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The labyrinth made simple
April 26, 2007 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Getting around underground in NYC is no longer only for people who already know how to get around underground in NYC. Graphic Designer Eric Jabbour has been spending his free time obsessively redesigning MTA transit maps. And the results are striking. Non-New Yorkers will undoubtedly be able to figure out what's what. Cleaner lines and neighborhood boundaries are just a few features. Also, one can clearly see and understand transfer points and more street names.
posted by sneakin (91 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Better!
Not perfect, but a big step in the right direction.
posted by Dizzy at 2:13 PM on April 26, 2007


I love seeing better design for communication!
posted by yeloson at 2:16 PM on April 26, 2007


I don't like it--you don't need to see 4 lines for 4 trains, 3 lines for 3 trains, etc...all you need is clearer A, C, E, 1, 2, 3 signage and indications on the map. The old one is fine, and just needs the letters and numbers and colors more strongly indicated. (And, the #1 problem for tourists--clear indications of where you can hop off and switch to the other direction without repaying, or exiting and entering again)
posted by amberglow at 2:19 PM on April 26, 2007


maybe an infinity or crisscross symbol?
posted by amberglow at 2:22 PM on April 26, 2007


Non-New Yorkers figure out what's what. Film at 11.
posted by phaedon at 2:23 PM on April 26, 2007


Right now on the existing map, the white circles indicate where you can transfer--either to the same line in any direction or lines that run on the same track, and/or to a different line/lines in either direction. The new maps don't even indicate that much clearly.
posted by amberglow at 2:23 PM on April 26, 2007


also, how many people actually use a subway map as a tourist map? I never do when i travel elsewhere--i use the free/almost free one from tourist offices or from the websites, and they indicate large subway stations anyway. It's not needed to also indicate neighborhoods.
posted by amberglow at 2:25 PM on April 26, 2007


one more thing (i know, i'm going on about this)--you need clear indications of "uptown" and "downtown" on both the old and new maps--that messes up tourists all the time i find.
posted by amberglow at 2:27 PM on April 26, 2007


It certainly looks a lot cleaner and nicer, and seems to have learned some lessons from the tubemap. As per Amberglow I'mnot sure the multiple lines are completely necessary.

The old one is fine

No, really, it's not. Fucking awful is how I described it upon first encountering it in fact. The in-train signage needs rethinking as well.
posted by Artw at 2:27 PM on April 26, 2007


Also worth looking at: The earlier map by Massimo Vignelli.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:29 PM on April 26, 2007


As someone who has never lived there, I didn't have trouble reading the old map.

I suppose one might be able to call marking neighborhoods on the map an improvement, but otherwise, I'm just not seeing how this one is better.

IMO, geographic accuracy is important, as it allows one to better gauge which station is most convenient to one's destination.
posted by wierdo at 2:29 PM on April 26, 2007


I don't know, I am loving the neighborhood identifications, especially in Brooklyn where I never have any concept of where I am in relation to any other neighborhood. I just appreciate the level of detail beyond the actual train line. Clearly it's a matter of preference, but it's fantastic that someone is at least attempting to improve. And, I think, amberglow, that tourists use MTA maps quite a bit. Judging by the number of people with knee socks and fanny packs tracing various lines on the encased plastic wall maps and then throwing up their hands and asking a passerby, I think crisp, clear transit maps could come in quite handy.
posted by sneakin at 2:31 PM on April 26, 2007


Well I agree. Tripling lines for the ACE is retarded, despite the fact that at first glance (on the old map), the strongest indication that the E separates from the AC at 50th St. is over on Roosevelt Island. The majority of my activity was admittedly on the green line, and I have to say that's pretty much a fucking intuitive mess. There's no physical symbol to point at, like a white circle. Why is GRAND CENTRAL capitalized, and not Lexington Ave? Why repeat Lexington Ave over and over up and down the 456, and then throw corresponding street numbers - 42, 51, 59 - in bigger letters, and further away? Other than the pretty colors, no sense.
posted by phaedon at 2:31 PM on April 26, 2007


geographic accuracy is important

I'd strongly disagree there. Certainly the London tube map is much better without it.
posted by Artw at 2:32 PM on April 26, 2007


By way of comparison, here's Tokyo's subway map [pdf]. I lived in Tokyo for two years, so I got to know this map (well, there were 4 fewer lines at the time) pretty darned well. Years later, on my first visit to NYC, I admit that I got a little lost looking at that map—and not for lack of ability to read a route map.

