How to ruin your life forever in one simple step…

…but feel awesome while doing so. Some of you have probably guessed – this is about computer games. Computer games that will ruin your life. In a good way! Actually, that’s next week’s post. So there’s something to look forwards to. I recommend getting a Steam account and clearing a lot of time on your schedule in advance.

Anyway, this week we’re going to return to Puftnarkel, our fictional country onto which we pile all the rubbish that I think of. It’s a giant landfill for my brain. Return flights now only 500 fictional dollars, delivered direct to me in cash. For inquiries, find the link in this sentence and follow it. Anyways, Puftnarkel. And in particular, the capital city Zark. It is currently a red dot on a map here. Let’s give it some character. Urban planning time.

(By the way, I recently went to New York for a week and have been consequently convinced that grid layouts are good. If you disagree, please leave an angry comment below .)

Firstly, let’s get a map of the area we have to build in. Zark is built at a place where three rivers meet in a small lake, with three large islands and a few dozen smaller ones. The three islands are the main population centres (think Manhattan), with more housing plus industrial areas on the lake shore.

Ignore the oddly coloured patches for now

Now, grids. Grids, grids, grids. I think that grids are good. Pythonguy thinks that grids are bad. I think that square grids are a gold standard in urban planning because of their usability, ease of navigation and simplicity. They are also easier to build in my city building simulator, to the degree that using square grids probably cut two weeks off the build time for the city.

That said, organic street design looks nicer both from the ground and from the air. But it is slower to build, harder to navigate and turns into gridlock at rush hour. So for those reasons, I try to avoid them. For Zark,

I went for a Chicago-style grid – large squares with smaller streets dividing it up. That means that traffic can flow smoothly around the outside, maximum use of the space is achieved and a network of one-way systems mean that you can avoid people using the space inside the squares as a shortcut. The system works well with basically any type of building, and if needed you can divert roads in order to fit in larger buildings. So that covers the intra-grid transport.

When I was trying to design the overall grid system, I started out way too complicated. I designed an elaborate one-way system that created vortices around the blocks, virtually eliminating all traffic and making the system a dream to use from the ground. Only then it broke, so I reverted to standard two-way roads. While it does have more traffic problems, it means that you don’t have to travel as far to find the block you want – and is much easier to build quickly.

Running through the city is a number of highway systems that run elevated over a roadway with a roundabout every few metres. Zark = Milton Keynes confirmed (a joke that only Brits from the Midlands will get, leave a like if you fall into that category).

These mainways (as they are now called that) divide the city into sections of residential, commercial, office and industrial area. The islands are largely residential, the areas where the highways roll into town are industrial and the rest is a mix of commercial, residential and office. The islands are connected by a network of ferries that run clockwise and anticlockwise around the lake, as well as all the other standard public transport stuff.

(Side note: The categories I’m using in the city might sound weird. That’s ‘cos the city builder simulator uses the categories high and low density residential, high and low density commercial, industrial and office as the six possible area types. All shall become clear next week.)

On that note, public transport. I’ve had the pleasure of navigating five different subway/metro/underground railway systems on two continents (London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and New York) which is enough for me to consider myself an expert on subway design. If you are a real expert and think that any of the following ideas are a load of bull, please leave a comment below with helpful suggestions.

The subway system is very similar to the road system – a square grid with a station every other square. This kind of subway is a lot more expensive that most all other systems (which flow outwards from a central zone) as it involves lots more tunnels, but gives much better coverage in the city centre. Obviously the outskirts wouldn’t be covered to this depth, but the number of lines does allow for more areas to be covered in the suburbs and the entire centre to be covered very comprehensively. A square grid of subway lines also allows for a very easy map. It is squared paper, with some of the lines coloured in.

There are also trains in the city – they run from the corners of the grid system, heading NW, NE, SE and SW. Each of these has two lines that service the areas of the suburbs that are in the blind spot of the grid system.

Now, New York has a very admirable feature on the subway – local and express trains. The local trains stop at every single stop, the express trains skip stops for a faster journey. The problem is that the express and local trains have individual numbers – the 1, 2, and 3 trains follow basically the same route through Manhattan but have seperate lines on the map. This makes it a pain in the arse to work out where you are going, as one stop can appear to be a block long if it has connections on all three lines.

So I have a solution. The express and local lines on the map for the train, subway and ferry are represented by one line. But on the ground, there is a difference. Here is my design for the symbols for the subway, ferry and train systems inside Zark.

These are the symbols for my subway system.

You might be a little confused by some of the symbols. That’s because the symbols are (reading left to right) capital letters, numbers, Cyrillic characters, Greek capital letters and Greek lower case letters. In the final design, the Cyrillic might be replaced with shapes – square, triangle, diamond, star and maybe hexagon.

The way that this system works is that the subway lines are coloured in the colour of the symbol with no outline. The ferry lines are all in blue. The train lines are similar colours, outlined in black. All of these look different on the map. But in the stations themselves, the symbols are either in black or white. The black lines are local, the white lines are express. On the map, the express and local lines are overlaid on each other but on the ground they are obviously different. Over the course of the day, the numbers of express and local trains can be varied to deal with commuters.

The last part of the system is buses. Within each 320 metre square, there is a bus system that carries people around the block and near the subways. There is almost no bus service between the squares, as they increase traffic.

Now, in the past, I might have given you some sketches of the city plan. But (if you think back to the start of the post), I have a better option. That’s next week. Hold on.

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