Tuesday, December 03, 2019

The New York Subway Map

The New York Times' New York Subway Map Like You've Never Seen it Before takes a close look at the MTA's New York subway map. It explores some of the reasons why the current map design was introduced in 1979 and some of the problems created by this redesign of the city's subway map.

The primary designer responsible for the 1979 redesign of the New York subway map was Nobuyuki Siraisi. As you progress through the New York Times' story map the newspaper takes a closer look at some of the design decisions taken by Siraisi in his redesign of the city's transit map and attempts to explain some of the reasons behind those changes. The map also examines some of the additions that have been made over the years to Siraisi's original 1979 design.

The NYT's story map is very impressive in form (if perhaps a little light on critical content). The way the map follows the subway lines as the NYT moves from feature to feature is very impressive. However while the Times does point out some of the glaring failings of the current MTA map in my eyes it lets the map off way too lightly.

One of the major reasons behind the switch from Massimo Vignelli's 1972 New York subway map in 1979 was to create a more geographically accurate map. Vignelli's map (like most transit maps) omitted geographical details for the sake of simplicity. The 1979 redesign was intended to reintegrate geographical elements to the map. So, for example, the Siraisi design includes labels for street names and (as the NYT points out) the shape of Central Park's ponds are drawn accurately on the map. However all this geographical detail comes at the cost of simplicity and the New York subway map is consequently very busy and a little hard to read.

Since 1979 many people have attempted to create a better subway map for New York. In 2000 Massimo Vignelli himself created a more simplified subway map for New York. Earlier this year Transit Maps created a New York Subway Map in the Style of the London Underground Map. It is interesting to note that both of these experimental New York subway maps are much more simplified than the MTA's current map and remove many of the geographical elements which were deemed to be of high importance for the 1979 redesign. I think both of them would be an improvement on the official current MTA map.

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