Apparently the MTA's objection to Jabbour's map revolves around the fact that it's not geographically accurate. It's a reasonable objection, but IMO legibility trumps geographical accuracy. The spatial distortion of the Tokyo map did mean that I occasionally wouldn't realize how close two stations were, and would take an unnecessary transfer. But I don't see how you could cram a geographically accurate subway map for Tokyo onto a sheet of A4 paper and have the text be at all legible.
posted by adamrice at 2:32 PM on April 26, 2007


This should've been in the original post, but this blog entry outlines some of the changes and also discusses accuracy, which is to your point, wierdo.
posted by sneakin at 2:32 PM on April 26, 2007


Why are the lines for trains of the same colour given different colours? It's hard enough to remember the difference between all the lettered lines that go out to Queens and Brooklyn without giving them a seemingly continuous spectrum from yellow through orange to brown. They should be the same colours that the MTA uses. This is egregious here.

Otherwise, yes somewhat clearer than the current MTA map, but I think things culd be improved further by abandoning geography for geometry, as on the London Underground map. There is no need for all the little kinks in, eg, the midtown and downtown Manhattan stretches of the 4-5-6 line. They could just as well be straight.

Of course, it would be foolish to make things too easy. A map that implied that things would be simple would be quickly seen as a betrayal when the station announcer says something crackly that might or might not be "uptown 2 trains are making 5 stops on the lex".
posted by nowonmai at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2007


IMO, geographic accuracy is important, as it allows one to better gauge which station is most convenient to one's destination.

That new map is not at all accurate--they shrunk Brooklyn and Queens a lot and enlarged Manhattan. (I think they went by how many lines run where maybe? or how many areas are served?)
posted by amberglow at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2007


All we have to do is mash these up and we can be Boing Boing.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:35 PM on April 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've never used the NYC subway (except with experienced riders), but looking at it right now, I can figure out the new map, the old map not. Surely they had an army of people like me to provide feedback. The multiple lines really helps visualize.
posted by stbalbach at 2:38 PM on April 26, 2007


Yes: a subway mashup of where you can have your overweight cat declawed and circumcised. And gun stores.
posted by everichon at 2:41 PM on April 26, 2007


By way of comparison, here's Tokyo's subway map [pdf].

My only problem with Tokyo was the different companies and weird transfer/paying things--my Suica card only worked on some trains, and i had to pay again to transfer to a different line or more local train, etc. They need to fully integrate all of them, i thought (We used to have IND, BMT, and IRT, but put them all together). On the trains it was incredibly easy to get places, with numbered station stops that made it impossible to miss--i loved that. For a tangled, really big city, Tokyo wasn't too hard to get around at all, except for the late night service.

I like Paris' better than London's because of the distance problem in London, but in Paris you have to know the name of the last stop on the line, which is a pain.
posted by amberglow at 2:41 PM on April 26, 2007


As a New Yorker, the NYC subway that I find most useful is this one.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't care whether the curves are perfectly accurate, but as I said before, for a tourist, geographic accuracy is important. They, much more than a local, have absolutely no innate knowledge of how far it is from Clarity is also important, but you'd think that people could learn how to read a fucking map. It's not as if the old one is hard to follow if you bother to more than glance at the thing.

Of course, if you're used to that London Underground crap, I can see why you might get confused by the "complexity" of the NYC Subway map.

Yeah, this is so much clearer than this.

Don't get me wrong. There are certainly things that should be taken from the new map in question and used in the real thing, but on the whole, the old map is better.
posted by wierdo at 2:45 PM on April 26, 2007


I don't really see the importance of geographic accuracy either. I'd rather just look at an overland map to find the nearest station to my destination. Then look at the tube/metro/subway map to figure out how to get there.

