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The Economics of Maps [pdf] (aeaweb.org)
89 points by benbreen 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments





That's kind of an interesting footnote:

> We are grateful to Enrico Moretti

If I'm not mistaken, that's the same Enrico Moretti who wrote The New Geography of Jobs, which is a fascinating look at the economics of cities that are trying to attract jobs, as well as a paper on how zoning restrictions cost the US economy billions of dollars a year by keeping people out of productive places.


Really interesting. I saw it mentions about distorting distances in the tube. I always wondered why is important to know the distance while being in a metro. I know where I'm supposed to go and as long as it's not my first time travelling I also know how much time it will take. In my opinion the distance (in km) between stops it's irrelevant. Time is of the essence

Metro maps are optimized for finding your way from one metro station to another. But what I really want is to go from one physical location to another, and that is made more difficult because those distorted metro maps don't map very well to the physical layout of the area. It's often difficult to see how the metro stations correspond to physical locations, and therefore not straightforward to find out the best total route (i.e. including walking from starting point to metro station, metro, walk from metro to destination, possibly other transportation options).

Edit: Tom Scott has a video (somewhat theatrically titled "Lies on the London Underground") that highlights some peculiarities of the London Underground, some of which are (partly) caused by the non-geographic nature of the maps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrHRQSm6LIs


Subway maps are optimized for taking the subway. Which, yes, especially in a city core with multiple lines may mean they don't really tell you that a trip taking you through two transfers is only about a three block walk.

But, if what you really care about the physical locations, there are tons of other maps that you can use. Subway maps try to preserve some correspondence to the physical world but that's not their primary function.


Nowadays it's not as big a deal because maps are often used just to check the order of stations on a line or whatever, but if you're actually planning a journey without using an app, it's useful to know that Finchley Road and Hampstead stations are about 15 mins walk apart despite having a huge gap between them on the tube map.

Otherwise you end up going all the way in and out of town and missing the lovely views, or waiting 10 mins for an overground train when you could have basically been there by now.


You probably don't remember every segment of every line in a city metro. In metro, distance roughly equals travel time, so when you're staring at a map and picking a route, that would be very relevant information to know.

Please rename the link to "The Economics of Maps (PDF)"



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