Archive for Subway Maps

The new online subway map zooms this far and no further.

Despite numerous website redesigns and the emergence of Google Transit, the subway map presented on the MTA’s website has long been a rather staid affair. A small image file or a downloadable PDF were the only two options, and interactivity was sorely lacking. Today, the agency took what I hope is just the first step of many in rectifying the problem.

The MTA’s press release on the new map touts it as an interactive solution that allows fine grain viewing of subway details, but I’ll let you be the judge of it. Available online right here, the new map includes a scrollable zoom and a click-to-zoom feature that first debuted on the Internet ages and ages ago. It doesn’t offer the ability to pick two points and receive directions, and details on subway stations and service patterns are elsewhere on the website.

Still, what’s there now is an improvement over what was there yesterday. “The subway map is one of the most popular tools we provide on our website, and we want to make it as easy and convenient as possible for visitors to the city and New Yorkers alike to get the most out of the map online,” Paul J. Fleuranges, Senior Director for Corporate and Internal Communications, said in a statement.

The “interactive” map uses the version currently available in stations. It does does not include the South Ferry/Whitehall St. transfer, and it does feature the H train in the Rockaways. The MTA says it will update the map as service patterns change.

As you can tell, I’m not that excited about this upgrade. It’s something that should have been done years ago, and it’s a rather simple improvement. To overhaul the subway map on the MTA’s website would require some programming skills. An ideal solution would be a Google Maps-style clickable and zoomable map, preferably with staircase locations visible at a certain zoom level, and a TripPlanner functionality using both real-time service advisories and subway location data. This new online tool should just be the first step toward such a solution.

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During FASTRACK, the nearby 4 train will provide alternative travel for the IND Concourse Line. (via Second Ave. Sagas on Instagram)

Starting tonight at 10 p.m. and running each night this week until 5 a.m. the next morning, Transit’s FASTRACK program will shut down the D train’s IND Concourse Line in the Bronx. The week’s treatment marks the first outside of Manhattan’s Central Business District and parts of Downtown Brooklyn, and it comes after successful outages last year. It is also the first FASTRACK to return since Sandy.

During this week’s outages, D trains will not run between 161st Street and 205th Street in both directions, and the following changes will be in effect:

  • B service will end early;
  • D service will operate between Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue and 161st Street-Yankee Stadium (Note: Downtown D trains will skip 155th Street.);
  • As an alternative, customers should take 4 trains at nearby 4 train stations. A transfer is available between 4 and D trains at 161st Street-Yankee Stadium;
  • Free shuttle buses will provide connecting service between the Norwood-205th Street D and the Mosholu Parkway 4 stations only.

With the 4 train so close to the D train in the Bronx, this is a relatively painless FASTRACK. As Transit said in a statement, “These FASTRACK efforts have been designed around the careful determination that there is adequate alternate means of transportation, including enhanced services along some bus lines during work periods.” Still, the MTA is warning late-night riders to allow up to 20 minutes more for their regular trip times.

The next outer borough FASTRACK arrives next week when the 2 shut downs between Franklin and Flatbush Avenues. For more on the year in FASTRACK, check out my 2013 overview from mid-December.

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Courtesy of the Second Ave. Sagas Instagram account comes a screenshot from my iPhone. I awoke on Thursday morning to find that Google Maps — and with it, native in-app integration of transit directions — had returned to Apple’s iOS mobile platform. iPhone and iPad users could once again turn to the market leader in digital mapping and directions.

When Apple announced iOS 6 a few months ago, they made headlines with the decision to torpedo Google Maps in favor of an in-house solution, and the in-house solution was an unqualified disaster. Location searching was inaccurate; directions were wrong; and the lack of transit had many advocates wringing their hands. Google Maps returns transit to the mapping app with a smooth interface to boot.

Writing in The Times on Thursday, David Pogue wrote a glowing review of the new app, and he highlights the public transportation piece:

Along with driving directions, Google Maps gives equal emphasis to walking directions and public transportation options.

