We recently moved to Rohnert Park, a small (north of San Francisco) community of roughly 41,000 people.

I love it here. The town is bikeable and walkable. By bike, I can get to the local grocery store in less than 10 minutes and to my bank in less than 15.

And in less than 20, I can walk to Cotati’s newest SMART train station.


SMART Train at the Rohnert Park train station 6-29-2017

The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (or SMART) started special service this summer, transporting folks from Santa Rosa to San Rafael. Though a start date for full, regular service has yet to be announced, if you were lucky, you might have managed to snag a ride during one of SMART’s free ride days.

On the first day SMART was open to the public, I wasn’t so lucky. But I still wanted to take the ride down to San Rafael. So, I decided to do it virtually – via a map.

Go ahead – click on it! You know you want to…

Of course, I had to add some spatial analysis and data.

Using both ArcMap Desktop and ArcGIS Online geoprocessing tools, I determined a (driveable) 5 minute service area around each currently-to-be-opened station and then added some basic demographic data to those areas (shown in green blobs, dark shades indicate a larger population served).

The summary tab at the bottom tallies the total potential population served (within 5 minutes of each station), the average household income of that population, and averages the population diversity index (the larger the number, the more likely two random folks are not of the same race).

Feel free to zoom in and explore the map. It’s interesting (to me, at least) to see the difference of service areas surrounding each station. For example, Rohnert Park’s 5 minute service area is smaller than Cotati’s (presumably because it’s faster to get around Cotati than Rohnert Park). This leads to a lower population served by Rohnert Park (9,873 people) versus Cotati (29,449 people) even though they are only 4 minutes (1.24 miles) apart.

Some thing tells me the Cotati train station might be more popular than Rohnert Park’s station.

Until we all get a chance to ride the train, what other insights might you find on this map?



If you hang out on LinkedIn or any other social media platform, you’ve seen them: infographics – an amalgamation of graphics and text that tells a story or delivers a witty message.

Here’s one you might mistaken for a map:

Boulder is for Fun Map/Infographic

This example definitely tends more towards an infographic rather than a map:

Benefits of Regulated Marijuana

As a GIS Specialist, I don’t often think of my maps as “infographics”, but, essentially, that’s what they are. If I am more careful with my map designs, I might be able to convey more information than just want’s on the map.

Recently, I needed a map to convey the evolution of national and local fire planning policies and plans. Rather than try to color-code temporal data on a single map, I created a timeline:

While simple and not as elegant as the previous examples, it conveys some dense information clearly.

Show Off

I don’t often get a chance to showcase my work.

As a consultant, much of what I do is confidential. However, at times, I get the opportunity to work for a non-profit or on a public project, and that means I can share.


Recently, I was approached by Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR), to create a few maps of the planned timber harvests adjacent to the river in northern Sonoma County, California. The challenge was to quickly and effectively show the currently planned logging areas with those that had been conducted in prior years.

The maps that accompanied the timber harvest plans looked something like this:

Portion of original timber harvest plan map (courtesy of CDF, 2014).
Portion of original timber harvest plan map (courtesy of CDF, 2014).

Serviceable, for sure, but the maps had a lot of data, were very hard to read, and it was difficult to determine context.

So, I was asked to take just a few key components of the map, and create something more visually appealing, and give a better sense of where the units were in relation to a seaside community and adjacent parks.

Here’s the result (you can click on it for a bigger version):

Created for FoGR, DMS, 2015.
Created for FoGR, DMS, 2015.

To be fair, I didn’t have to include as much information as the original map. The focus was to highlight the adjacent community and provide an aerial for context. Everything else was disregarded. I think it looks alright. What do you think? What would you have done differently?

To see more, visit FoGR’s post on the project.

Airports and Trails

Another project I recently got a chance to work on were the trail development options at the Truckee Airport District in Truckee, California.

Truckee Airport Trail Option map, DMS, 2015.
Truckee Airport Trail Option map, DMS, 2015.

The goal of this map was to show the trail development options in relation to the surrounding trail system and possible connection points.

Neither of these project were technically challenging, but it was nice to just create something that met my clients’ needs and I could share.

Story Maps for All

While I appreciate a well-designed paper map, there’s no denying that most folks hangout in the internet more often than not and rarely do we print stuff out anymore. So, why not do the same for our maps?

For the two projects above, I create two simple ESRI Story Maps:

  1. Gualala River – Proposed Timber Harvest Plans
  2. Truckee Airport District Trail Development Options

Story maps are interactive maps that use narrative (and sometimes pictures) along with a map to highlight a problem or solution. While I didn’t use the Story Maps to their full-potential, I hope from these simple examples you can get a glimpse of their potential.

If you would like to see more cool maps, check out the Interactive Web Maps link list to the right (if you’re on a desktop) or scroll down to the bottom of the page (if you’re mobile).

The Fourth Part of the World

Today’s post will be a departure from my usual content. Below, I offer a book review on an historical map. While it may not seem relevant, I believe history is important, and history about maps even more so. Read on to learn more about the map that named half of the world.


The Fourth Part of the World, The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map that Gave America Its Name by Toby Lester

The Fourth Part (my abbreviation for that long title) is a hefty tome.  At 462 pages (hardback edition – yes, it’s worth it), including an index and notes, one might think a book so long about one map would be a slog to get through. But Toby Lester easily engages the reader by bringing the European Middle Ages to life.

The author starts the book with a preface that details why he started on a quest to research the Waldseemuller world map of 1507.

$10 million.  (It’s always about money, isn’t it?)

