underground designs
August 7, 2009 6:21 AM   Subscribe

The World's Best Alternative Subway Maps, including Eddie Jabbour's NYC Kick Map.
posted by nickyskye (48 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
But for its allegiance to geography it sacrifices a certain amount of clarity and utility...

Pardon an out-of-town hick's ignorance, but isn't the utility of a map directly proportional to the allegiance to geography? The online MBTA map is good, but I'm pretty sure the wall maps in the T stations are the same and suffer for it. (Someone who uses the T more often than annually can probably correct that.)
posted by DU at 6:33 AM on August 7, 2009


The MBTA has other problems right now that supersede locating so-called out-of-town hicks.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:39 AM on August 7, 2009


Pardon an out-of-town hick's ignorance, but isn't the utility of a map directly proportional to the allegiance to geography?

This issue is at the heart of the battle that the kickmap thinks it solves; that is, each map's strength is an opposite of the other's, namely one focuses on groundlevel and the other focuses on sub level. There's no doubt that the Vignelli's map is easier to read, but due to it's lack of apparent geographical accuracy it loses a certain amount of clarity. On the other hand, the MTA map has that geographical accuracy, but in an effort to preserve the viewability of that map, it has minimal subway lines actually drawn.
The MTA map is easy to use if you know where you need to go, NYC wise--the Vignelli map is easy to use if you know what subway stop you want. Probably, out-of-towners would support the MTA map, whereas familiar New Yorkers would favor the Vignelli map.
The hybrid is rather nice, in my opinion-- too often do I get lost searching for a certain line.
posted by stresstwig at 6:48 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the wall maps in the T stations are NOT the same. I.e. more stylized and less gegraphic.
posted by DU at 6:48 AM on August 7, 2009


minus the errant apostrophe or two.
posted by stresstwig at 6:49 AM on August 7, 2009


Huh. I do like the Kick Map's depiction of the L line. I have friends in that little angled-out section of the bend between the Lorimer and Montrose stops, and this clearly shows, better than the MTA map, why it is that it takes as long for me to reach their place from Montrose as it does from Lorimer.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:02 AM on August 7, 2009


The London Tube map is geared toward readability and for someone who already knows they want to go from Station A to Station B. It does not provide any guidance whatsoever on whether, say, Station C is much easier to get to and not much farther from where you want to go. It is only very loosely tied to its geography.

There's a couple maps in the post that try to address that in various ways. I really like the Walkability map which draws dotted lines between stations that aren't that far away (less than 500 meters).

The standard Tube map doesn't reveal that Chancery Lane station and Farringdon are only a short and pleasant walk from each other. On the Tube, it would require no less than two interchanges to get from one to the other.

You know the current map doesn't work when you see signs all over Holborn station advising tourists that they should get out and walk to Covent Garden (a few blocks away) rather than go to the Covent Garden Tube stop with its overcrowded elevators.
posted by vacapinta at 7:03 AM on August 7, 2009


Oh hey! Map #4 there is by mefi's own soma lkzx!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:05 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


I would say that geography is second to clarity, especially where tourists and other non-locals are concerned. The "real" Tokyo map looks impenetrable and is utterly unreadable at a distance.

Though they need to express less complex systems, I love the lightweight feel of the LA Metro Rail map (interactive) and the Singapore MRT map.
posted by mdonley at 7:06 AM on August 7, 2009


The very first thing that I noticed about the Kick Map was how much easier it is to see the Queens/Brooklyn border. I never understood why the official MTA map doesn't indicate that more clearly.
posted by sabira at 7:08 AM on August 7, 2009


Hey, I just made a map that should help tourists understand the complexities of Philadelphia's wonderful public transit system.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:15 AM on August 7, 2009 [12 favorites]


Well played, Greg Nog. Well played indeed.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:18 AM on August 7, 2009


On the Vignelli map, Central Park is a square.

P.S. If you like this stuff, buy this book: Transit Maps of the World
posted by smackfu at 7:23 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's the full map of the Paris Metro that Harry Beck made.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:24 AM on August 7, 2009


Every time I watch the Warriors, I think of how hard Vignelli's map is to read, mostly because of the scene where they narrowly avoid a rival gang, get on the subway, and start trying to estimate the length of their trip home. One of them (Cochise, I think?) is staring at the map, unable to decipher any distance information from it, and says, "No one can read these things anyway". It is at that point that they decide they must be home free, since anyone trying to navigate by that map would be fucked.

