Home Service Advisories The return of Vignelli with a weekend twist

The return of Vignelli with a weekend twist

by Benjamin Kabak

Transit's new Weekender offering provides an interactive, online solution to charting weekend service changes.

Over 30 years after being unceremoniously dumped in the face of extreme public outrage, the Massimo Vignelli subway map is making its triumphant return to the MTA this weekend. This map, repurposed to solve a problem that has vexed the authority for years, won’t be hanging in stations or cars, and in fact, it won’t be available in any physical form. Rather, the MTA will use it as a weekend landing page to offer straphangers a visual, interactive glimpse at the complicated array of service changes that often leave riders more confused than they should be.

The idea is a simple one. In fact, it’s a service Subway Weekender has been offering for years. By providing a visual representation of service changes instead of the jumbled syntax of the weekly postings, Transit can better prepare its customers for weekend headaches. The service, termed the Weekender, will launch later today at approximately 3 p.m. and will be the landing page for MTA.info until shortly before Monday’s morning rush. It is, according to Transit, very much a work in progress, and the MTA will look for rider feedback as it improves this much-needed offering.

Michael Grynbaum of The Times got the scoop on this project, and he offered up a wealth of details:

The stylish digital map will be customized each weekend to reflect the myriad service changes that regularly bedevil straphangers on Saturdays and Sundays. Currently, rerouted lines and shut stations are noted only in stiffly written prose that sometimes compound riders’ confusion. The interactive map is searchable by line, borough and station, and it flags trouble spots with blinking lights. Click, and the site will reveal a rundown of what woe awaits, whether a closed platform or an unexpected station stop. …

The Weekender does not redraw the usual map so much as annotate it. The A train, for instance, has an irritating habit of running along part of the F line on weekends. But the map, rather than repositioning the A’s blue trail onto the orange F route, simply flags the bypassed stations and offers a written explanation. (Officials said a more dynamic map would be logistically difficult to execute.)

Still, the online map has appealing features, including a line-by-line view, which highlights, in vibrant colors, the entire length of an individual subway route while fading out the others, like pulling a strand of spaghetti from a knotty pasta. Riders can quickly find out about changes on their own route while ignoring the rest. The site also allows users to toggle between the subway diagram and detailed neighborhood maps, which list local attractions.

“The idea here,” Margarte Coffey, a Transit official said to The Times, “was: ‘How do you show people at a glance what’s really happening?’ You’ve got this comprehensive poster that says all that is happening this weekend, but you still have to stand there with a map to be able to figure it out.”

Recently, the MTA’s growing weekend ridership has dominated headlines, and with it, weekend travel has come under the microscope. The City and State Comptrollers released a largely clueless report on weekend work that did manage to highlight the MTA’s information deficiencies, and this is a start. Plus, it returns Vignelli’s map, with updated colors, to the public eye. That’s bound to be good for some long arguments over design and functionality.

For now, the situation underground isn’t going to improve. Service changes will come and go as work continues, but the MTA is trying to make it easier for us to know how to get around during the weekend. And knowing is half the battle.

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Alex C September 16, 2011 - 1:28 am

Wow. That actually looks pretty awesome. Good job to whoever brought this up. And I do prefer this map style.

Benjamin Kabak September 16, 2011 - 1:30 am

I’m very curious to try it. I couldn’t take the MTA up on their offer to test-run it at HQ yesterday because my real job was pretty busy, but later today, I’ll give it a whirl.

Marc Shepherd September 16, 2011 - 8:57 am

If this is successful, I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the official map one of these days. Long term, it doesn’t make sense to have one map style on weekdays and another on weekends.

It looks like some of the sillier geographic mistakes of the Vignelli map have been rectified, and that’s also a plus.

Eric September 16, 2011 - 9:14 am

My thought exactly. This seems like a great, albeit bizarre, idea. Why use the Vignelli map and not the official one?

ferryboi September 16, 2011 - 9:19 am

Because even the MTA can see that the official map is an awful mess that confuses even native NYers, never mind the poor tourists who can’t tell which end is up (literally, I see them holding the map upside down all the time =)

Scott E September 16, 2011 - 9:28 am

The original map is good for showing trunk lines, but awful at showing skipped stations or local/express stops; they’re just listed in the jumble of letters that follow the (diagonal) stop name.

Bolwerk September 16, 2011 - 3:37 pm

What Scott E said, mostly. The official map is probably the right choice for showing complete service, but there is no way to to convey how service changes affect the system with it. A schematic is the right choice to do that.