In 2003, the Library of Congress had just purchased the Waldseemuller map for $10 million dollars, 2 million more than the original copy of the Declaration of Independence. This fact piqued Toby Lester’s interest and six years later, he produced The Fourth Part.

The Fourth Part is divided into three parts: Part One, Old World; Part Two, New World; and Part Three, The Whole World. It also includes a Prologue, Epilogue, and an Appendix along with Notes and an Index.

Part One – Old World

In this section, Mr. Lester delves into the mindset of the early Medieval scholar. Their religious view of the world told them that the world consisted of three parts only – Asia, Africa, and Europe. They based much of their geographic knowledge of the world on what the Bible taught or alluded to. This lead to representations of the world that were rather limited and did not take into account knowledge gathered outside of their religious texts. However, just because those religious scholars might not have wanted to know anything beyond the bounds of the world set out in their religious texts, the world has a way of making itself known.

In the mid 13th century, the Great Khan Guyuk (widely known as Genphis Khan) announced to the western world (Europe):

Through the power of God all empires from sunrise to sunset have been given to us, and we own them.

What a surprising and frightening proclamation! Ultimately, the Mongol empire building efforts, along with the numerous Crusades to win back Jerusalem, led to more geographic information circulating among the European scholars.

Monks were sent to parley and Christianize the Mongols. Though they did not succeed in that venture, they did bring back cultural and geographical details that helped flesh out European’s sense of the world. Still, their view of the world consisted of T-O maps and mappamundi – rather poor representations of the world that excluded at least half of it.

It’s easy for us to look back and scoff at the inadequate maps that were produced in Europe before the 14th century. It’s easy to forget that most people were illiterate. Merchants and travelers didn’t have the benefit of a travel guide, nor were they able to produce one with their own knowledge because they didn’t have the skills or means to do so. What geographic information they gathered, it mostly stayed int heir heads.

The Christian monks that produced maps and cosmology (geography) texts at the time worked with the best knowledge available to them, but they were bereft of the great secular knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Roman Latins. Much of their knowledge of the world’s geography was more accurate, but it was lost to Europe’s Catholics (who were the keeper of knowledge at that time).

Example of a mappamundi. Click on the image above to see more.

Part Two – New World

In this section, the author chronicles the efforts of the great Genoese and Florentine mariners at rediscovering the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the 14th century, surprisingly detailed and accurate marine charts of Europe and North Africa emerged. Europeans also rediscovered Ptolemy and other Greek texts that helped piece the larger world together. With Portugal and Spain’s drive to reach India (as their overland routes were hampered by the Muslims taking control over the entire Middle East), maps of the known world were improved, and the thought of sailing west gripped explorers. So they did.

Part Two is the largest section in The Fourth Part, and contain the most fascinating tales. Any summary of mine will do it injustice. So, I’ll leave you with this quote from the book:

Just as one thing leads to another and starts a train of thought, while he was in Portugal [my father] began to speculate that just as the Portuguese had sailed so far south, it should be possible to sail as far west, and to find land in that direction. – Ferdinand Columbus (circa 1538)

This was the great age of discovery. When maps and the information they held started and decided wars, when the slave trade fed European’s insatiable hunger for more goods, and when there was a rivalry between nations at a fervor. It was only a matter of time before something earth-shattering would happen.

Part Three – The Whole World

The last part of the book, Mr. Lester explains how Walter Lud, Matthias Ringmann, and Martin Waldseemuller, all cartographers, came across one of Amerigo Vespucci’s letters that detailed his explorations of the New World. Though that letter was a fake, the three scholars and map makers didn’t know that at the time. They took it, and the information it offered, at face value. Together they created a “curious little book” titled Cosmographiae introductio (1507). This little book included a huge map (the largest known map to have been produced at the time), and it just so happened to haphazardly name the New World – America.

What struck me most while reading The Fourth Part is how religion has played such a huge role in our political, social, and geographic history. Of course, I already knew that. Anyone with any sort of education can see religion’s stamp on just about everything, but the author presents the motives (both religious and otherwise) behind the map makers and explorers in a manner that drives that fact home.

Conclusion? I can’t recommend this book enough. If you want a well-researched, yet concise, summary of the events that led up to the discovery of the New World – the fourth part of the world – then this is the perfect book for you. If you have any interest in history and/or maps, this is also a must read.

Mappy Hour

The other night, I participated in the North Bay’s first Mappy Hour, a social event designed to bring together GIS and map enthusiasts. The event was hosted by Griffin Map Design in his store/studio in Petaluma, California. We got to talk about maps without having to talk about work  – what a concept!


As a group, we explored interesting things we could do to bring prominence to maps and stories of place. I’m not entirely sure where Mappy Hour will lead us, but where ever it is, I’m sure it will be interesting. The event did get me thinking about how I could incorporate more art into my work.

The group also got a chance to peruse the maps and cartographic fusion with art Griffin Map Design offers for sale. I bought a wonderful print of the State of California that features oak leaves as well as a bag with a bike/world map collage.


We also talked about books. I know, not nearly as exciting as maps, but books about maps? What more could you ask for? I actually have quite a few books on maps. When I have time, I’ll post a few book reviews.

Overall, Mappy Hour was a great opportunity to see how maps can be used in creative ways to communicate information about a place that isn’t easily quantifiable. As GIS professionals and in this digital age, we forget that physical maps and cartographic representations have a long history of playing a key role in not only depicting the places we live in, but shaping our perceptions of them as well.

Bird’s Eye View of San Francisco, c1876 by SF Snow & May. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Back when the Golden Gate was just that, a gate with no Golden Gate ‘Bridge’.

Here’s to many more Mappy Hours.