That's how it works in London and Paris at least.
posted by timelord at 2:45 PM on April 26, 2007


Artifice_Eternity: That map is the best one of all. Too bad you can't get reliable data service in the Subway and not everybody carries a phone that can do Google Maps, other than that godawful java applet.
posted by wierdo at 2:47 PM on April 26, 2007


Right now on the existing map, the white circles indicate where you can transfer--either to the same line in any direction or lines that run on the same track, and/or to a different line/lines in either direction. The new maps don't even indicate that much clearly.

The red box means "no opposite direction crossover at this station." Isn't that what you're asking for?

(I agree that it's unclear. I wouldn't have known what the boxes were for if I hadn't read the key. But then, as a semi-regular visitor, I never knew what the white circles on the old map were for either. Arbitrary symbols are just gonna be a little unclear.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:47 PM on April 26, 2007


I like it - It takes me forever to figure out the subway when I'm in NYC. Of course, I'm from Montana and I'll never forget the first time a friend from NYC came to visit me and we were driving to Yellowstone and she asked "What city are we in?"

I looked around at the country side, I could see some cattle grazing, and the Crazies were in the distance, but there were no houses or buildings. "Uh, what do you mean," I asked. "We'll be in Big Timber in about a half hour."

"Yes, she replied. "But where are we now? How do you know where you are if you're not in a city?"

Anyway, I like the new map.
posted by Staggering Jack at 2:52 PM on April 26, 2007


We really need a cross-Central Park Shuttle built--from Natural History to the Met or something. : >
posted by amberglow at 2:52 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't care whether the curves are perfectly accurate, but as I said before, for a tourist, geographic accuracy is important.

As a tourist I've used many subway maps. New Yorks, with it's "Geographical Accuracy", is by far the crappiest.

Of course, if you're used to that London Underground crap, I can see why you might get confused by the "complexity" of the NYC Subway map.

Riiiiiiiight.
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on April 26, 2007


the new map is much better - it should be adopted
posted by Flood at 3:00 PM on April 26, 2007


Sorry, Artw, I just don't see the value in a so-called map that tells me how to get between two stations with absolutely no way to tell which one of those stations I might want to direct myself towards. I just don't see the use in a map that doesn't really help me get to my destination.

You like the London Underground map, I despise it. Perhaps we can agree to disagree, since obviously we have different ideas on what makes for a useful map.
posted by wierdo at 3:03 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


This seems like a step backwards to me, it remonds me of the 1972 NYC Subway Map which I find to be confusing as hell. (I mean, come on, subways taking 90 degree turns? Multiple shades of pink? A SQUARE central park?)
posted by piratebowling at 3:04 PM on April 26, 2007


Also, Artifice_Eternity, I agree, that is the best in my mind.
posted by piratebowling at 3:06 PM on April 26, 2007


I've got it: a map on a big LCD in the subway station, with a slider built into the wall next to it. Push the slider to the left, the map morphs to perfect geometric clarity; push it to the right, it morphs to accurate geography. Everyone's happy. Now somebody with some influence, get on it.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:06 PM on April 26, 2007


Previous attempts at doing a more stylized NYC Subway map (such as the Vignelli map, and the one linked by wierdo) sucked so much that I thought that maybe it wasn't possible. Jabbour has proven this wrong.

I like the Jabbour map much better than the official NYCT map.
posted by grouse at 3:08 PM on April 26, 2007


Also, it would be really cool to see all the in-between stages, like that Maggie/Monroe thing.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:10 PM on April 26, 2007


Also, the multiple lines on the new map are a good (rough) measure of how often trains pass a particular stop.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:11 PM on April 26, 2007


Weirdo - Subweay maps are for finding your way between subway stations. I think what you actually want is a real map (something which, TBH, the current NY subway map wouid perform pretty badly as ).
posted by Artw at 3:12 PM on April 26, 2007


I wonder how feasible it would be to print two maps of the system. One could be geographically accurate, and show subway stations and bus routes, say. The other could be schematic, showing the routes between the stations.

Maybe print them on opposite sides of the same sheet and incorporate a grid-based lookup table to help match the station locations...
posted by smably at 3:14 PM on April 26, 2007


I think the '72 map is a fantastic map, aesthetically, but maybe not the best one, practically.

