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.
New York City’s Live Subway Map
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).
Here’s a video about how the new digital map came to be:
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.
Michael Hertz, 1932-2020: ‘Father’ of the New York Metro Map
Michael Hertz, whose design firm created the map of the New York City subway that in 1979 replaced a controversial (though critically acclaimed) design by Massimo Vignelli—a map that today’s map design largely follows—died earlier this month at the age of 87, the New York Times reports. See also BBC News, CNN, NBC New York, the New York Post—that’s rather a lot of attention.
That 1979 map that has been critiqued, fulminated against and re-imagined over and over again has nonetheless managed to become iconic; however much the map offended various design aesthetics, as the Times obituary (and previous coverage) shows, it was created with care and purpose: the curves were deliberate, the references to aboveground landmarks were deliberate. It was a team effort, but the Times obit had this interesting item about who should get the credit:
There has been some sniping over the years as to who deserves credit for the 1979 map, with Mr. Hertz taking exception whenever Mr. Tauranac1 was identified as “chief designer” or given some similar title.
“We’ve had parallel careers,” Mr. Hertz told The New York Times in 2012. “I design subway maps, and he claims to design subway maps.”
In 2004, the Long Island newspaper Newsday asked Tom Kelly, then the spokesman for the M.T.A., about who did what.
“The best thing I could probably tell you is to quote my sainted mother: ‘Success has many fathers,’” Mr. Kelly said. “That’s not to disparage any work that anybody else put into the map. But, in all honesty, it’s Mike Hertz that did all the basic design and implementation of it. In all fairness, the father of this map, as far as we’re concerned, is Mike Hertz.”
The 1979 map isn’t quite the same as the current version. Transit Maps posted a copy in 2015, and has this to say about it: “It’s funny how we call this the ‘same’ map as today’s version, because there’s a lot of differences, both big and small. The Beck-style tick marks for local stations as mentioned above, no Staten Island inset, the biggest legend box I’ve ever seen, the colours used for water and parkland … the list goes on!”
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