Plenty of cities’ subway maps have been reimagined in the style of the London Underground map. Cameron Booth, for example, has redone New York’s subway map in that style. But a map posted by a graphic designer named Sean to Reddit does the exact opposite: it reimagines the London Underground map in the style of New York’s subway map. Bringing the design language of Michael Hertz to Harry Beck’s sovereign territory is probably blasphemous in some quarters, but as a pastiche of the New York style? Cameron says: “Sean has absolutely nailed the New York Subway map style, and perhaps even improved upon it in places—I note with pleasure that all of his station labels are set horizontally, instead of the many varied angles used on the official NYC map.” His bottom line? “One of the best style mash-ups I’ve seen: technically excellent, well-researched and actually really informative. Wonderful!”
Reece Martin of RMTransit has some thoughts about transit fantasy maps. These are maps that imagine a different transit network for a city, usually greatly expanded (often to the point of implausibility, with lines having nothing to do with where demand actually is or where available transit corridors exist). Reece’s main concern is that the wishful thinking of some of these maps can get in the way of advocating for better transit, but that presupposes that anyone is taking these these maps seriously; this is more his explanation of why he doesn’t talk about them on his channel than anything else.
(I’m reminded of similar fantasy intercity train network maps that expand or restore service to places that don’t have the demand—or the tracks—any more.)
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority is experimenting with new network maps that adopt a diagrammatic design that harkens back to Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 design, or (frankly) to designs used by most other transit systems. The new maps appear in nine subway stations side-by-side with geographically accurate maps of the MTA system, and embed QR codes so riders can submit feedback. If the maps are positively received, they could replace the MTA’s current network map—but New York being New York, and New York’s map wars being what they’ve been for the past fifty years or so, it’s anyone’s guess how this will shake out. More at Gizmodo.
Back in 1978, Massimo Vignelli and John Tauranac debated the future of New York’s subway map. That debate—which in many ways never quite ended—is now the subject of a book coming out later this month. Edited by Gary Hustwit, The New York Subway Map Debate includes a full transcript of the debate and subsequent discussion (thanks to the discovery of a lost audio recording), plus contemporary photos and new interviews. Paperback available for $40 via the link.
San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the world, but it’s large enough to have a bus network, for which Jug Cerovic has created a map. It’s a network diagram that includes not only San Marino’s domestic bus routes, but its connecting bus line to Rimini, Italy (where you can connect to/from trains and planes) and its funicular railway (Wikipedia: Transport in San Marino). It’s also something we almost never see in a transit map: an oblique view. Adding perspective makes total sense: with San Marino and its hills in the foreground and the Adriatic Sea in the distance, we get more detail where it’s needed and connections to the rest of the world in the distance.
This interactive map, created by Sean Marshall, compares the extent of Canada’s passenger rail network in 1955 with what was left of it in 1980 after decades of service cancellations and line abandonments. By 1980 the various railways’ services had been taken over by VIA Rail; VIA’s network would face the first of a series of cutbacks the following year (there’s a lot less of it extant today), so this map represents the public rail network at its maximum. More about the map from Sean here.
The French state railway company SNCF has a lot of nice maps of their rail network, some of which I’ve posted here before; of particular interest, though, is the Atlas du réseau ferré en France, which gathers them into an 86-page booklet, and includes a lot of diagrams showing, for example, passenger and freight volumes. It’s available here as a flipbook and can be downloaded as a PDF if you give them your email; I’d be over the moon if it existed as a hard copy.
Metropolitan France—mainland France without Corsica and its overseas territories—is often referred to colloquially as l’Hexagone. Jug Cerovic, whose work we are familiar with here, has taken that metaphor and run with it with this network diagram of France’s main passenger train lines: the grid is hexagonal, and it works. Lines are colour-coded: TGV lines are blue if they start in Paris and red if they route around it or connect regions directly (a relatively new development; intercity lines are blue-grey, regional lines are orange, and night trains are grey. International routes are also included. It’s actually quite easy to see what cities and towns get what kind of train service, and what services exist between two points—exactly what a network map should do.
RMTransit, a transit enthusiast YouTube channel, looks at some of the shortcomings of transit maps: how maps tend to fail at things like mode (tram vs. subway) or frequency. Very much from a rider perspective rather than from the perspective of map design.
Once a design classic, the map has been ugly, and getting uglier, for a while. The rot started to set in with the baffling decision to show the fare zones using a series of irregular grey polygons that make it look like the familiar shape of the Tube network had been painted against the backdrop of the sort of artwork you’d find lining the corridors of a Gatwick Airport hotel sometime in the late 1980s.
But the bigger problem is that Transport for London have thrown more and more services onto the map without any apparent consideration for what it might need to change in order to accommodate them. Most of the map is still given over to the northern half of London, even though a growing share of the services it shows (the Overground, Tramlink, now Thameslink) are south of the river.
New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority has released a beta of a new digital subway map that aims to solve several problems at once. It shows train positions in real time and provides service bulletins in a single location. It also promises, says Fast Company’s Mark Wilson, to bridge the long-standing (and often acrimonious) divide between geographically accurate transit maps (Hertz) and diagrammatic network diagrams (Vignelli).
On Transit Maps, Cameron Booth has some criticisms of the map and its approach. “The main selling point of this map is that it has the clarity of a diagram but the fidelity of a geographical map—‘The best of both worlds!’ the articles happily proclaimed this morning—but the reality is more like ‘Jack of all trades; master of none.’ As much as I try, I simply can’t see any real benefit to this approach.”
Another point Booth makes, and I can confirm, is that the map isn’t just slow; it’s profoundly slow. On Safari it makes my current-generation, eight-core Core i7 iMac with 40 GB of RAM and a Radeon Pro 5500 XT feel like a snail; it’s a little better on Chrome, and on my third-generation iPad Air, but it’s still slow and janky and not very pleasant to use. Well, it’s a beta. But a beta that crawls on hardware faster than what most people own is, I’d gently suggest, not ready for release.
Mark Ovenden has made a career of publishing books about transportation systems and their maps that are both comprehensive and copiously illustrated. These include books about transit maps, railway maps and airline maps, as well as books about specific transit systems like the London Underground and the Paris Metro.
His latest, Underground Cities (Frances Lincoln, 22 Sep), is in some ways a natural progression from his past work: in the introduction he muses on the link between transit geekery and wondering about “what else lies down there beyond the walls” (p. 6). But in other ways this is quite a different book.