of these videos, adjusting clipped and distorted images to account for the train’s acceleration. The result is something like a panoramic photograph of each platform.
The graphic has drawn attention from local and national news outlets. Kruchten tells CityLab he plans to apply his special treatment to the other 119 platforms across Montreal’s metro system, with the help of volunteers. There might even be a mobile app in the future. And he says that this is a replicable, and pretty useful, idea for other metros around the world. He writes in an email:
In general, I think any subway system that doesn't have clear indications on the platform of where the cars/doors line up could probably benefit from this type of map, be it photographic like I did or more schematic (i.e. symbols indicating the position of features like benches and stairs, to ease way-finding).
Also useful would be to link this kind of interior information to a map of the exterior, sort of like Google Maps has long been attempting with Indoor Maps.