New York City’s Live Subway Map

Screenshot of NYC Live Subway Map (MTA)
MTA (screenshot)

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.

[Kottke]

COVID Zones

City of New York (left); Province of Quebec (right)

Rather than applying restrictions across their entire jurisdictions, several authorities are designating zones to target measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus where the spread is at its greatest. Maps can quickly indicate not only where COVID is at its worst, but also where restrictions have been put into place. Two examples: New York City (above left) and the province of Quebec (above right). New York’s map is interactive and has an address search, whereas Quebec’s map is spectacularly ungranular: diagonal lines show that a region has more strict restrictions in some areas but not others, but does not map those areas (which are indicated in text).

Alex Russell’s Great Maps of Brooklyn

Alex Russell, “The Great Map of Williamsburg” (2020)

Last October, Alex Russell released his first pictorial map of a Brooklyn neighbourhood, the Great Map of Greenpoint. It was begun, he says, “as an effort to drive business around the neighborhood. As a restaurant owner in Greenpoint, it was to draw attention to everything this great little area had to offer.” His follow-up, the Great Map of Williamsburg (above), ran straight into the pandemic, as Greenpointers reports:

“My printer closed their doors for a few months just as my order went in,” Russell said of his map, which went to print right as the coronavirus halted New York’s spring. “Sadly, I have recently discovered that a handful of the businesses on The Great Map of Williamsburg have closed due to COVID. I will be delivering their maps to them this week as a bittersweet memory of what was. Some of them, like Brooklyn Charm, had been there for over a decade. I feel honored to have had the chance to be a part of their history.”

Both maps are available for sale as posters; Williamsburg costs $40 and Greenpoint costs $25. [News12 Brooklyn]

Still More Coronavirus Maps

Kera Till

Kera Till’s “Commuting in Corona Times” is a transit map of the new normal. More at Untapped New York.

On a personal level, the coronavirus map I stare at the most is the one closest to home: a dashboard that shows the regional incidence of COVID-19 in Quebec. Maintained by two geographers at Laval University, it’s extremely helpful in that it shows the per capita rate as well as the raw numbers, which highlights (for example) just how many cases there are in the Eastern Townships, and how few there are here in the Outaouais, as a percentage of the population. [Le Droit]

New York City COVID-19 mapLess helpful is New York City’s map showing the percentage of patients testing positive for COVID-19, because its neighbourhood detail is so difficult to interpret, as Patch’s Kathleen Culliton points out. “Neighborhoods are designated by numbers instead of name—408 is Jamaica, Queens, by the way—and the percentages are not connected to population data but to those tested. The number of people tested per zone? Not included. The population [per] zone? Not included.” [Kenneth Field]

It’s hard to maintain social distancing in a dense urban environment like New York, but that doesn’t mean that rural areas are inherently safer. Identifying areas that would be hit harder by the coronavirus can be a factor of age and various social vulnerability factors (such as poverty and vehicle access); John Nelson looks at the intersection of age and social vulnerability in this StoryMap and this blog post. The Washington Post’s maps of vulnerability are based on age and flu rates. A third example is Jvion’s COVID Community Vulnerability Map, which is based on anonymized health data from some 30 million Americans [ZDNet].

The New York Times maps the number of cases at the global level and for the United States. It’s also making available county-level coronavirus data assembled from various states and counties, since there seems to be no single agency tracking this at the national level.

Failing to observe social distancing makes the pandemic worse. You might have seeen Tectonix’s video on Twitter, drawn from the location data of mobile devices that were active at a single beach in Florida over spring break, and followed them home. As CTV News reports, the video has drawn fire from privacy advocates, though Tectonix asserts that the data was anonymized and collected with user consent. Meanwhile, the New York Times explores several scenarios of coronavirus spread, comparing what might happen with some control measures, more severe control measures, and no action taken at all.

For mapmakers: Matthew Edney on how and how not to map the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenneth Field on using coxcomb charts (memory-intenstive example here) and waffle grids to map the pandemic.

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.”

New York Subway Map, 1979
MTA

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!”

A Naïve Look at New York’s Subway Map

Screenshot (nytimes.com)

The New York Times does a deep dive into New York’s current subway map: its design choices, its history, its quirks. It’s more an animated slideshow than interactive map: each step takes us along a route, bouncing up and down (for example) where you’d expect to walk. It’s also completely devoid of any context, particularly the controversies around this very map’s design. People have been agitated about New York’s subway map, and have been reimagining and rethinking it, for decades.

That said, even a naïve look at the status quo isn’t without value, especially since the status quo is rarely looked at on its own terms, but rather in the context of tearing it up and coming up with something new and better.

The New York Subway Map Gets More Rethinking

John Tauranac is having second thoughts. Tauranac is the former MTA map designer whose committee replaced Massimo Vignelli’s diagrammatic subway map with a more geographical one in 1979; that map, with modifications and updates, is still in use today. He now thinks the map needs an overhaul, according to the New York Post, and at 80 he thinks he’s the one to do it. The Post article includes some of his suggestions; the MTA is, shall we say, not eager for his help.

(Tauranac has been active on this file for a while: he released his own subway map in 2008: it’s a folded map that is geographical on one side and diagrammatic on the other. It seems to be out of print, but I still have a copy in my files.)

