Mapping Denver’s Lost Tram Lines

NYC artist Jake Berman has created a unique new map of Denver's (almost) forgotten 1933 tram system.

Courtesy Jake Berman

Ever wanted to see what Denver’s public transportation looked like almost 100 years ago? Now you can. Jake Berman, a NYC-based artist who creates maps of various cities’ lost transit systems, recently finished a project focused on Denver’s (nearly) forgotten tram lines of 1933. We chatted with Berman, whose work has been featured in The Guardian, Los Angeles Magazine, and dozens of other publications, about this unique creation.

What got you interested in making maps of lost subway and tram systems?
“I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and got really fed up one day while stuck in traffic. I wanted to know just why L.A. had such bad traffic, so I started doing some research. In the course of my reading, I found out that most American cities—including Denver—had extensive tram systems, but got rid of them after World War II and built highways instead. This fascinated me, and things snowballed from there.”

I see that you’re also a lawyer. Do you consider yourself an artist first and a lawyer second, or vice versa? How do you integrate those two passions?
“I really love being an attorney. Law is what I do in my day job, and art is what I do to relax. Surprisingly, the mapping project uses lots of the skills that I learned in law school. I rely on primary sources when preparing these maps, and it takes a lot of research skills to dig up the old maps, timetables, and engineering documents that I use.”

Courtesy Jake Berman

How do you make the maps?
“First, I do my research. This involves lots of different sources. Sometimes I’ll hit the jackpot and find an old map in the library that includes all the information that I’m looking for, but that’s not common. Then I’ll synthesize all my research into a working pen-and-paper sketch. Once that’s done, I use Adobe Illustrator to put it all together.”

How do you find the information you need?
“A lot of archival research. Old tourist guides are some of the most useful things for me, since they include detailed route and service information that transit companies wouldn’t necessarily provide. As for the systems that never left the drawing board, most of the time these plans are just gathering dust in the library. I actually have a copy in my living room of the RTD’s plan to build a Jetsons-esque pod car system which got shelved when Denverites revolted against hosting the 1976 Olympics.”

Courtesy Jake Berman

You can see all of Berman’s maps on his website.