In the morning the city Spreads its wings Making a song In stone that sings.
In the evening the city Goes to bed Hanging lights About its head. - Langston Hughes
How to navigate a city? Let me count the ways. In some cities, there are many more ways than others. Generally speaking, East Coast cities have more and better modes of transport than West Coast ones.
In Baltimore, for example, city officials are getting ready for the inaugural run of the Charm City Circulator (see routes mapped above), modeled after DC's Circulator, which is mainly a way to get tourists around the city and locals out of their cars. I look at this as just another navigation system, in addition to Baltimore's light rail and subway systems (yes, Baltimore has a subway). Another affordance or control, if you will, that tells the urban user that this city can be navigated pretty easily without a car. Not as easy as DC or New York, but more readily than Seattle.
This is Sound Transit's proposed light rail system. The first segment started running this summer. As anyone who knows me even barely can attest, I love Seattle. To me, it's pretty much the perfect city in every aspect except for the weather. And, okay, and maybe the public transportation.
Anyway, I look at these navigation systems and am fascinated, veiwing them through my interaction design lens. If the city is an interface the way we define digital ones, what are public transportation systems analogous to? Search engines? Global nav bars? They help us get around, and find the stuff we need. Which leads me to question, what is the pattern library of a city? Were I to develop an urban pattern library, what would it contain? How many distinct elements would there be? And how would these elements map to patterns we find in other design systems?
I would also point out the ways each system is presented in terms of information design. The Seattle map is much more clear in terms of really highlighting the routes from point A to point B. The context of the Baltimore version is helpful to a point, but overall, it's visually overwhelming and distinctions between land and water are hard to make. In short, it needs some Tufte and Swiss Modernism.