I don’t see a big problem with local/express service differentiation, except maybe it can be confusing that what is express in one place might be local in another (e.g., E Train).

Brewster September 16, 2011 - 10:36 am

True indeed. Also, it has Hertz and Associates’ coloration, modified to show service changes, rather than Vignelli’s day-glo soup.

Kid Twist September 16, 2011 - 10:55 am

The “day-glo soup” was introduced on the 1967 map. Vignelli worked with what he was given.

ferryboi September 16, 2011 - 8:22 am

Awesome! Now if we can get the MTA to switch to this map permanently, and print up a few million copies, that’d be sweet.

Kevin September 16, 2011 - 8:28 am

Is it just me or is there an error in this map? It shows that Q trains are skipping 49th street and tell you to take the N/R for service to 49th. However, both the N and R are have 49th Street whited out to indicate they’re not stopping there. Something is not adding up here.

ferryboi September 16, 2011 - 8:52 am

And under “planned work” they call 42nd St “Time Sq” LOL. Keep in mind this is just an example of what the map will look like, not a live version of the map. One would hope these mistakes will not be on the live version.

Samuel Wong September 16, 2011 - 10:53 am

It does seem like a poster mistake. I’ve noticed this mistake on one of the notices a while back. This might have been the screenshot of the pilot during that time.

We’ll wait and see.

ferryboi September 16, 2011 - 11:01 am

I’m hoping they’ll list trains by division (IRT, IND, BMT) but that’s probably a pipe dream. Oh well…

Samuel Wong September 16, 2011 - 4:03 pm

Hahha I wish! Only a select few will understand it. Even fewer understand the CI line descriptors (Sea Beach, West End, Culver and Brighton)

Kai B September 17, 2011 - 1:54 pm

This is a relatively recent phenomena, however. Probably everyone over 40 that has lived here all their lives still remembers when line names were used in the common vernacular.

I personally cringe when people call the lines by colors, yet I hear it all the time. Not just tourists either. People that have moved here in the last couple years do it as well.

Bgriff September 16, 2011 - 8:34 am

This may be useful but it’s also kind of odd. Wouldn’t it be easier for users to display this information on the regular subway map? Even if the Vignelli map is far superior to the current one, it’s kind of silly to make people learn a new visual language from what they’re used to just to see the weekend service changes. The MTA has also started to post adjusted versions of the current map showing specific service changes in some cases, so this is further out of character.

Christopher September 16, 2011 - 8:48 am

To me it’s proof that when information only is needed that the current map just doesn’t function right. It does not function for easy information exchange. This feels like a huge indictment of the current map. Basically saying, you know, it doesn’t really work when trying to represent every changing data. I could be wrong, it could be that the current map is just incredibly difficult to update on a weekly basis. But I’m not sure that’s any less of indictment.

Sunny September 16, 2011 - 9:21 am

While it’s a nice thing, this is probably the weekend when the line-diversion displays would be the most necessary, with the F running to Euclid Avenue. Plus, are shuttle buses shown?

They chose what I think is the worst weekend of the year in terms of GO’s to launch this service, and the fact that it’ll be the landing page is a really good thing.

Scott E September 16, 2011 - 9:35 am

It’s nice, and I’m curious what the reaction (and the resulting next evolution of the map) will be. Also curious to try it out myself when it goes live.

My only objection is that it is on the LANDING PAGE of mta.info. If the MTA is truly made up of subways, buses, bridges, tunnels, LIRR, and MNR, one would think all should be treated equally, right? Put it on the landing page of the Subway page (or even better, create a separate page, http://www.mtasubway.com or something like that) for subways; don’t make the users of their other services feel like unwanted stepchildren. (Alternatively, spin off the subways to the city entirely, but that’s a different argument for a different day).

Benjamin Kabak September 16, 2011 - 9:39 am

I believe it’s a matter of numbers. B&T, MNR and LIRR can’t even sniff the 5 million combined weekend riders that use the subways. Why not make it easiest to find the information that the overwhelming majority of people are seeking? There will be pass-through link to the main site as well though.

tb0010 September 16, 2011 - 9:51 am

Maybe I’m a lone voice in the wilderness, but I’ve always found the current map far easier to navigate & intuitive compared to the Vignelli mess. Abstract maps are good for places like London where you have maybe one or 2 lines on a single route, but not NY where you may have 3 or 4 trains stacked; the result is a very cluttered read. The geometric presentation may be artsy but it’s hardly practical.

digamma September 16, 2011 - 10:22 am

My big problem with the Vignelli map was the colors. It was practically impossible to follow the EE from downtown to Queens without getting tangled up in the other lines. This Weekender map seems to have improved the colors dramatically.

ferryboi September 16, 2011 - 10:27 am

What color is the EE train on the current map? =)

I miss saying “double E” and “double R” when telling folks how to get downtown. It took me about 2 or 3 years after they got rid of the “double” trains to stop saying that.