This feature is brilliantly done. Google Maps displays a clean, step-by-step timeline of your entire public transportation adventure. If you ask for a route from Westport, Conn., to the Empire State Building, the timeline says: “4:27 pm, Board New Haven train toward Grand Central Terminal.” Then it shows you the names of the actual train stops you’ll pass. Then, “5:47 pm, Grand Central. Get off and walk 2 min.” Then, “5:57 pm, 33rd St: Board the #6 Lexington Avenue Local towards Brooklyn Bridge.” And so on.

Even if public transportation were all it did, Google Maps would be one of the best apps ever. (Apple kicks you over to other companies’ apps for this information.)

It may, of course, strike some as silly to focus so much on a map app on one mobile platform, but iOS is one of the leading platforms. By omitting a native integration of transit into their app, Apple could subtly influence people’s behavior. Google, on the other hand, includes information for around one million public transportation stops, and Google makes it easy to get transit directions. Thus, it encourages transit use. The return of a Google Map application, available in Apple’s App Store, is a welcome one indeed.

Categories : Subway Maps
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Lower Manhattan looks more than a little lonely.

As subway service comes back online in pieces, it’s often difficult to put the convoluted service advisories into images. The MTA can describe the services offerings, but it’s far easier to understand them when presented visually. To that end, Transit has released a map of subway service for November 1. The visual is available here as a PDF and should be a very useful tool for those who are going to attempt to navigate the limited subway system tomorrow.

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On the Night Map, both the uptown 4 and 6 trains provide a connection to the D and F at Broadway-Lafayette.

With the long-awaited opening of the transfer between the uptown IRT at Bleecker St. and IND station at Broadway-Lafayette earlier this week, Transit had to issue a new subway map. In doing so, the agency has decided to release a revised version of the Night Map as well.

The Night Map is the MTA’s recognition that one map isn’t quite enough. With overnight subway service vastly different than that of rush hour, the Night Map serves to provide late-night riders in the know with a proper route around the city. The first edition was available only at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn the museum’s Annex in Grand Central Terminal. It was quite popular amongst map collectors, to say the least.

“The first edition of the night map was a fabulous edition to our map offerings and a big hit with Museum visitors,” Gabrielle Shubert, Director of the New York Transit Museum, said. “Customers weren’t happy we only gave away one copy per customer, but because it was a limited edition, we wanted to make sure as many museum patrons as possible had a chance to get one.”

With the second edition of the Night Map, the MTA is expanding distribution. Still, only 25,000 copies will be available, but these copies can be picked up at some of the stations that suffer the most from overnight service changes, including all of the R stops in Brooklyn from 36th St. to 95th St., the overnight M train terminals and stations along the Queens Boulevard route that see significant reductions in subway frequency.

The Night Map is available online right here as a PDF, and the full list of stations carrying it comes after the jump. Pick one of these up when you can. Supplies won’t last.

Read More→

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Massimo and his map. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of maps. I enjoy the way various graphical representations can serve to show the way a city works, and to me, it’s fascinating to see how map design impacts map usefulness. A schematic/diagrammatic map may show the best way to get from Point A to Point B without extraneous detail, but the extraneous detail may be necessary to get to path of travel from A to B. Essentially, there is no right way to present a map, but the philosophy of cartography and graphic design can heavily influence how a map is used by its intended audience.

In New York City, this debate centers around the subway map. Today’s subway map is not a work of great design, and it tries to be everything to everyone. New Yorkers demand a semblance of realism in their map and have long wanted major landmarks on the subway map. Tourists, meanwhile, seem to treat it as a navigation aid even though distances are distorted and few streets can be found on it.

Over the years, New York has toyed when varying approaches to the subway map. Early IRT representations showed Manhattan on its side, and over the years, unified system maps ranged in form from geographic to abstract and bubbly to some mix of both. No map, of course, engenders more discussion or debate than Massimo Vignelli’s schematic — the only subway map in the Museum of Modern Art and the only one to start Internet commenting wars.

