Home Subway Maps To improve aboveground wayfinding, new maps underground

To improve aboveground wayfinding, new maps underground

by Benjamin Kabak
New neighborhood maps designed by Pentagram are centered around the station in which they hang. (Photo via New York City Transit)

New neighborhood maps designed by Pentagram are centered around the station in which they hang. (Photo via New York City Transit)

Massimo Vignelli’s original vision for subway wayfinding involved three pieces — a schematic map, a guide to subway service and a geographically accurate neighborhood map for immediate navigation aboveground. At various points in time, these elements all caught on but not at once when the late designer introduced the concept in the early 1970s. Today, in my opinion, the MTA’s neighborhood maps, complete with nearby landmarks and subway staircase location, are the most useful of the various guides and maps the agency offers, and this week, Transit formally announced a redesign in conjunction with NYC DOT’s WalkNYC wayfinding initiative.

“This partnership with the MTA allows for consistent maps above and below ground, making it easier for users to reach their destinations,” NYC DOT Commissioner and MTA Board Member Polly Trottenberg said. “We’re excited to provide this resource to New Yorkers and tourists to find their way in the city.”

For over two decades, the MTA has maintained neighborhood maps through shifting subway service patterns and changes above ground. Currently, the agency has 68 maps in all 468 subway stations, each with a radius of around 15-30 blocks. The current iteration is imprecise as the same map you’ll see in, say, Union St. is the same as the one hanging at Grand Army Plaza or 15th Street-Prospect Park stations. The new Pentagram-designed maps will instead be centered around the station in which they hang and incorporate the design of the WalkNYC wayfinding maps but with more information relating to other transit options included local, express and SBS lines. The new maps will focus on around only 12 blocks instead.

“Though we’ve kept the MTA’s neighborhood maps up-to-date, this is the first redesign since the original set created more than 20 years ago and will be extremely helpful to subway customers as they leave the system and look for neighborhood points of interest,” Paul Fleuranges, the MTA’s Senior Director of Corporate and Internal Communications, said. “With this new map, everyone will rely on one way-finding system, both above and below ground.”

The station schematics in the neighborhood maps will remain in the new versions.

The station schematics in the neighborhood maps will remain in the new versions.

To me, as I noted, the best part of the current maps are the station footprints. These maps are generally displayed in the fare control areas with diagrams showing exactly where, aboveground, staircases lead. It’s convenient for exiting and even more so for entering at unfamiliar stations. When I first saw the new maps, I thought this vital cog had been removed, but upon closer examination, and with a confirmation from the MTA, I learned this was not only not the case but a real reason why the maps will be slowly rolled out throughout the city. “Of course the new neighborhood maps contain subway stairway info,” an MTA spokesman said to me. “That was actually one of the time consuming things as station shapes and entrances are not in the DOT’s database of information.”

The new signs are currently in five stations that all intersect the SBS B44’s route. The list includes Bedford-Nostrand on the G, the Nostrand Ave. stations along the 3 and A/C, and the 2 and 5 trains’ President and Sterling St. stations. It’s a subtle, but positive, improvement for the benefit of customers.

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Andy August 14, 2014 - 12:29 am

Some stations don’t currently have neighborhood maps. Any word on if they will also get maps? Halsey St. on the J train doesn’t any maps, not even the normal subway map.

D in Bushwick August 14, 2014 - 1:30 am

I’ve relied on these maps several times in unfamiliar neighborhoods – they are really helpful.
But will they finally make them available online too? Maybe even link them to Google Maps?

al August 25, 2014 - 3:34 pm

Use The Weekender map, on the MTA site, that displays service delays and changes. Select a station and use Neighborhood Map View (shows up on the lower left corner after station selection).


Larry Greenfield August 14, 2014 - 6:23 am

Both the old and new maps should be online; I have not been able to get an answer from the MTA as to why they aren’t.

Berk32 August 14, 2014 - 8:04 am

They’ve been available on the weekender website and app
click on a station – then neighborhood map view

BoerumHillScott August 14, 2014 - 8:19 am

I hope they update whatever sources they use for neighborhood institutions/points of interest, which in many cases are very out of date.

For instance, when the neighborhood map was updated for Atlantic/Barclays, it still showed places which had not existed for years.

KWebster7327 August 14, 2014 - 8:29 am

I’d hope they put these maps somewhere they can be downloaded ahead of time. I’ve used the Weekender’s maps extensively, but Murphy’s Laws dictate that the one I really need hasn’t been downloaded to my phone yet and I’m in a deep tunnel.

Lance August 14, 2014 - 9:18 am

If you have the iTrans Subway app for the iPhone, there is an option to download some or all of the current neighborhood maps if you so desire. Be advised however that all of the maps take up nearly half a gig of storage space.

Low Headways August 14, 2014 - 8:56 am

Stupid question, but is the City Hall Loop not on the map? Not that it really matters, but it would be cool to see along with the station footprints.

Which, incidentally, are VERY COOL. Kudos to the MTA.

Epson45 August 15, 2014 - 1:13 am


Charlie August 14, 2014 - 9:37 am

The entrances to the stations should appear on Google maps and should be used by google in generating directions. I’ve had lots of hassles with them, trying to get the WTC Path (temporary) station to be properly located (at the corner of Vesey & Greenwich, not on Church St/Trinity Place). They only recently fixed that. Since the station entrances can be a block or more away from the station platform, this isn’t trivial.

Gus August 14, 2014 - 2:17 pm

IIRC, the information is readily available in the right format, but for some reason isn’t incorporated into the Google Transit Feed?

It’s a PITA. Whenever I get directions toward Manhattan through Google Maps, it starts me off in the wrong direction via the Franklin Av C stop because it thinks it’s closer (when you look at the actual entrances, it’s not).

Unrelated – the Clinton-Washington stop doesn’t even have the right service info on Google Maps. Clicking on it gives you times for Fulton St buses instead of C (and late night A) trains. I’ve reported this so many times because it would be great to be able to click on my stop and see the next train, but I guess the problem is in MTA’s data and not at Google’s end.

BoerumHillScott August 15, 2014 - 3:33 pm

The exact location of every entrance/exit is available from the MTA, but is not up to date or 100% accurate.
It is also not in the same format as the MTA’s schedule data, so manual mappings would be required to integrate exact entrance locations into Google’s directions.

You can browse the entrances/exits on a map at http://boerumhillscott.com/tra.....cesMap.php

tacony August 14, 2014 - 11:00 am

“station shapes and entrances are not in the DOT’s database of information”

This is kind of ridiculous. Obviously NYCDOT has to know where the entrances poke out of the sidewalks, right? They have traffic control devices mounted right next to them on the same corners, newsstands and bus shelters that they’re the ones who’ve contracted out to Cemusa. Sounds kind of nuts that the “DOT’s database of information” wouldn’t include this.

Berk32 August 14, 2014 - 10:54 pm

They’re not all in the sidewalk… many are in buildings…

Moshe Feder August 15, 2014 - 7:50 am

While the greater consistency between above and below ground way-finding is undeniable progress, the new maps are a step backward esthetically. I find their predominantly dark tone cold and off-putting. The brighter, more colorful style of the old neighborhood maps felt cheerful and friendly. I’ll miss them.

orulz August 19, 2014 - 11:21 am

Google Maps incorporates station footprints in South Korea and Japan. In my opinion the Korean implementation is best (colored lines featured prominently and easily distinguished from each other) and should be replicated everywhere else in the world, New York City included.

BrooklynBus August 21, 2014 - 2:29 pm

“kept the maps up to date”?

Not according to this. Hospitals closed over 20 years ago are still on the map.



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