I know that the CTA "L" map used a schematic approach for many years where the lines radiating out from the Loop in spokes had stations that were on the same Chicago north-south streets, but didn't line up on the map. It annoyed me as a rider, and I think I would feel the same about the '72 map if I'd ever had to rely on it.

I think I like the '79 map better than this one for some of the same reasons. I did like in NYC and rely on that one, so I know it can be learned.

I think the bigger problem is not the map itself, but the historical agglomeration of lines built originally by three competing entities, and all sorts of vestigial aspects of the system such as exits that no longer lead anywhere or the need to switch platforms to get from an express to a local. Really, though, when you live there you quickly learn your way around the parts of the system you need to use. It's probably futile to hope that the system will ever be as transparent to tourists, but that seems to be the focus of some of these efforts.
posted by dhartung at 3:18 PM on April 26, 2007


posted by wierdo for a tourist, geographic accuracy is important. They, much more than a local, have absolutely no innate knowledge of how far it is from Clarity is also important, but you'd think that people could learn how to read a fucking map.

Not necessarily. The Underground's map has removed all geographic information in order to improve the clarity of the most important information: How to get from Point A to Point B.

The brilliance of the The Underground's map design lies in the fact its designer understood that geographically accurate information does not help you when you're underground--what you need is a wiring diagram to illustrate how Point A connects to Point B. If you're underground, you can't refer to above-ground landmarks, so a geograpically accurate map adds information of negligible importance.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:20 PM on April 26, 2007


I think the '72 map is a fantastic map, aesthetically, but maybe not the best one, practically.

I agree completely. It was my desktop photo for the longest time, I love the image of the tangle. But using that to navigate around? yikes!
posted by piratebowling at 3:20 PM on April 26, 2007


I think this is a vast improvement, and I work in nyc and ride the subway all the time. There are two clear reasons, to my mind, that this works better.

1. readability. it takes too long, on the current map, for me to figure out what trains stop at what stations, because the letters are tiny and not always obviously attached to a given stop (if, for instance, there are multiple stops for unrelated lines clustered near each other.)

2. the multiple easily viewed lines for each train make it so that I don't have to take nearly as long figuring out what specific trains on a given line diverge where, and what will get me a transfer to the F (for example) where. You can read the current map, but the new one simply takes less time. I should be able to look at the map and figure out where I need to transfer in under 5 seconds, which almost never happens when I'm figuring out a new route on the current map.
posted by shmegegge at 3:20 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


oh, and regarding geographic accuracy.... one reason the current map isn't geographically accurate (and that no subway map really can be) is simply because the lines are too cluttered in certain small areas to be easily readable on a geographically accurate map. While it would be nice to be able to look at a mile key and plot out exactly how far something is from where you are, it's not worth not being able to figure out where the stations are because there are too many criss crossing lines in, for instance, the atlantic avenue station area.
posted by shmegegge at 3:22 PM on April 26, 2007


I don't see why it matters if the map depicts subways taking only 45 and 90 degree turns - it looks less like the mess of cables behind my desk. The added width and clearer and fewer line-lable make it much easier to locate a line, and for the eye to trace it.

I do miss the PATH lines and transfer markings.
posted by unmake at 3:30 PM on April 26, 2007


This is an interesting discussion. Some people say they prefer the geographically correct map because they can orient themselves in space. Other people prefer the schematic map because they can read it more easily and find their destination station.

I wonder if this boils down to differences in our mental maps of the city. If you know the city by its streets and geography first, then you'll want your map to conform to that. But if you learn the city by riding the subway, then you learn about everything above ground in its relation to a subway stop, and the physical geography is secondary.

I definitely learned Tokyo the latter way, and it took me a long time to "connect the dots" above ground—even still, I know specific overland routes, but in some cases have only a vague idea of how they'd plot on a map. Of course, given how convoluted Tokyo's streets are, this isn't that surprising.
posted by adamrice at 3:40 PM on April 26, 2007


It's not needed to also indicate neighborhoods.