Over the past few years, Vignelli’s map has enjoyed a resurgence. Men’s Vogue sponsored an update in 2008, and MTA’s Weekender map has delivered Vignelli to the digital realm. The designer himself participating in a robust discussion on form and function at the Museum of the City of New York nearly two years ago. So with the Weekender’s arrival, it was natural for the Transit Museum to sponsor a panel featuring the 81-year-old Massimo Vignelli and his two younger associates, Beatriz Cifuentes and Yoshiki Waterhouse, who both had key roles in updating Vignelli’s map for the 21st Century.

By and large, the panel was about Vignelli, his map and his design philosophy. In an venture, he has tended toward crisp lines, sharp angels and minimalism. That is, in fact, what he did with his subway map that proved so controversial. For him, he explained on Tuesday night, the subway map should show what the subway does and nothing more. “Who cares if the subway has to go around like that,” he said during his talk, pointing to the curve Montague Street tunnel on the current map. The conductor drives the train while the passengers simply want to know how to get there.

Throughout the course of the talk, Vignelli made it perfectly clear that no one loved and appreciated his map more than he did, and that’s likely true for any designer. It took a forward-thinking MTA head in William Ronan to allow modern design into the transit authority, and it took another — Jay Walder — to bring it back for the Weekender. The problem with Vignelli’s map, though, isn’t its look; it’s the functionality.

As Vignelli admits, the now-iconic subway map, so evocative of a different era in American and New York City history, was supposed to be one part of a four-piece system. We know about the verbal map which explains that one must take the D to the F to travel from Atlantic Ave. to Forest Hills; we know about the neighborhood maps that show the area around the subway station. Vignelli mentioned on Tuesday a geographically accurate map that he never produced as the third piece, and of course, the map with its route lines and 45 degree angles as the centerpiece.

Vignelli’s Queens, in progress. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

For Vignelli, simplicity is key. “Line, dot, that’s it,” he said. “No dot, no stop.” Had the designer had his way, the subway map he made would have been even more minimalist with no water, no parks and just a nod at borough boundaries. It assumes a level of knowledge with the above-ground world that is still required today.

Vignelli’s map always faced a lot of criticism though. The colors were too numerous, and some stations weren’t in the right place. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he didn’t have GPS locations and precise station data, but still, it wasn’t quite right. The newest version corrects those flaws and simplifies the color scheme. Today, it’s in use as The Weekender, and Vignelli and his associates acknowledged how much better suited that map is to a digital realm.

With the need to show different service patterns at different times of the day, Vignelli believed digital maps are the future. “That’s why printing is dead,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to print a map.”

Of course, there’s still a public part of Massimo Vignelli that wants to see his map return to greater use, and he admitted as much. As the MTA wires its stations and brings technology underground, the easy translation from the page to the web for the Vignelli map may keep it alive longer than anyone would have thought after it was replaced in 1979. “The Weekend should become the week-long official map,” Vignelli said. Perhaps, with the right changes, its time has come.

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I recently came across an old subway map on full display in a building in Manhattan. The map, as the K bullet and dearly departed Train to the Plane illustrate, wasn’t so much for navigation purposes as for art and nostalgia. It was of a vintage lost to time.

The map too is of another era. Dating from the late 1970s, this was the first post-Vignelli map. After the simplicity of the Massimo’s diagram, the MTA went information-heavy. The map was — and still is — a mess from a graphic design perspective, and it featured far more information than any subway map needed. The one I spotted hanging up was an MTA release with streets that didn’t matter, locations that attracted few subway riders and a building address locator. The designers couldn’t have crammed more useless information on a map if they tried.

