Someone can always design a better subway map. (Image from Kickmap)
Among the subway literati, the map is always a hot topic of conversation. Unlike the standard Tube map or the WMATA map, the MTA’s subway map represents an effort to bring street-level reality to the cartography of the subway.
Again and again, MTA officials talk about how they like the subway map because it incorporates the city’s geography with that of the subway. Want to know how far it is from 10th Ave. to the 14th St. stop on the A, C or E? You can eyeball it with the current map.
Today, Gothamist sat down with Michael Hertz, the designer of the current map in use now for 30 years. The interview is great for people who love subway map minutiae (like I do). Hertz talks about designing the map within the limits of the geography of New York City.
The problems with putting the system on a map that has to fold into someone’s pocket are obvious. How do you cram all of the stops into Lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn while maintaining some semblance of geographical accuracy? How do you show the differences between daytime local service and express service while including a bit about nighttime service changes in a way that tourists and people not overly familiar with the subway system can understand?
During the course of the interview, Gothamist can’t help but ask Hertz the question about the map his replaced in the 1970s: the infamous Massimo Vignelli map that distorted New York City geography. Every now and then, the Vignelli map comes up in subway map discussion as it did in The Times last September. Hertz, while discussing the origins of the colors of the New York City subway lines, launches into the typical diatribe about Vignelli’s map that often concludes with a condemnation of a square representation of Central Park. While everyone knows Central Park isn’t square, to fit the subways on his map, Vigenlli made it square. No one liked that much.
Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite new map Kickmap – pictured above next to the current map – came up as well. Again, The Times comes into play as they introduced Kickmap to a wider audience in an article in April. Kickmap, designed by Eddie Jabbour, is a subway-centric map. While attempting to adhere to some level of geographical accuracy, Jabbour’s iteration attempts to highlight more subway information. He tries to show track routes and clearly-delineated express stops.
Hertz’s response to Kickmap: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Rightly so, he levels the same criticisms toward Kickmap as Vignelli’s map received in the 1970s. It doesn’t allow for easily understandable service changes, and it doesn’t help people place the subway within the context of the city at large.
The interview is quite interesting, and if you want to be overwhelmed with subway map trivia, check it out.
Meanwhile, it’s Friday afternoon, and the subway doesn’t help us understand the crazy service changes one bit. That’s where the MTA’s website comes in handy.
The N trains are running local from Manhattan into Brooklyn at all times. Manhattan-bound trains are running over the bridge from DeKalb to Canal this weekend.
For a full overview, check out the MTA’s list of weekend service changes. Safe travels this hot weekend.