Check out Daniel P. Huffman’s interpretation of the Mississippi River system, designed in the style of the contemporary transit map. Of course, you are missing the delightful organic twists and turns, but clarity is gained, and it’s all pointing towards New Orleans. I grew up on the St. Croix River, and crossed the Mississippi nearly every single day as an undergrad, as it divided the campus of the University of Minnesota. When I was in grad school, I crossed the Iowa River daily, which divided the campus of the University of Iowa. And though it isn’t pictured on this map (because it runs north into Lake Michigan), I find it continually amusing that I cross the Fox River not once, but twice to get to work each day.
There is something very powerful about a river. They are complex, living things–and they draw a beautiful line, however you choose to interpret it. Boundary, navigational system, watershed….
Huffman is a lecturer on cartography at UW Madison, and has this to say about the project:
Rivers have been a key part of urban life for centuries. They have provided us with drinking water, protection, and a transit network that links us from one settlement to the next. I wanted to create a series of maps that gives people a new way to look at rivers: a much more modern, urban type of portrayal. So I turned to the style of urban transit maps pioneered by Harry Beck in the 1930s for the London Underground. Straight lines, 45º angles, simple geometry. The result is more of an abstract network representation than you would find on most maps, but it’s also a lot more fun. The geography is intentionally distorted to clarify relationships. I think it helps translate the sort of visual language of nature into a more engineered one, putting the organic in more constructed terms. Not every line depicted is navigable, but all are important to the hydrological systems shown.