Last night, I saw Vignelli and two of his associates talk at the Transit Museum about the controversial and now-iconic subway map, its origin and demise, and its rebirth as the MTA’s online-only Weekender offering. Vignelli, a spry 81 with a dry wit, has very strong opinions about map making in general and his map specifically. He clearly thinks its the best diagrammatic representation of the New York City subway map, and from his viewpoint and design philosophy, he isn’t incorrect. The map shows what happens underground and nothing more. It is up to the rider to get the rest of the way there.

Calling the map that replaced him “the most horrible thing” that “makes irrelevant things relevant and relevant things irrelevant,” he questioned the need for “jillions of balloons all over the place.” He enthralled the audience, and while his original idea for a four-part map system was perhaps a bit too ambitious, the Internet has ushered in a great Vignelli revival. I’ll have a more comprehensive report from the event later today, and for now, I’ll leave you with those tidbits and a glimpse at some subway bullets lost to time.

The system changes; the map changes; and no one can agree on the best way to show it all. Is anyone more right or wrong than the next person? Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder, but the same cannot be said for a map that’s easy to use and understand.

For more on the K train, read up on the history of the Chrystie St. Cut and for a trip down memory lane, check out my reflections on the Train to the Plane and its permanent place in New York City history.

Categories : Subway Maps
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For the subway map and design buffs among us, this Wednesday night brings along a special treat: Massimo Vignelli will be talking about his iconic and controversial subway map in an event at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights. At the cost of $10 for museum members and $15 for everyone else, Vignelli will hold forth on the legacy of his map and its recent reappearance as the MTA’s Weekender offerings. Michael Bierut, a partner at Pentagram, will moderate a panel that includes Vignelli, Beatriz Cifuentes and Yoshi Waterhouse. For tickets and more, check out this link, and say hi if you see me there in the audience.

Categories : Asides, Subway Maps
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The way a subway map displays transfers can impact rider behavior.

From the looks of today’s subway map, transferring amongst trains at Fulton St. appears to be a piece of cake while traversing the distance from the 2 or 3 to the A or C, let alone the E, at Park Place/Chambers St. would require a very long walk. There might be some truth to the distance, but that up-and-down trip between trains at Fulton St. is hardly convenient. Thus, enter the “subway map effect.”

We last heard of the subway map effect in May of 2011 when NYU Professor Zhan Guo released a study on map design. By examining London’s schematic map, Guo determined that map design can impact travel choices to a rather extreme degree. Commuters in London were willing to travel inefficiently because they believed making a transfer would get them closer to their destinations than walking would. The distortions of the schematic map rule how otherwise-sophisticated travelers plan their rides.

So what happens when you start tweaking the map design? Can transit agencies control behavior by adjusting design? Perhaps by making a transfer look shorter, transit planners can siphon riders into a less trafficked area. Guo now plans to find out. He spoke to Jessica Gross for a piece on The Atlantic Cities about his current research, and here’s how Gross described it:

Which leads to Guo’s big question: “Can we change the map in order to change people’s behavior?” If we believe maps over our own knowledge, and we do, the answer is likely yes. In a new study of D.C.’s Metrorail system, Guo is measuring the difference. He’s collaborated with Wyman to produce three variations on the Metro map, all of which increase the apparent length of the Blue and Orange Lines at the point that they cross the Potomac River. One increases to the west, one to the north, and one in both directions. Comparing reactions to these maps to the current one, and to a real geographic map, will help Guo better understand how both route length and directionality can factor into passengers’ decisions.

Can Guo and Wyman encourage people, through design alone, to transfer to the Yellow Line over the river instead of staying on the Blue? This isn’t just a matter of intellectual interest: The Rosslyn tunnel is overcrowded, so rerouting some human traffic would make a difference. “Even if you can switch one or two percent of passengers from the Blue to the Yellow Line, that’s a big success, because the cost is zero,” Guo says.

