Home Subway Maps Map: New York’s subway with a D.C. twist

Map: New York’s subway with a D.C. twist

by Benjamin Kabak


As await the first storm of 2014 to blanket our city in snow, here’s a fun little fantasy map for you: Chris Whong has reimagined the New York City subway in the style of Washington, D.C.’s Metro map. His site includes an explanation behind the project and a larger, zoomable version of the map as well. Striped of much of its geographical context, the map contains strong angles and bullseye station indicators. There are a few errors in the initial draft, but it’s certainly a different take on the form and functionality of a subway map.

Over at his Transit Maps tumblr, Cameron Booth offers up his take on the mash-up:

While the map looks great, it really also shows how unsuited the bold, simplistic approach taken by the DC diagram is to a complex transit system like New York’s. Vital information that New Yorkers depend upon for daily travel is simply nowhere to be found: the distinction between local and express stations, for example, or any indication of those hugely important free transfers between certain stations.

The express/local divide is a real problem, but I’m not so sure the simplistic approach is ill-suited to New York, as Booth argues. Rather, Whong’s draft is trying to do something that our standard subway map isn’t. Instead of offering up a navigation tool that attempts to bridge the geography/schematic divide, Whong’s draft is focused entirely on the subway routing. You have to be familiar with the streets or have your own map of the surface. Maybe that’s the better approach for a subway map anyway as no one can use the MTA’s offering to truly navigate parts of the city that are off the grid. Anyway, food for thought and debate.

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Bolwerk January 2, 2014 - 3:40 pm

What debate? And what problem is this trying to solve? If you want these simplistic diagrams to work, at the very least you need to reconsider other things:

Easy: the size of poster the map is printed on. The map has to squeeze a lot of detail into a small space. Thicker lines are going to demand bigger maps.

Hard: Routing/interlining. There actually might be something to be said for that, but I suspect there is even less support for that than there is for changing from the present map. Less interlining would mean less confusing routes. But it means losing one-seat rides.

Don’t get me wrong, I think these are entertaining. But I don’t see a lot wrong with the present map, and I’m not sure many others do either once they consider its limitations.

Keith Williams January 2, 2014 - 3:55 pm

I dislike when subway diagrams try to balance geography with schematics. They work best when they pick one and ignore the other.

Vignelli himself has said that his format disregards geography because you can’t get off between stops or, in most cases, see anything. Pairing such a diagram with one that’s geographically accurate – as I believe they do in Paris – is the best way to go, IMO.

For now, the local maps for each station are a decent supplement, especially when embedded in an app like Exit Strategy.

SEAN January 2, 2014 - 4:28 pm

To me – it looks like a solution in search of a problem. Is the MTA map perfect? Absolutely not, but I see no reason to change it.

This reminds me of something one of my grad school professers said, “New York is where the money is & Washington is where the power is.” The above map tries to blend the two cities together, and it just doesn’t work in either the real or the vertual. Nice try though.

Josh January 2, 2014 - 5:43 pm

I don’t think it’s really a “solution” at all, just a recreational exercise. The post on the creator’s website describes his motivation for making it as “one day last month it occurred to me that it might be interesting to draw transit maps using the design elements of other transit systems.” He’s not saying it should replace our current map or anything.

RichardB January 3, 2014 - 2:55 am

I can see its limitations but I also have to say that I find the standard New York transit map puzzling when say compared to the transit maps for London, Paris or Berlin. It raises questions as opposed to answering them. I recently came across a variation of the New York subway map on the http://www.tubemapcentral.com website entitled New York Schematic New York subway in a more traditional style. The actual map can be viewed at http://www.tubemapcentral.com/.....ematic.jpg

Having studied this I confess I found this much easier to understand the complex range of services offered on the subway and less intimidating than than the Vignelli map although visually that design is a feast for the eyes. Interestingly enough there is a another map on the same website of the London Network done in the Vignelli style. Having studied that I think I understand the original Vignelli map better

BruceNY January 3, 2014 - 9:00 am

The only change I would suggest to our current map is to have a separate line for locals and one for expresses. This is already done on some lines with rush-hour expresses like the #7.

But this map raises a question: why doesn’t the MTA update the current map to show lines under construction, like the #7 (with a dashed line). I’ve seen this done with many other systems (London, Tokyo)–albeit where a lot more construction has been occurring. But at least it would give riders a sense of what’s to come.

Henry January 3, 2014 - 4:34 pm

The map was not designed with any sort of construction in mind. For now it will be okay, but should a time ever arise that rapid transit construction occurs in an outer borough, it won’t fit well into the map.

JimD January 3, 2014 - 9:24 am

no one can use the MTA’s offering to truly navigate parts of the city that are off the grid.

Of course, the MTA does have detailed bus maps available for each borough which show all major streets and include geographically accurate routings of where each subway line passes through the borough.

Alon Levy January 3, 2014 - 10:24 am

If we’re also redrawing the New York subway itself to look more like DC’s (i.e. no express tracks), let’s also remove stops. I in principle have an example, except it’s in a Google map that I can’t access because I’m traveling and therefore posting from an unusual IP address; Google refuses to load it without my phone number, which I won’t give it. Progress!

JebO January 3, 2014 - 4:15 pm

I like it. I have a few minor issues with it however. 1) It doesn’t recognize walking transfers like the one at 14th & Seventh. 2) There’s no way to recognize that stations like 96th & Broadway are transfer stations just as much as transfer stations where the colors of the lines doing the transferring are different. 3) The Second Avenue Subway phase 1 should be demarcated by yellow not by teal since the “T” won’t come until later.

Christopher January 4, 2014 - 2:14 am

It would be easy enough on this example to use different bullets for express vs local stops. Maybe local are solid black? I like this map. I like that Tube Map Central idea too. I do think the NYC map as is not only silly and cultured but that it takes a lot of getting used to. And since I’m currently in school with a lot of grad students from outside the U.S. and outside NYC, I’m viewing it again with fresh eyes. They are baffled by it. And one of things that most confusing to them is the geographical information that IS there. It’s taken them months to understand that you can’t use the map for anything other than the rail lines. So the question then is? What is that other information there if that’s only just confusing people. Especially those who don’t have a lot of experience using the map? NYers love making things inscrutable to the casual visitor but it’s kind of an obnoxious habit. In reality.

Bolwerk January 4, 2014 - 2:24 pm

How do you stay baffled by it for more than a day or two? People demanding change need to consider why the map is as it is. The current design constraints include the media and the size of the media, New Yorkers’ preference for geographical realism, the amount of information that has to be shown, and the present routing mix.

Qolspony March 31, 2014 - 4:41 pm

I like the map that was made for the nyc subways in the 1980s and early 90s. It had a lot more detail information. For instance, it had a lot of streets, which were in gray and it had the train lines and stations in great detail. Now we have a much scale down version of this. This was definitely an improvement from the 1970’s when each line carried it separate color. It looked more similar to the dc map above, but on a wider scale.


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