It's a gorgeous piece of design, but there are too many shades close in color to each other representing different lines, and no sense of geography. They had no choice but to go back and add some geographical element.
posted by piratebowling at 7:30 AM on August 7, 2009


I've got the Kick map up on a door in my apartment. I wish I had a fold up version to carry around with me. (They have it for iPhone, but I don't have an iPhone.)
posted by ocherdraco at 7:32 AM on August 7, 2009


Comparing the kick map for NYC to the T or Tube maps doesn't seem valid to me. I know that I was really frustrated when I started walking around Boston only to learn that subway stations were a lot closer than that map lead me to believe. The kick map is much more true to the ground level geography and provides a ton of extra detail.
posted by hue at 7:36 AM on August 7, 2009


I do like the Kick map. It solves my biggest problem with the current map, which is that it basically ignores the express/local distinction. Just a single line, where the only signifier is a black station dot vs. a white station dot. The only info on which lines are express vs. local is in the map legend.
posted by smackfu at 7:39 AM on August 7, 2009


I gre up 45 minutes away from Pittsburgh and I never remember that there's a subway there.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:51 AM on August 7, 2009


I kind of wish that the site let you see the EXISTING maps alongside their "alternatives". The Alternative maps are pretty and all, but I am not familiar with how, say, the Paris transit map looks as it is, so seeing the alternative is sort of pretty-without-a-context.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:52 AM on August 7, 2009


The KickMap looks nifty but - and maybe I'm an idiot - I can't figure out a way to acquire one, either by downloading or other means. The website is curiously vague on such matters. Anyone?
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:58 AM on August 7, 2009


NY subways complexity is compounded by the endless track repairs. Somehow an F train can run over the D line on weekends and still be an F train. Also on weekends some local trains stop completely and express trains are now local trains. It would help if they had consistent definitions- an F train only runs on F line and an A train is always an express.

During peak sometimes an F magically becomes express halfway through your journey and you have to get out and get the next F.

I've been here for 20 years and still get on the wrong train occasionally.
posted by bhnyc at 8:01 AM on August 7, 2009


Hey, I just made a map that should help tourists understand the complexities of Philadelphia's wonderful public transit system.

Well done, Greg Nog, but I think you got your signals crossed and provided a graphic representation of Atlanta's MARTA system by accident.
posted by Shepherd at 8:07 AM on August 7, 2009


NYC MTA map is actually pretty decent... but their service change announcements on the other hand.... Real pain in the ass to read.

i.e. F train doesn't run between 12:00 am Saturday and 12:00 am Monday. I have to constantly remind myself that 12:00 am on "Friday" is actually Saturday morning. They should use less text and more visual cues IMHO.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 8:09 AM on August 7, 2009


I really want the Zero per Zero maps.

The best NYC map is the advice of a local who knows the trains and buses well. A volunteer service, to ensure that one does not go on the E with the intention of reaching the Upper West Side.
posted by kathrineg at 8:13 AM on August 7, 2009


I'm a fan of the design on this one.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 8:13 AM on August 7, 2009


I always thought that spoke and hub transit systems really encourage disconnected suburbanism...anyone who lives on agree or disagree?
posted by kathrineg at 8:14 AM on August 7, 2009


I have a similar problem of not being able to figure out how to download the entire Kick map. I very much like it, but it has one problem: major roads are drawn but not labeled. This is infuriating.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:27 AM on August 7, 2009


Simon Clarke's maps including the geographic Tube map
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:28 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want to make out with the designers of the kick map.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:34 AM on August 7, 2009


The KickMap looks nifty but - and maybe I'm an idiot - I can't figure out a way to acquire one, either by downloading or other means. The website is curiously vague on such matters. Anyone? (Dr. Wu)

I emailed them and they sent me one in the mail (I think I paid for it; maybe ~$6?).
posted by ocherdraco at 8:34 AM on August 7, 2009


Wait, that "Urban Mass Transit Systems of North America" map isn't made to scale, right? It was totally blowing my mind for a minute there.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:47 AM on August 7, 2009


I emailed them and they sent me one in the mail (I think I paid for it; maybe ~$6?).

I think I'm going to buy one of these, but is there a downloadable PDF of the entire map? I can't seem to find this either.
posted by tiger yang at 8:51 AM on August 7, 2009


No, there isn't.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:56 AM on August 7, 2009


Being a New Yorker, I have the NYC subway map pretty well memorized, but on the occasion when I gave to really look at the map, it sometimes gets pretty hairy, especially you are looking at the area around Atlantic Ave/Pacific St.

I travel to Chicago on average twice a year and I take the subway when I am there to get around. The map is not geographical at all, but I find I do not miss it as it is much easier to figure out how many stops I have to go until my destination and the transfers are easy to read.

Problem is you can't have a map like that for NY, not a single consolidated map, the system is just to big.

To answer DU, the allegiance to geography is a "nice to have" but not always critical in navigating a subway.
posted by MattScully at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2009


I always thought that spoke and hub transit systems really encourage disconnected suburbanism...anyone who lives on agree or disagree?