That is, altering infrastructure is expensive, and since many transit agencies, including WMATA, face big budget shortfalls, it’s often difficult, if not impossible. But changing a map—making this crowded line look longer and less convenient, or replacing that complex-looking transfer with a dot—could change usage patterns practically for free. Mapmakers could nudge us to not only use less crowded lines, but also get out and walk, transfer at less trafficked stations, or even use alternate transit systems.

For a bit more, check out this abstract on Guo’s own site. On the surface, it makes sense. We use a subway map for visual cues to help us plan our journeys. If we’re not familiar with a system, we’ll seek out the map for assistance.

What intrigues me about Guo’s research though are the long-term implications. Will riders continue to follow the cues from the map if they know one route is shorter than the other even if it doesn’t appear that way on the subway map? New York’s system doesn’t have quite the same number of transfers as some others; you can thank the City, the BMT and the IRT for that. But it has enough. We’ll have to check back in with Guo once he’s wrapped up his investigation of Washington. For now, it’s food for thought.

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A distorted sense of geography is a hallmark of the London Tube map.

New York City has, for obvious reasons, a close tie with the now-completed 2012 Olympics. Our Mayor wanted it for the city while many New Yorkers fought against it, worrying about costs, security and added mayhem that hosting the global competition for two weeks would bring to the city. Ultimately, the Mayor still managed to secure his 7 line extension, and the city received two new baseball stadiums, a basketball arena and potentially a new soccer stadium as well. What we missed besides the Games themselves is hard to see.

Meanwhile, London just wrapped up a compelling spectacle of competition but managed to scare away many residents and tourists. The economic bump expected from the Summer Games may not materialize, but the presence of tens of thousands of foreigners making use of London’s transportation infrastructure may help Transport for London readjust the way it presents itself.

As we know, London has entirely eschewed a subway map that nods to geography. The famous Harry Beck map presents a schematic of the system with notoriously famous results. Riders unfamiliar with the complex geography of London streets often find themselves wasting time on the Tubes when walking a few blocks would be more efficient. The Olympics apparently laid this to bare, and Joe Peach at This Big City penned an amusing and insightful column on it:

With millions of visitors in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the city’s transport network is under more pressure than ever before. If you want to head to the Olympics, chances are you’ll get the next tube to Stratford, even though there are countless other stations that link to Olympic sites. Aware of the challenges of dealing with millions of extra riders, most of whom won’t be local and will be relying on geographically flawed signage for directions, TfL have made some temporary updates…

Route maps on underground carriages are now littered with pink boxes pointing out which stations can be used to access Olympic events. This photo shows what you’ll find if you take the Jubilee Line, and London’s 12 other lines are all looking pretty similar. Though relatively minor additions, they represent a pretty radical development for a map that has barely changed its visual approach in eight decades…

London’s underground network is the oldest in the world, and as a result many stations are named after once-significant local features (in fact, much of London is named after once-significant local features). The effect of this is the present-day destinations they largely exist to serve rarely get prominent placement on signage, with obvious potential for confusion among travellers. Though investment in technology and improved infrastructure is critical for the London Underground to remain efficient (and TfL is doing both of these things), improving the design of the network’s wayfinding tools also plays a key role. A functional city needs citizens and visitors that are well-informed, and with TfL rethinking its underground map and signage, London has become that little bit easier to get around, for locals and visitors alike.

Peach’s last paragraph above is key, and it’s something map designers often lose sight of. As I discussed last week, Massimo Vignelli’s controversial New York City subway map was to be used in conjunction with two other maps, but the MTA never embraced the Verbal Map. Thus, Vignelli’s diagrammatic map never caught on and annoyed many who tried to use it. In London, Beck’s diagram has ruled for decades, but the city seems willing to embrace some added information.

I’ve written a lot over the years about the search for the right map, but it seems more and more likely that the one right map doesn’t exist. The proper approach to directional wayfinding involves making sure riders have the right information in the right format at the right point. London is working its way toward a better solution. I wonder if New York needs to do the same.

Categories : Subway Maps
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