Colour and the New York Subway Map

Gothamist looks at how colour has been used on maps of New York’s subways: first to to distinguish between subway companies, then to distinguish lines from one another. The post talks to, and draws on the work of, Peter Lloyd, who’s been studying the history of subway mapping in New York and gave a talk last Saturday on the subject of colouring the map’s subway lines. See Peter’s blog post on the subject from this time last year.

Kenneth Field Redesigns the Tube Map

One of two redesigned London tube maps by Kenneth Field. This one has a colour palette that is more accomodating to people with colour vision deficiency.
Kenneth Field

Kenneth Field has been a vocal critic of the London tube map’s increasing complexity and clutter. Earlier this year he advocating dumping the map and starting from a clean slate. At last month’s NACIS conference he revealed two versions of a redesign that does just that. Based on an earlier 2019 redesign exercise, this version is inarguably a Beck-inspired diagram; it just benefits from not shoehorning more and more information into an existing, already busy map. In fact, it removes quite a bit of information, relegating it to the index on the reverse side. And in his second variant (above), he commits what I gather is a minor heresy by removing the iconic colours of the original Tube lines, allowing the map to use colour to indicate mode and also accommodate people with colour vision deficiency. Ken explains on his blog post; his NACIS talk is available on YouTube.

Previously: Part Two of Unfinished London’s Tube Map History; Kenneth Field: ‘Dump the Map’; So the Launch of the New Tube Map Seems to Be Going Well.

Update, 16 Jan 2023: Commentary from Transit Maps.

Part Two of Unfinished London’s Tube Map History

And here’s part two of Jay Foreman’s history of London Tube’s map, which looks at its post-Beck existence and increasing clutter and complication. (To say nothing of Beck’s post-map existence.) Part one is here.

Previously: Unfinished London: History of the Tube Map; Kenneth Field: ‘Dump the Map’; So the Launch of the New Tube Map Seems to Be Going Well; Tube Map Adds Thameslink Stations, Becomes More Even Complicated; Has the Tube Map Become Too Complicated?

Mark Ovenden’s YouTube Channel Begins with a Look at the Madrid Metro

Mark Ovenden has launched a YouTube channel focusing on transit map design—which is what you’d expect from the author of Transit Maps of the World (along with other books on transit system design and transport maps: he is by no means a stranger to this blog). It launches today with its first episode, an on-the-ground look at the history of the Madrid metro system and its maps.

How Far Can You Go in Five Hours? Or on a Single Train?

Screenshot of

Benjamin Tran Dinh (previously) has built an interactive isochrone map of Europe that shows you how far you can go by train from a given station in five hours (assuming a connection time of 20 minutes, which is an approximation: generous if same-station, less so if you have to cross the city). The map updates as you move the pointer across it, which is a lot of fun.

The isochrones are generated from data from the site, a site that is worth looking at in and of itself: it shows all the direct connections from a given station, i.e., everywhere you can get to on a single train. That site, in turn, gets its data from the Deutsche Bahn via a legacy API that is necessarily incomplete and only covers destinations reachable from Germany. But there are no complete datasets of European transport routes, so this’ll do. [Maps Mania]

Kenneth Field: ‘Dump the Map’

Kenneth Field is not a fan of the new Tube map.

Transport for London are doggedly clinging on to Beck’s iconic map, and continue to attempt to crowbar 18 separate lines/modes and 510 stations onto the map. It’s not just the additional infrastructure, but the additional demands by various stakeholders to include fare zones, accessible access detail, walkable elements, and now the location of IKEA stores due to a sponsorship arrangement. […] I’d contend the map is already an advert—of London. It’s recognisable and synonymous with the city. It’s just not particularly useful as a map any more.

His solution is fairly straightforward:

I’m not going to go through every issue I see with the map. […] Instead, I’m going to make a single appeal: dump the map. It’s no longer fit for purpose as a means to give people a clear, simple way to navigate London. Change it. Redraw it. Start over, and create a new map. It’s no longer a map of the ‘tube’. It’s a map of all the various interconnected transit systems in one of the world’s densest major cities with a fantastic public transport network. We need a new map to reflect the city.

Previously: So the Launch of the New Tube Map Seems to Be Going Well.

So the Launch of the New Tube Map Seems to Be Going Well

Tube map (2022)
Transport for London

A new version of London’s tube map dropped a couple of weeks ago. It incorporates the new Elizabeth line—as well as IKEA logos indicating which stations are near their stores (IKEA paid £800,000 to sponsor the map). The Evening Standard talks with Transport for London chief designer Jon Hunter about the new design, which apparently took 18 months.

To say the least there’s been a bit of pushback from certain map design circles: yesterday’s MapLab has a good summary of the criticism. The map has been called out for being increasingly complicated in recent years, and this redesign doesn’t help. The interchanges in particular seem to be singled out as examples of egregiously poor design: see Diamond Geezer and Cameron Booth. Others, like Kenneth Field and Mark Ovenden, think the map needs nothing less than a complete redesign. Gareth Dennis is even willing to think the unthinkable: that “it’s time to retire the Beck-style Tube map and start again.” (On the other hand, Cameron doesn’t think the current map is all that Beck-like.)

Previously: Tube Map Adds Thameslink Stations, Becomes More Even Complicated; Has the Tube Map Become Too Complicated?

Topsy-Turvy: The London Underground in the Style of the New York Subway Map

London Underground map in the style of the New York subway map

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!”

It’s available as a print on Etsy, because of course it is.

Thoughts About Transit Fantasy Maps

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.)

Previously: Why Transit Maps Mislead.

More on the New York Subway Map Debate

This roundtable discussion about The New York Subway Map Debate, a book about the April 1978 Cooper Union debate over the design of the New York subway map (previously) and related subjects, featuring John Tauranac himself (who participated in the 1978 debate), alerted me to the fact that an audio recording of that debate is available online. (A discussion about a book about a debate: this all feels a bit recursive.) [Kenneth Field]

New York’s MTA Is Testing a New Subway Map

MTA Customer Information Pilot Maps
The MTA’s new geographically accurate (left) and diagrammatic (right) subway maps, now being tested at nine stations. (MTA)

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.

The New York Subway Map Debate

The New York Subway Map DebateBack 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.