Agreed, but it's more of a chicken-and-egg question. Spoke-and-hub systems developed because people wanted to escape the pollution and noise of the city. Once the lines were established, the areas around train stops flourished. People moved further and further out and the lines were extended. As suburban businesses grew, and cars became common, more people stopped commuting exclusively to the central city and commuted between suburbs. However, since the areas around existing stations are still the most dense, the density patterns don't allow for effective public transportation between suburbs (see: Chicago).
posted by desjardins at 9:44 AM on August 7, 2009


There is an entire cottage industry of producing fantasy subway maps for Toronto. Somebody oughta put them all in one place.
posted by joeclark at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2009


Geographically accurate maps aren't particulary necessary because if you're a tourist you're being told (by the guidebook/your map) to get of at a certain station then take a left and a right to get to the museum and if you're a local you know which station is near you mate's house. Nobody should be determining where something is from a geographic subway map.
posted by RufusW at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2009


Maybe it's because I'm a ex-New Yorker map junkie, but I don't see what's so difficult about the MTA map that makes the Kick Map so necessary. The MTA map clearly shows which lines go where and which stations and lines are express and local. Handy for the tourists, yeah, but are there really that many locals that are using it?
posted by elsietheeel at 11:29 AM on August 7, 2009


Which lines are express and local is clear? Look at this map and tell me which of the 4/5/6 stops at 33rd St in Manhattan. Maybe I'm missing it, but I think that info is just not on the map.
posted by smackfu at 11:57 AM on August 7, 2009


There is an advantage to the NYC subway system. I've never had a problem using any subway system in the world after figuring out the NYC system.
posted by threeturtles at 12:14 PM on August 7, 2009


I'm pretty sure the wall maps in the T stations are NOT the same.

Nope, those are the standard maps these days.
posted by ubersturm at 12:58 PM on August 7, 2009


Handy for the tourists, yeah, but are there really that many locals that are using it?

Well, I wouldn't need it to tool around Manhattan or Queens but I would love to have it to venture into Brooklyn in a serious way.
posted by kathrineg at 2:01 PM on August 7, 2009


Greg Nog, enjoyed your fun-cynical cartographic creation and thanks for pointing out one of the maps is by MeFite, soma lkzx. So cool.

Brilliant link additions to the thread one and all. Thanks!
posted by nickyskye at 6:15 PM on August 7, 2009


FutureMBTA - Maps of some bizarro Boston in which every single subway line ever proposed were actually built.
posted by adamg at 8:27 PM on August 7, 2009


There is an advantage to the NYC subway system. I've never had a problem using any subway system in the world after figuring out the NYC system.

I don't know why, because I'm usually pretty good at navigation, but I got lost multiple times on the NYC subway. Ended up in Queens somehow when I meant to go uptown Manhattan. Conversely, I never got lost in Paris, despite the fact that my French is only so-so.
posted by desjardins at 8:15 AM on August 8, 2009


Which lines are express and local is clear? Look at this map and tell me which of the 4/5/6 stops at 33rd St in Manhattan. Maybe I'm missing it, but I think that info is just not on the map.
posted by smackfu at 2:57 PM on August 7 [+] [!]


I may be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure the maps that are in the stations and the actual paper maps the MTA gives out have which trains stop at each station printed on them. The map you linked is the one from the MTA website only, where you can actually click on the individual stations to find out more information.

Additionally...you don't need to know which number the train is that stops there. The station has a black dot...so it's local service only...so if you're trying to get to 33rd street from an express stop (a white dot), you get on the train that stops on the local side of the platform (or announces it's making local stops), and if you're trying to get there from another local stop, you get on the train that stops there. (Things get more complicated if you're going to the Bronx or Brooklyn, but if you know which number train you need to get on, it's not difficult to figure out where to transfer.)

I've also lived here my whole life and have been riding the subways in 3 boroughs by myself since I was in the sixth grade, so maybe I'm being overly generous when considering out-of-towners' navigational skills. It gets confusing when the service suddenly changes because the announcements are terrible, but EVERYONE is confused, which means you can generally ask around on the train to figure it out. Even if you don't ask, someone else inevitably will.
posted by cosmic osmo at 12:04 PM on August 8, 2009


I think there's just basic knowledge that you've learned as a local that a visitor does not. For instance, that some tracks are always local, and others are always express -- but that on a weekend, that can change. Or that 90% of the people who are waiting on a platform will just get the next train, but you may be in the 10% that should not. Or that stations in Manhattan will be signed with Uptown or Downtown but often not their endpoints, or with a borough rather than the real endpoint (which is different than most other subway systems).

The more of this that can be put on the map, the better.
posted by smackfu at 9:05 AM on August 9, 2009


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