Archive for Subway Maps
A few weeks ago, I ran a brief post on Max Roberts’ circular subway map. With a focal point in the New York harbor, the map presents the subway system as a series of concentric circles. It’s a fun map that highlights connections between lines and is generally divorced from geographic reality.
This week, Roberts published a piece on The Guardian’s website about the philosophy of his design. Roberts speaks a bit self-deprecatingly about his efforts. “A circles-and-spokes approach offers no obvious benefit for this city,” he said of New York, “and without a clear centre defined by orbits, where should the spokes radiate from? I should not even have attempted this map, there are so many others on my list of things to do.”
Roberts wrote a bit more about his New York approach:
A point of radiation in New York Harbour gave me just enough space to fit everything into Lower Manhattan, a perfect semi-circle from the Manhattan Bridge all the way to Bay Ridge, and left me with enough space to make the rest of the map nice and balanced. DeKalb Avenue is always difficult, and eastern Queens needed some thinking, but that was it, the design almost crystallised in front of me.
The New York subway has been forced into an unprecedented level of organisation…There is geographical distortion, and a few awkward spots where the lines cannot decide whether they are orbital or radial and end up zigzagging. Some people may object to its aesthetics, and geographical purists will dislike it in the same way that they distrust all highly schematised designs, but the overall spaciousness and power is harder to dispute.
I’ve always argued that geographical maps and schematic maps have distinct roles to play, each serves a purpose, and so any transport undertaking that refuses to make both available is short-changing its customers. A good geographical map shows where the network is, a good schematic shows how the elements of a network relate together logically. An uncomfortable hybrid serves neither role effectively. Whatever the usability study outcomes, if a product is attractive and powerful for some people, so that they enjoy looking at it, that is half the battle won for the information designer.
Check out the rest of the piece. It’s a good, quick read. Meanwhile, after the jump, this weekend’s service advisories. Read More→
The different designs of the New York City subway system have always piqued my curiosity. From purely schematic representations to quasi-geographical maps, visual presentations of subway systems run the gamut, and as the debate over Massimo Vignelli’s infamous 1970s-era map shows, they can lead to some strong opinions and lively debates. The latest entry making the rounds this week comes to us from Max Roberts, a U.K.-based psychologist, who has used his training and study of the human mind to present a map of circles.
After posts appeared on Gothamist and Co.Exist last week, Roberts supplied me with the version of the map I’ve posted above. He corrected some of the errors pointed out in other forums as he expects my readership to pick up on those even quicker than others have. In discussing his map with other outlets, he shared some of the rational behind the design.
The maps, he noted, are clearly not geographic in nature, and the partisans who hate the Vignelli map will dislike this representation as well. But, he noted, the map “isn’t trying to show where the network is. It’s trying to show how the elements of the network relate to each other.”
Still, Roberts himself isn’t too sure of the practicality of his maps. “I don’t think that these maps are particularly easy to use, and they do distort geography,” he said to Gothamist, “but they force a city into an unprecedented level of organization, and people find them fresh and exciting (or horrific, but I feel that if I delight half the people and horrify the other half then I must be doing something right).”
His solution though would bridge the gap between design purists and geographical advocates. “Personally, I think that every large network should always issue two maps, a good geographical map and a good diagram so that people can choose which they prefer,” he said. “You just can’t please all people with just one design, and the gulf between the desires for simple straight lines versus geographical precision is almost always impossible to resolve. That’s probably why there are so many independent maps of the New York subway on the internet and that you can buy.”
So there you have it. It may not be the most functional map of the subway system, but it will certainly make anyone who sees it pause. That, of course, is half the battle when it comes to constructing a useful map.
Over the weekend, an embarrassing story concerning a subway map error hit the pages of The New York Post. Alexander Hamilton’s paper reported that the MTA had to throw away a bunch of subway maps when an error in the fare information section came to light. The March 2013 maps stated that the minimum purchase for a MetroCard is $4.50 when, in fact, it is now $5. Oops.
Now, according to The Post, TWU sources estimated the damage to be about $250,000. I spoke to officials at the MTA today to get their side, and they tell a slightly different story. I’ve learned that the MTA is estimating the damage at no more than $75,000, and the money will come out of subsequent map printings this year. As the MTA’s map budget is fixed, however much the agency burned on this error simply means fewer copies of subsequent map releases later in the year.
Meanwhile, even without this embarrassing mistake, the March maps were going to be chucked anyway. The MTA had printed them before the decision to recommission South Ferry had been announced, and the reopening will necessitate a new map next month anyway. It’s a sloppy, careless mistake that makes the MTA look bad in the pages of The Post, but it’s also ultimately a rounding error for an agency with a $13 billion budget. It’s not a real issue, but it just goes to show how public perception — rightly or wrongly — is shaped by press coverage of the MTA’s follies and foibles. The old maps will be given to an MTA licensee who uses them for subway-themed handbags or will wind up on eBay for subway map collectors to snatch up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.