Why not? If a non-NYCer visiting wants to know where "Chelsea" is, it's marked on the map. That's a good thing. It's also a spatial sectioning thing for those of us who do live here, which is nice when maps aren't geographically accurate.

I don't really see the importance of geographic accuracy either. I'd rather just look at an overland map to find the nearest station to my destination. Then look at the tube/metro/subway map to figure out how to get there.

Because when you distort geography too much, you might not be able to determine successfully which station is nearest, or which route is the shortest.

I like some ideas from this new map, but still find it a bit hard to read. Perhaps it's all the double/tripled-up lines. Consolidate the 1/2/3 into one line until they branch, and perhaps it'd be easier to read. It still doesn't convey enough information, overall, though.

the new map is much better - it should be adopted

Spoken like someone who doesn't live here. (Even if you do.) It has an equal number of problems compared to the current map, just different ones.
posted by Mikey-San at 3:41 PM on April 26, 2007


I thought that the most recent redesign of the NYC MTA map took place in the mid 90s? I remember there being a grey-based background when I was a kid in the city in the late 80s, and it had changed at / around the time I went to high school.

As I remember, that's when most of the metro-north / LIRR / bus transfer information got added to the map as well.

Anyway: I think the new map is quite striking, and it's the kind of thing I'd like to put up on my wall. I doubt that it would be any better in helping noobs navigate the system any better, though. The subway's too chaotic, and a lot of the problem is not getting from station to station, but in finding your way to the train you want from the station. (I still wish the MTA would put out an atlas of the neighborhood maps that they hang at station exits--those are the best Subway maps, period.)
posted by thecaddy at 3:45 PM on April 26, 2007


Im comparing it to my local bart map. Seriously though, I worked in NY for a few weeks and my first day, I walked down, got on the right train, read the subway map, trasnfered at Penn Station and got to work early. I dont think its that hard...
posted by subaruwrx at 3:53 PM on April 26, 2007


It's hard to compare because the new one has a very modern aesthetic: gradient colors, nice fonts, etc. The old one could be updated to look modern without a drastic redesign. Not comparing apples to apples.

The website also makes the old map look worse than it should, by using an resized digital version. The paper version looks much better. Cheating a bit there.

Even given that, the M-J-Z labels on this part of the new map are almost illegible.
posted by smackfu at 3:57 PM on April 26, 2007


Whoops, I dont know where my first sentance went,

"Both look stupid and needlessly complicated, but then again..."
posted by subaruwrx at 3:57 PM on April 26, 2007


I like it. The current map doesn't provide any graphical representation of the different services' stopping patterns, and the attempt to distinguish local and interchange stations is wilfully cryptic.
posted by cillit bang at 3:59 PM on April 26, 2007


Actually form the comments here and on the blog I now see the point of the multiple lines. Yeah, that kinda works...
posted by Artw at 4:11 PM on April 26, 2007


for me, and i live in new york, the map is not really an issue. if i'm going somewhere i don't usually go i may look at it, but i rarely need to. the real issue is labelling the exits, assigning them numbers as they do in japan, and telling you how far you have to walk to transfer to a different line where they meet underground. even in stations i have used many times, i often don't know which direction i should really go when i get off a train. mostly big ones like atlantic ave., times square, fulton st., etc.
posted by snofoam at 4:28 PM on April 26, 2007


that new design rocks! the old map is hard to read and an eyesore. i'm a native new yorker and i think it's about time we ditch those old maps. i also like the fact that you do not have to tilt your head to read the type.
posted by cazoo at 4:33 PM on April 26, 2007


sigh... From a young artist's or musician's point of view, New York was better when the subway was largely perceived as dangerous and hard to figure out. When the city was a place that was tough and daunting and scary enough to keep out all but those determined to be there. Determined to be there because New York offered opportunities that no other American city did. And it was affordable for those newcomers precisely because of the kind of awed fear it inspired in the rest of the country. Now many of those young people who might've moved to NYC in years past are simply priced out. Now it's perceived as a big, gleaming friendly place, not much different than anywhere else: hell, even safer than many other cities. And it doesn't take that kind of 'willing-to-deal-with-the-gritty-downside' spirit that previous generations of artists had to acquire in order to live and work and love it there. Now what it takes is lots of money. Lots of money. The new map is probably better, in that it might be easier for people to figure out. But New York was better before it was so easy to figure out. Back when a bad (and often completely unavailable) subway map served as a metaphor for how the place was not for everybody.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:41 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thumbs down, down, down. It immediately reminded me of the Vignelli map, which was god-awful. It's not abstract design, it should correspond more to geography. For instance, the way Jamaica Bay is simplified is just gratuitous.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 4:49 PM on April 26, 2007


The type is better, which is important, but I agree with the lack of need for multiple lines and geographical accuracy.