MaximusNYC September 16, 2011 - 12:55 pm

digamma: This concept — showing parallel lines like Vignelli, but with consistent colors — has already been done, by the designer of KICKmap. The MTA rejected his map concept a few years ago, but it seems they’ve come around.

Launches & Releases: Massimo Vignelli Subway Map Returns to Illuminate Weekend Screw-ups - The Broker Buddy September 16, 2011 - 10:10 am

[…] in the system (hello, Helvetica) but now his map is back in a big way, at least digitally. The MTA begins using the Vignelli plan this weekend as a landing page on its website to “offer straphangers a […]

SEAN September 16, 2011 - 10:16 am

I recently found an old Vignelli subway map in my house & I’m holding on to it.

Also the Bee-Line is reduing it’s schedules & map with the route60/ 61/ 62 schedule having it’s map in the Vignelli style. It could be a little confusing, but it’s really cool looking.

ferryboi September 16, 2011 - 11:09 am

Check out eBay. These Vignelli maps sell for big bucks, some going for $200 a pop! Used to have a drawer full of Vignelli maps…wish I held on to them!

Benjamin Kabak September 16, 2011 - 11:13 am

In fact, I’m one of the people who has paid big bucks for a few Vignelli maps. I have a big collection of them at home these days.

ferryboi September 16, 2011 - 10:50 am

Will be interesting to see how they represent the Staten Island Railway on this map. It was not included on the original Vignelli map in the 1970s.

Samuel Wong September 16, 2011 - 11:00 am

This maybe wishful thinking, but I’m sure app developers are excited to hear about this pilot. If it’s open source like BusTime or embedded with the API, mobile apps like NYCMate or SchedNYC can incorporate the Weekender info an even wider audience, especially if you’re on the go!

SpendmoreWastemore September 16, 2011 - 11:48 am

“(Officials said a more dynamic map would be logistically difficult to execute.)”

Any programmers care to comment? From my limited knowledge of programming, a stand-alone dynamic may that draws re-routes from a database and displays the map appropriately is not a huge project, I’d think one programmer and at most a couple weeks of QA would do it. There’s a finite number of re-routes, so you don’t have to intelligently generate a new map; your code would just paste in each of the limited number of reroutes over your base map, thus generating an accurate wknd map.

Of course the weekend work won’t go exactly according to schedule, but that can be addressed. How: Once a line is cleared to re-route back to normal
i) whoever throws the switches notifies HQ
ii) body at HQ enters the actual route into a copy of the live DB.
iii) verifier sees the altered, not yet posted map (catches fatfinger errors) to body #2. e.g., vf body reading updated map calls out “A trains no longer detour over F, running an A tracks full route as of 11:30 pm today Sunday”, and is either confirmed or corrected by HQ.
iv) if confirmed, verifier hits ‘save changes’ and both ii and iii see the live map updated on MTA’s site.

It’s more complex to type than do, it would be a trivial operation once set up.

Matthias September 16, 2011 - 3:39 pm

Not to mention that the Subway Weekender blog does this already.

John-2 September 16, 2011 - 11:52 am

It’s actually a good thing to have two different styles of map for weekday and weekend, since if they stick with the two, eventually the public will get to know that Map Design A is for regular Monday-Friday service, and Map Design B is for Saturdays and Sundays, when GOs may create major service pattern changes.

Joe September 16, 2011 - 11:55 am

A great idea would be to have flat panel monitors in subway cars, in place of the paper maps, with this map, dynamically changing as service changes. Night service. Day service. Weekend. In stations, too. On platforms, etc.

Lots of $$$, of course. But someday it will be economically feasible.

MaximusNYC September 16, 2011 - 12:50 pm

This is actually much closer to the KICKmap design that Vignelli.

Take a look at this graphic which puts the current MTA map, the KICKmap design, and Vignelli’s “day-glo spaghetti” next to each other:


I have the KICKmap app on my iPhone. It’s absolutely the best way of making sense of the subway system, IMO. The designer offered it to the MTA, but was rebuffed. Now it seems they’ve decided to copy his concept anyway. I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Kid Twist September 16, 2011 - 1:46 pm

The Kickmap attempts to overlay separate lines for each route on a background that represents major geographical features of the city. This is more of an abstract diagram, like Vignelli’s.

