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The System Map is designed using
a geometric / diagrammatic style to incorporate Washington’s geographic landscape with all major rivers, parks and landmarks including the Beltway and county borders of Maryland and Virginia.
All rail lines are color-coded to tie in with all other way-finding graphics in the system.
A Time / Fare panel lists all Metro stations and displays estimated travel times and required fares for each currently operating station in the system.
The map was designed on a grid to accommodate the future expansion of the Metro system by adding additional lines.
Retained in 1974 by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to design and develop a Map program for the new subway system being constructed to serve Washington, DC and neighboring VA and MD.
To include a System map and related Neighborhood
maps for all stations in the system.
The original five Neighborhood Maps were designed to reflect the location of Metro rail service in that station area.
It provided patrons with information regarding Landmarks, Federal and Municipal buildings and other local features determined by WMATA.
Each map covers approximately 9 square miles. Station entry / exit points are included for each station.
Collecting data for each map and coordinating information with local jurisdictions was our responsibility.
A total of 33 Neighborhood Maps were completed between 1974 - 1991.
DC Metro station platform
A typical below grade Metro Station at platform level.
Men looking at the system map
System and Neighborhood maps are displayed adjacent to one another in a 7’ x 5’ light box on the mezzanine level.
They are updated as the system expands.
DC Metro System Map detail
The System Map incorporates a geographic profile of the downtown Washington area showing Parks, Rivers and icons of Landmark buildings on the National Mall.
DC Tidal Basin map detail
Each Neighborhood Map shows the actual path of each Metro line relative to the street grid and incorporates significant Landmarks and Buildings.
Station symbols
An additional graphic key defines transfer stations, open and future stations and which stations offer parking facilities. A Beltway indicator on the map also shows boundaries for MD and VA.
Index detail
An alpha-numeric grid around the Neighborhood map provides coordinates for an alphabetical listing at the bottom of each map showing all data noted for that specific Neighborhood Map.
National Mall map detail
Each Neighborhood Map incorporates an overlay with a “you are here” figure including walking time and distances from that particular station to points of interest. A drop-out-circle highlights that area of the neighborhood.
Very early marker map sketch
Early sketch for incorporating geographic information with a grid of the five rail lines.
Closeup of time and fare detail on map
As they become operational, System Maps display Time and Fare information for each color coded station in the system. Clear overlays are used to update information as it changes.
Very early marker map sketch
The System Map design had to retain its legibility in a variety of formats ranging from a 36” x 48” Mezzanine Map (backlit), to a 18” x 18” Train Map and a 6” x 6” Opening Day handout.
A smaller scale version of the System Map is displayed in all rail cars as an onboard Train Map.
It is also incorporated in Emergency Exit panels with all emergency instructions and procedures.
Prior to designing the 3 mile square Neighborhood Map, each jurisdiction was asked to submit prioritized data regarding Government buildings, other important buildings, public parks, recreation areas, shopping and retail areas plus bus and rail information including verification of streets and names. This data was then compiled to create the individual map serving that particular Metro Station. Initial map layouts were then re-submitted for jurisdiction approval.
Map data
Collected data from each Research Form was then noted on local tax maps.
DC Metro System Map Handout folder of system map
The initial handout map showing the first 6 operating stations in the system and it’s eventual network.
A standard Neighborhood Map format was established for all future maps. Over the time span needed to create 33 new Neighborhood Maps, we transitioned to the use of electronic media for generating production art for all future map iterations for Metro.

The 1991 Greenbelt, MD map is shown below.
Concept mockup of handout folder
A concept mock-up showing a pocket sized dollar bill format would accommodate the System Map and retain it’s legibility.
Neighborhood map research
Neighborhood map borders and rail lines
The five original neighborhood maps.
This composite shows the relationship of actual rail lines to the network covered by the Neighborhood Maps.
Aki sitting in front of map cutouts
The first generation of Neighborhood Maps were hand-cut in Rubylith, the standard masking material used at that time for creating film separations for silk screen production.
The advent of computers drastically changed the design and production of all future Metro maps.
Aki sitting in front of map cutouts
A page from Metro’s Graphic Standards Manual showing Massimo Vignelli’s initial diagram for a System Map.
Greenbelt Metro Station Neighborhood Map Greenbelt Metro Station closeup of station area Greenbelt Metro Station closeup of buidings detail
Detail showing the Station relative to streets and parking, including handicapped entries.
All building profiles include cast shadows to improve legibility.