As someone who has never lived there, I didn't have trouble reading the old map.

Ditto. I've never had any problem getting around Brooklyn, Manhattan, and parts of Queens when I've visited, and I'm a very non-native New Yorker.

It's an interesting design challenge, but it doesn't seem like one of the most pressing.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:54 PM on April 26, 2007


"How do you know where you are if you're not in a city?"

Priceless.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:56 PM on April 26, 2007


RATP.com, the site for the Paris métro system.

Click on "Plan Interactif" on the left sidebar. Note that from this "interactive" map, you can actually select a particular station and then get a detailed map of the neighborhood around the station ("plan de quartier"). Very useful, since most addresses / directions in Paris come with a street address and then the nearest métro station.

Also, if Paris can put their labyrinthine subway on a map, there's hope for NYC...
posted by LMGM at 4:58 PM on April 26, 2007


"New York was better before it was so easy to figure out. Back when a bad (and often completely unavailable) subway map served as a metaphor for how the place was not for everybody."

Kind of like the internet and AOL, huh?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:58 PM on April 26, 2007


I kind of wanted to hate this map, but I don't. I'm still a big fan of the current "official" map, though. Besides, any map is going to be confusing and sprawling because the system itself is confusing and sprawling-- cobbled together from competing systems, built up and torn down, expanded and rerouted, rebuilt, updated, downgraded, and generally jumbled and lovely. Visitors always take a while to catch on: the best map is usually the guy standing next to you on the platform.
posted by phooky at 5:07 PM on April 26, 2007


Kind of like the internet and AOL, huh?

Actually, no, not like that at all.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:08 PM on April 26, 2007


The typography on the new map is absolutely horrible. What is that typeface -- Helvetica, but stretched? It's clear that the letters are distorted for space reasons, and it gives the entire map a shaky, unstable feeling, with no more legibility than the older map, and with less readability to boot.

And what's up with the kerning on the all-caps names? Why is there a giant space between "8" and "AV", but a lesser space between "7" and "AV"? Broadway around Lincoln Center letterspaced monstrously?

Why are Madison Square Garden and MOMA in red, but the United Nations in white? Why are the LIRR, PATH, and Metro-North trains in red as well, as if they were landmarks? Why is Port Authority in white text, while Grand Central is in black? Times Square in red, while Herald Square and Madison Square is black? Lexington Avenue in black, while Park, 6th, 7th, and 8th avenue is blue?

Why are street abbreviations sometimes ST, and sometimes St? Clark and High street are just 'Clark' and 'High', while Jay street is 'Jay St'. Oh, and why doesn't it mention ANYWHERE that the B train is on weekdays only -- yet it mentions peak, off peak, and weekend only details?

There's no order or consistency to the method in which he designed this map, which makes everything seem disorganized and confusing. Horrid. If you're going to make a map and advocate its use, then make its design system legible and orderly.
posted by suedehead at 5:32 PM on April 26, 2007


end of 3rd paragraph: "avenues are blue?"
posted by suedehead at 5:33 PM on April 26, 2007


I just want to add that the simplified geometry is kind of insulting, as if they thought that anything but 90 or 45 degree turns would confuse us.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 5:36 PM on April 26, 2007


as if they thought that anything but 90 or 45 degree turns would confuse us.

