Feb
08

Subway map battles heating up

By · Published in 2007

Any subway aficionado looking to get around the city quickly has long known about onNYTurf.com’s Google Map mash-up of the Subways and the PATH train. The popular site receivers over 2000 hits daily and has been the best source for all your directional needs and one of the most visually appealing Google mash ups around. Offering a wide-screen bird’s-eye view of New York City with the subway map overlaid on the grid, Will’s map is great for those times when you have to visualize your trip from Bay Ridge to the Bronx, from Forest Hills to Fourteenth Street.

But now there’s a competitor. Last week, John Campbell unveiled his own Google Maps subway map at GypsyMaps. While not related to Gypsies, Campbell’s map features the subways, the buses and directions.

For transit buffs, these two sites are A Very Big Deal. More user-friendly than HopStop and much more visually attractive, these maps are natural competitors. Let’s find out which one comes out the winner in some head-to-head contests.

Visual Appeal

At onNYTurf, the subway map fills up your screen. Except for a 150-pixel wide column on the right side, the entire screen shows as much of the city as will fit on your computer monitor. GypsyMaps gives nearly 300 pixels over to the directions box. The subway map seems cramped especially on high zoom. Edge: onNYTurf

Google Maps Integration

For those among us who like extreme zoom, onNYTurf again takes the cake. GypsyMaps offers up five levels of zoom from Very Far Away to Quite Up-Close. While these zoom levels give you all the info you want, onNYTurf goes one better. Their sixth level of zoom reveals some very important information: the locations of all of the exits and entrances in all of the stops in Manhattan (with plans to expand these feature into the other boroughs on deck). With onNYTurf, you know exactly where to stand at your home platform to minimize your walking once you arrive at your (Manhattan-based) destination. onNYTurf also allows useres to set favorite locations around the city and promote your events too. You must be a registered user to enable this feature, but registration is free. The personal integration here is great. Edge: onNYTurf

Getting Around Town

onNYTurf is a map for New Yorkers. You put in just one piece of information — where you’re going, where you’re starting from — and then you have to do the rest. Use your knowledge of the city and the subways to figure out the best route. Clearly, it doesn’t make sense to take the Q at 7th Ave. in Park Slope if you’re at 7th St and 8th Ave. with the F a few blocks away. Tough luck if you don’t know anything about the subways. This is New York. Learn it. (Of course, you can use your favorites to mark a location and refer back to it. But that’s a do-it-yourself, New Yorker-style way of directing yourself around the city. It’s my preferred method, but it’s not for everyone.)

But if you don’t know anything about the vagaries of the IND, BMT and IRT, then GypsyMaps can walk you through the process. It gives directions. Put in your starting point and your ending point, pick whether you want to minimize walking (like when it’s 15 degrees out) or minimize your time on the subway, and you’ll get detailed instructions. As an added bonus, GypsyMaps also features the hard-to-comprehend New York City bus routes. While those directions are forthcoming, just having a visualization of the bus routes is often helpful because God knows who can figure those route maps in the outer boroughs. Or the M14A and M14D for that matter.

onNYTurf’s Will has long maintained his stance on directions: They “suck, are annoying, misleading, and generally useless.” But GypsyMaps provides them, and they can be useful if taken with a grain of salt. The map integrates the various MTA schedules — whatever those are worth — depending upon the time of day, and using the provided directions with some common sense (don’t take the E to the 7 to get to Shea Stadium as the map suggests) can get you everywhere. Edge: GypsyMaps

Urban Integration

In other words, which map gives you more of the stuff inside the city? Well, Will at onNYTurf does a fantastic job with his blog. The political commentary is crisp, and he has some fantastic maps and images of urban expansion projects such as the controversial Atlantic Yards plan and the controversial new Yankee Stadium. Good stuff if you’re a city politics buff.

On the other hand, at GypsyMaps, you get none of the commentary but an integrated Google search. Want to know where in the neighborhood are the nearest Starbucks? Well, then just look out the window. Or use the “Find a Business” tab to search for Starbucks. The results will display around the active area of the map. You can search for generic terms (Chinese restaurant) or specific terms (Joe’s Shanghai) and receive a visual display of the business locations.

I love the writing on New York politics, and onNYTurf is in my RSS reader. But for map usefulness, GyspyMaps takes this one as well. Edge: GyspyMaps

Final Comments

So, ah, unintentionally, it’s a tie. I love both maps. Each of them has its plusses and minuses, and each can be quite useful in planning your trips around the city. It is important though to realize that the directions on GypsyMaps seem to be very good approximations but approximations nonetheless. For example, the map tells me to go from my apartment in Park Slope to work in Chelsea by taking three trains and walking quite a bit. I do that commute on two trains in less time and by walking little. GypsyMaps also recommends taking two trains to get to Shea Stadium if you’re starting out on the Far West Side. No one would ever do that.

Furthermore, GypsyMaps doesn’t have integrated walking directions. The walking directions take you in a straight line from the stop to your destination, buildings, streets and bodies of water be damned. But that’s a minor quibble. Anyone taking the subway in New York in the first place should be able to get from their final stop to the ultimate destination.

Having two maps now competing, albeit in a friendly way, against each other is good for us. Maybe GypsyMaps will spur on the arrival of exit and entrance information in the outer boroughs onNYTurf. Maybe the established presence of onNYTurf will spur on some more detailed info on GypsyMaps and slightly more accurate traveling directions.

Have fun with these maps. It’s a blast seeing what you can do with one and not the other and vice versa.



Categories : Subway Maps

6 Responses to “Subway map battles heating up”

  1. Will says:

    “MTA Schedule” – I almost peed myself!

  2. Victoria says:

    interesting post, i’ll have to check both of these out!

  3. metstotop333 says:

    Good comparison, very interesting. I do have one question though. Why is taking the E to the 7 to get to Shea a bad idea? I mean, if you can bypass all the pre-Roosevelt Ave. Queens stops, technically it’s faster. Just wondering.

  4. Well, the reason I was critical of that direction was because of the starting point. I pegged my starting point at 10th Ave and 42nd St. It said that the walk to the E was closer because the subway map has the 7 starting closer to 7th Ave than to 8th. In reality, it’s hardly that much further from 10th Ave and 42nd St than the E is. When you factor in the walking distance at the transfer – something that GypsyMaps did not consider – that extra distance at the start becomes moot.

    Furthermore, the E and 7 both make four stops before the transfer point in Queens. So you don’t save time on that end. And E service is slower and less frequent than the 7 service. In the end, you’re better off getting on the 7 at Times Square, hoping for a seat and a more direct ride without the hassle of a transfer at a very busy station before the crowd thins at Roosevelt Ave.

  5. metstotop333 says:

    Ah, I see now. Okay, I was looking at it from 86th and Lex. But you’re right, the E is rather slow/unpredictable. Thanks for the clarification.

  6. emma says:

    i found your blog through a google search for “onnyturf”. that site has been down for a few days and gypsy maps has been down for months. do you have any inside scoop on these sites? have they just taken down their pages due to google’s new transit overlay on google maps?

    i really loved onnyturf for showing the entrances and exits on the closest zoom and would be very sad to see it gone forever..

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