Study: Subway maps trump reality for most commuters

05/24/2011 | Greater Greater Washington (Washington, D.C.)

Maps with distorted geographies, such as those used by many mass-transit systems, may actually skew the way travelers perceive the world around them, according to a recent study. Researchers found that when using stylized subway maps, people tend to calculate routes based on the distance between two points on the map, rather than on their own first-hand knowledge of the actual distance between the two locations. "The question for mapmakers is, when is it more valuable to make a schematic map simple and understandable, and when does the way it distorts people's own mental maps of the area outweigh the benefit?" writes David Alpert.

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