Aww, c'mon, Rich, you've never gotten hopelessly turned around in the West Village, then been glad to step out into grid-land again and regain your reference? Non-90 and 45 degree turns do confuse us! ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:40 PM on April 26, 2007


I also never found the New York subway system particularly hard. Certainly not in Manhattan, at least. And besides, the hardest part of the NY subway isn't finding where any particular train is going: it's route planning, which this map doesn't make any easier. When I'm looking at a subway map, the most important piece of information to me isn't that the 1 goes to south ferry while the 2 and 3 go on to Brooklyn: that information's only important if the route I plan on taking involves the Broadway-7th Ave. Line.

I've always thought that figuring out what the important transfer points are (Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square, Fulton-Broadway-Nassau, and so forth) was one of the most important things to know about the subway, since all nontrivial trips tend to involve one of them. Which gets me to this new map. While I realize this is a matter of opinion, I think the new map does a lot less to denote transfer points: it sacrifices ease of finding transfer points for making it a lot easier to tell different routes apart, even those traveling on the same line. I just don't think that trade-off is worth it. But it does make the New York subway seem like it's more like London's or Paris's, which don't treat lines and routes the same way. The only problem is, planning trips in New York is a different process precisely because of the way New York's subway is different.
posted by goingonit at 5:42 PM on April 26, 2007


It's a quite impressively clear overview, overheardinnewyork makes more sense now..

related thread with nice subway systems graphics
posted by dnial at 5:50 PM on April 26, 2007


I think the new map is way prettier. I love the multiple lines. I don't live in NYC. I think that makes me qualified to map it. People who live there already know. They don't need a map. They're New Yorkers, you can't beat them, they make maps with their bare hands.

I think the poster who mentioned mental models might be on to something. Some people might be orienting themselves in imaginary space, while others see a series of cascading decisions almost irrelevant of the actual three dimensional space. So I think it's understandable that natives of NYC, who are more familiar with it's geographical space would favor the first mental model, and tourists would favor the second.
posted by Area Control at 6:00 PM on April 26, 2007


I moved to N.Y. just when the Vignelli map was being phased out, and both it and the newer (current) map were available in the subways. As I learned my way around, it became clear that the newer map was far more practical. The Vignelli seemed not to correspond to the real world in which I was moving.

It's definitely helpful to simplify the geography - to an extent. But not, for some aesthetic reason, where it's unnecessary. When I see those restricted angles, that simplified geometry, I still get my old Pavlovian response: "Arrrgghhhh...."
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 6:12 PM on April 26, 2007


aw, I was so excited to think there was a new and improved map and am very disappointed with this one. but it does have some good points. I like the neighborhoods marked out. Better choice of background colors. Still, it could be waaaaay better than this.

Why can't they put animals in the subway map like the Animals of the Underground site?

Visual Complexity is one of my all time favorite sites but, imo, the olde NYC subway map depicted on their site sucks.

Kidding aside, first of all Manhattan south of Central Park needs a larger, more detailed map.
Yes, definitely N-E-S-W marked on the map.

Whatever, a lot better that this.
posted by nickyskye at 6:42 PM on April 26, 2007


For what it's worth, anywhere I go, I build a spatially oriented mental map. I don't want or need perfect geographic accuracy, nor do I want or need a perfectly detailed track map. What I want is a blend of the two. I think the existing NYC Subway map does a decent enough job at it. The idea of having two maps in one seems like a good one, but I don't know how workable it would be to carry one around with you.

The whole use a subway route map and geographic road map would work fine, if pocket maps that indicated transit infrastructure were common. Unfortunately, they are not, so transit maps end up pulling double duty.
posted by wierdo at 7:00 PM on April 26, 2007


Also, if Paris can put their labyrinthine subway on a map, there's hope for NYC...

Wow, that map is insane. How does anyone find their way around using that?
posted by smackfu at 7:56 PM on April 26, 2007


I don't have a dog in this fight, but fuck me, I wish Toronto had a nice complicated subway. I would love to argue about the complexity and comprehensibility of our subway map as opposed to looking at a few pieces of coloured spaghetti.
posted by Ohdemah at 8:18 PM on April 26, 2007


The labyrinth made simple

It's hard to make Labyrinth any simpler than it already is.
posted by sparkletone at 8:40 PM on April 26, 2007


It's not supposed to be fucking easy. This is New York Goddamn City. We don't need no maps.
posted by spitbull at 8:48 PM on April 26, 2007


Neither of these maps gets more than a B+ from me, although I do think that marking of neighborhoods is a vast improvement.