Yoshiki Waterhouse September 16, 2011 - 5:09 pm

Just so you know, the map was done at Vignelli, and it’s based on the Vignelli map.

Railfanwindow.com September 16, 2011 - 2:07 pm

You can play with The Weekender right now via a link at my blog:


Matthias September 16, 2011 - 3:43 pm

The NYTimes description of advisories as “stiffly written prose” cracks me up. What are they looking for, a limerick?

Straphangers who ride the 3 train
Are in for a late night of pain
Don’t fret and don’t fuss
2 trains and free bus
Will get you there through snow or rain

Vanshnookenraggen September 16, 2011 - 4:07 pm

Map is live. I hate the blinking stations. I thought that it would be closer to the SubwayWeekender design where the lines are blanked out/rerouted to signify the change. MTA fails again.

Bruce M September 16, 2011 - 5:58 pm

The blinking stations are maddening–shouldn’t they at least all blink in unison??? Plus, it is very unclear what the blinking means. On some lines, it means the train won’t stop there when it normally would, but on others (M train being extended to 57th St), it means it does run when it normally would not! Why not just let the blinking mean one thing, and if service is extended, just make it appear as a solid non-blinking line (like regular weekday service)?

My comments on the regular paper map:
1) I would suggest a compromise to Vignelli by simply showing two lines: one express, one local for each trunk route that has both types of service. This is essentially how they show rush-hour express service on the 6 & 7 lines, so why not utilize this across the whole system?

2) Use the back of the map as a weekend/late-night map. While it won’t show any temporary diversions, at least it would be clear to all that the the B & Z lines don’t even exist during off hours, and that the Q terminates at 57th St. (The MTA could just publish a separate map for LIRR/MNR). And please bring back the service guide showing what lines run during different times of the day/week.

Joe September 16, 2011 - 4:57 pm

It seems the map is the weakest aspect of the whole thing. It’s easiest to click a Line and see what parts of it will be affected, THEN click your station for any service changes that may affect your stop.

Also, borough option is nice – if you know you’ll be zipping around Manhattan, you can see everything affected in one overview. For example, no C or L service at all this weekend.

Trying to navigate the map itself is difficult – the blinking stations, ghosted out lines. And again, the distorted geography makes it hard to understand what’s going on. And I LOVE the original Vignelli map, too – I have one hanging on my wall at home. But it’s hard to make such a drastic change back to the diagram after years of having the pseudo-geographic map.

Joe September 16, 2011 - 4:58 pm

Forgot one more thing – the Neighborhood Map addition is quite nice. I just missed it. The navigation design could be a little better.

SubwayWeekender September 16, 2011 - 5:17 pm

Wow, I’m just getting to this now and it’s actually a bit disappointing. I know everyone likes the Vignelli map but it’s not what people are used to anymore, I think most NYers are just going to look at it and wonder why the map looks so out of date. Plus the whole rationale behind my site has always been that people want to see the whole system visually, not click through a bunch of text. Right now, this is just a bunch of text that you click on a map to see. I hope the MTA makes this less text based and more visual in the future.

Andrew September 16, 2011 - 5:34 pm

Completely agreed. The only point I can see of switching to the Vignelli map is to be able to show what happens to each individual route – but they’re not showing that or anything else, aside from blinking lights that aren’t even used consistently. (A bunch of stops on the 7 are blinking, but if I’m going from Main Street to Times Square I don’t have to worry about them – they’re only telling me that 7 trains are bypassing those stops in one direction. But a bunch of stops on the F are also blinking, and if I’m going from Stillwell to West 4th I’d better worry about them, since they’re telling me that the line is shut down, and in that case I’d be much better off on the D. And if I’m at one of the 4th Ave. local stops, how do I tell that the D is running local? Why, I click on one of the blinking express dots, obviously!)

Very poorly executed. I hope this is just the starting point for something much bigger and better.

The neighborhood maps are nice, though – although I’m worried that they’ll only be available on weekends. Why not put them in the Maps section of the website?

How the Vignelli map returned, digitally :: Second Ave. Sagas October 11, 2011 - 12:21 pm

[…] the MTA debuted its Weekender map last month, it did so with a flourish. The new offering, a digital interpretation of the weekend’s […]

‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate’ :: Second Ave. Sagas October 17, 2011 - 12:28 am

[…] make weekend subway trips as easy as possible. They’ve redesigned their signs and unveiled an online diagram of weekend subway service. By and large then, it’s possible to find out either before you leave the house or once you […]


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