A new look

Published: 27 February 2020

After 18 years, we're experimenting with a new look for the Motorway Database's famous exit lists. It's a big change - but not one made lightly.

Take a look at the M3's page for a sample of the future. All its graphics have been completely redrawn and - aside from the fact they've all been checked and some minor inaccuracies have been fixed - you'll find two differences compared to the old ones.

1. They're bigger and clearer

Ahh, that's better, isn't it? The colours are a bit bolder and easier to distinguish and the images themselves are bigger on the page. It's easier to make out the path of sliproads in complex junctions because the drawing style is much neater. Lovely.

2. They're vector graphics

This is the real change. Vector graphics are made up of lines and shapes, not individual pixels, and they can be scaled up to any size you like. If you're using a phone or tablet, try pinching to zoom in on them - you'll see they scale up without becoming blocky, so you can get closer in for a more detailed view.

To make it even more obvious, this comparison puts one of the new diagrams side-by-side with its counterpart that was originally drawn in 2002.

Old graphic New graphic
Old whirlpool graphic New whirlpool graphic
Old M3 J4 graphic New M3 J4 graphic
Old M3 J14 graphic New M3 J14 graphic

Why the change?

The Motorway Database has been a fixture of this website since the very beginning in 2001. Graphical exit lists or strip maps, one of the things the Database is known for, first appeared on 15 March 2002 when the M18 was blessed with one. (I've no idea why the M18 was first. It was a long time ago.)

That means I've been producing those little junction diagrams, stringing them together and periodically updating them for about 18 years. And for a long time now, that's been an absolute headache. Let me explain.

Back in 2001, when this website first started, I used a graphics package called Paint Shop Pro. It was pretty up to date and it ran beautifully on my Windows 98 PC. I used it for all the website images, and when I started producing exit lists, I used its thrillingly advanced vector drawing tools.

All those little diagrams have to match. Some appear dozens of times across different route maps; others have to be redrawn when a layout changes and slotted in seamlessly among other graphics made years previously. Unfortunately, producing graphics that match can only really be done by using the same software. (Believe me, I've tried. Faking it is so dazzlingly time-consuming that it’s never been worthwhile.)

Paint Shop Pro in action - back when it was still in action. Click to enlarge

Paint Shop Pro in action - back when it was still in action. Click to enlarge

Here we are, then, 18 years later, and my faithful old copy of Paint Shop Pro 7 - released in 2000 - has been running on a virtual Windows desktop emulated on my Mac. The graphics software has been past its sell-by date for years, but now the emulator is also past its sell-by date, unsupported and refusing to run. This is why no changes have been made to the Motorway Database for months - I literally can't update the old graphics any more. The A14's exit list, for example, still embarassingly shows its old route between Cambridge and Huntingdon, even though the layout completely changed months ago.

One solution would be to find a way to run Paint Shop Pro again and yes, that could be done. But it really is getting silly now. Much better to take the opportunity to make new graphics in a modern software package that are up to date. So that is what I'm doing.

What happens now?

We're about to enter a (potentially very long) transition period where, one by one, all the routes in the Motorway Database have new graphics drawn for them. It won't be quick because that is a lot of graphics - more than 1,500.

The priority will be routes that need an existing graphic to be changed. In between, as time allows, I'll tackle the rest.

And in the meantime, I would welcome your views on the new graphics below, and any feedback you might have on what would make them better before I make a start on creating the other 1,490 of them.

Comments

Jack Kirby 27 February 2020

A big 'oooh' from me. Having some involvement with digital preservation at work, I think you're right to make the switch.

Patrickov 28 February 2020

Surely this site keeps on giving. Respect.

Stevie D 28 February 2020

That's a great new look – works a treat on desktop and mobile 👍🏻

Jon 28 February 2020

I think it’s great!

Douglas 29 February 2020

Great improvement. I have no doubt this will be a huge amount of work, but it will make a large difference.

Once you have completely mastered vector graphics, you could think of turning your attention to the motorway chronology maps. These would benefit from being zoomable and from extending the time range beyond 2013. There have, after all, been a few motorway sections opened since then.

David Meldrum 1 March 2020

I’m not great on computers, but is there a way you could “ delegate the updates “ to volunteers on here, to take the workload off yourself
Let’s face it , most of us are geeks lol

I love the way people say have you thought about updating the blah de blah part of your website. Clearly, having lost track of the fact that this is not a source of current information, but is a celebration of tarmac et al

John R 3 March 2020

Bit hurt that you've chopped off the end of the M3. Chilworth is the end of the A/B carriageways, after all!

He hasn't chopped it off, he's extended it!

In reality the M3 ends where the A27 (and Winchester Road) merge in, immediately north of the M27 - as correctly represented on the old diagram.

The new diagram shows the M3 extending to cross the M27, which is not correct.

(Other than that the new diagrams are great, well done Chris)

ChrisF 8 March 2020

The move to vector sound sensible and looks good. Not sure what software your using, but on a mac I use QGIS for mapping and drawing. QGIS is open source. It can use shapefile. The OS have an opensource shapefile mapping, with includes the roads network - called OS Open Roads. You should be able to cut'n paste the actual road junctions and then tweak them into your schematic format.

Brilliant website. Many thanks.

Terry Trumpets 20 March 2020

Cracking stuff - I can only admire your work ethic and the sheer scale of your commitment!
There's just one thing that's bugged me about the Motorway Database, and it's probably an historic hangover: would it be worth listing death traps with right-angled sliproads - sorry, 'parclos' - as a junction type in their own right, rather than as 'non-standard interchanges'? Much like the other junction types listed in the Interchanges section they're geometrically distinct, and besides being a characteristic feature of vintage motorways, they're also endemic on A14 / A55 / A1 in the East Midlands, not to mention motorways in rural Germany, rural eastern Europe and much of the USA.

NickK 30 March 2020

Great. But yet another reason not to use Internet Explorer 11 as many of the junctions don't join up. Must stick with Firefox...

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