The multiple lines look busy to me. For actual, everyday use, I'd just as soon have the color of the lines and the corresponding letters.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:12 PM on April 26, 2007


It's hard to make Labyrinth any simpler than it already is.

Not true. here's an example:

Bowie: You remind me of the babe.
goblin: ok.
posted by shmegegge at 10:33 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Working link to the RATP site.
posted by Wolof at 11:24 PM on April 26, 2007



I've never thought twice about the NYC subway map. It's kind of a mess, but if you read the legend, it's not exactly rocket science. If you don't know how to read a map, it could be a challenge.

I thought the Paris subway map was pretty beautiful. Berlin's looks kind of like London's.

And this one is exactly as it should be. (that link, is to Moscow's).

I'm all for geography-free subway maps: most tourist maps/ city maps have subway and tram station notations, and so you do a little colating and cross-checking.

Oh, and what flapjax said.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:45 AM on April 27, 2007


Berlin's map (.pdf link on far right side) is based on the principles of London's underground map.

The map (designed by MetaDesign to unify east and west Berlin's systems after re-unification) includes all tram routes and important bus routes.

The fact that it's not based on geography is made up for with big city maps posted near the entrances of subways and at tram and some bus stops. These maps have all the routes clearly mapped as well.

I've used New York's transit system a few times (though some things are hazy in my memory) but I also find it somewhat more difficult to use. When I look at a transit map i am more interested in quickly finding the connection from one station to another. It's more difficult to visualize connections on the current NYC map. Like someone said, it's like a messy bunch of computer cables where you can't tell one usb cable from another. This is especially true about all those yellow lines at the bottom of the map, shades of yellow, all in the same area, it seems like I have to trace very carefully from end to end not to mix anything up.

In places like Berlin it's also easier because no matter where you are, you can walk a few blocks and find yourself at either a subway or tram station and figure out where you need to go from there. My impression of NYC is that it seems like one could walk for miles before reaching some sort of public transport station. The buses I could never figure out how to use because there never seemed to be any information as to where they go exactly anyway.

Another thing is being able to buy a ticket in Berlin and using it on any form of public transportation available in the city. All connections are free.

Otherwise I guess NYC is a much bigger city so that doesn't make it any easier either.
posted by romanb at 3:45 AM on April 27, 2007


Being a Londoner and therefore biased towards the non-geographically representative map I regard Beck as some sort of God and see no reason why any representation of the world above ground needs to be shown on a map depicting the underground. All this nonsense of 'needing to know where to get off' can be easily solved by asking someone. The first time I go to someone's house I instinctively ask 'what's the nearest tube stop?'. It's just a force of habit. And any tourist attraction will automatically say on it's advert/entry in a guide book/whatever what the nearest tube station is. Couldn't be easier. No need for a map of the overground on the underground map at all.
posted by muthecow at 3:52 AM on April 27, 2007



Another thing is being able to buy a ticket in Berlin and using it on any form of public transportation available in the city. All connections are free.

We have that for subway-bus connections if you do it within 2 hours on a Metrocard (i think it's 2)
posted by amberglow at 9:55 AM on April 27, 2007



You know the other point to the whole 'needing to know where to get off' bit is that there are really good street maps (now) in most every single subway station.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:28 AM on April 27, 2007


Ugh. I hate the squared off blocky maps (London, Berlin). And honestly, as a New Yorker who was once new to the city, the Manhattan subways are not fucking hard: with a few exceptions, the trains go up and down. Some are express. If you are really confused, take a local. The end.
posted by dame at 12:53 PM on April 27, 2007


Yeah, just take the six.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 3:01 AM on April 28, 2007


Yeah, just take the six.

Yup, the Lexington Avenue Line.

Hey, it's more or less on topic, and this thread is probably pretty much wrapped up anyway, so what the hell, it's shameless self-link time.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:39 AM on April 28, 2007


Nice, flapjax. I approve.
posted by dame at 1:46 PM on April 28, 2007


very nice!
posted by amberglow at 12:33 PM on April 29, 2007


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