And a perusal of my own archives will tell you that the project to reimagine and rethink the New York subway map has been going on a very long time. Last May Jun Seong Ahn posted a rethinking of the subway map—not as the usual poster, but as a wide horizontal map posted above the heads of commuters, as you commonly see in other cities:

Jun Seong Ahn

Debates about the New York subway map generally involve posters on trains and in stations—flat, paper, static maps. Meanwhile the MTA is moving to digital displays over the next few years, which may afford train and station maps the opportunity to be as dynamic and changing as the maps on riders’ phones. So far, though, the maps are low-resolution and static.

Previously: New York Subway Maps; Tauranac’s New York Subway Map; Mark Ovenden: The French (Re-)Connection; A Talk About Designing the New York Subway Map on Dec. 7; Debating the New York Subway Map; New York Subway Line Posters; Anthony Denaro’s Map of All of NYC’s Transit; New York Subway Track Map.

An Exhibition of Historic Maps of New York City: New Amsterdam to Metropolis

Untapped Cities has photos from an exhibition of historic and antique maps of New York City at the gallery of Manhattan rare book dealer Martayan Lan. New Amsterdam to Metropolis: Historic Maps of New York City features maps of the city dating back to the 16th century. It opened last November and runs until the end of May 2019. Some (but not all) of the maps, the New York Times notes, are for sale, which is what happens when it’s a rare book dealer rather than a museum or library doing the exhibition.

Navigating New York: An Exhibition at the New York Transit Museum

An exhibition at the New York Transit MuseumNavigating New York, got a writeup in Curbed New York. “The exhibit, which has been in the works for about a year, draws heavily on the NYTM’s extensive collection of objects related to the transit system—subway maps, yes, but also cartographic tools, renderings, and other ephemera. There are also items that might be familiar even to those who aren’t transit wonks, like the New Yorker’s 2001 ‘New Yorkistan’ cover by Rick Meyerowitz and Maira Kalman.” Vignelli’s famous 1972 subway map also makes an appearance. The exhibition runs through 9 September 2019; there’s no dedicated web page for it.

Copy of Ratzer’s Map of Colonial New York Auctioned for $150,000

Plan of the City of New York, in North America, 1776. Map, 123 × 89 cm. New York Public Library.

A 1776 map of New York City sold at auction in New York last April for $150,000, the Daily Mail reported at the time. The map is the second edition of the more famous, and rare, 1770 map showing the work of surveyor Bernard Ratzer. It was published in England, and was apparently put to use by British officers during the American Revolution. The New York Public Library’s copy has been digitized and is available online. [WMS]

Previously: Map of Colonial New Jersey Rediscovered.

Yorktown Campaign Map of New York City Being Auctioned

On 5 December Christie’s will auction, as part of a lot of printed books and manuscripts, a map described as “an important manuscript map of New York City prepared by cartographers attached to Rochambeau’s forces during the Yorktown Campaign.” The 63×40-cm ink-and-watercolour map dates from 1781-1782 and is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000. Christie’s item description is quite detailed.

You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City

You Are Here NYC: Mapping the Soul of the CityAn exhibition taking place now at the New York City Library, Picturing the City: Illustrated Maps of NYC, features 16 pictorial maps from the Library’s collection of illustrations. Running until 9 April 2018, it’s curated by Katharine Harmon, whose book, You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City, came out last November from Princeton Architectural Press. Here’s an interview with Harmon about the exhibition in Print magazine.

This seems as good an excuse as any to take a closer look at You Are Here: NYC. Past time, actually, since I’ve had a review copy in my hands for a year now.

You Are Here: NYC is the third of Katharine Harmon’s map books. The first, You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, came out in 2003, the second, The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography, in 2010. Harmon’s distinctive style in editing and curating these books, carries over to the present volume.

Continue reading “You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City”

Repairing and Cleaning Old New York Maps

In yesterday’s New York Times, a piece on efforts by the New York City Municipal Archives to preserve the city’s earliest maps and architectural drawings.

Inside the lab, conservators talk about the care of antique maps like a doctor discusses a patient’s condition and treatment in an intensive care unit.

Conservators will lay a given map on a table for an exam and diagnose the issue: Is it brittle or burned? Damaged by water or tape? Crumbly, delaminated or peeling? Then they record the treatment in a chart of sorts so that years later, the next caretaker will know what remedy was given.

The repair process of a map—like that for a more than 200-year-old, torn illustration of Williamsburg, Brooklyn—typically takes several hours, though sometimes the conservators will spend days working on just one.

[WMS]

Project Subway NYC’s X-Ray Area Maps

As part of her Project Subway NYC, architect Candy Chan has created a series of X-Ray Area Maps of various New York subway stations. These maps show the subway stations—their platforms, their passages, their staircases—relative to the surrounding streets and buildings. Absolutely engrossing. Chan explains her methodology in this blog post. She’s also selling posters. [Kottke]

New York Subway Track Map

Last year I told you about Andrew Lynch’s posters of individual New York subway lines. Now Lynch has created something that will be of interest to anyone who likes the London Underground’s track network map or Franklin Jarrier’s detailed rail maps: a geographically accurate subway track map for New York City, which can be downloaded as a PDF here. He describes how he went about making it (with apologia that sound like standard mapmaking compromises):

Collecting every historical map I could find, using GIS data, satellite imagery (both current and historic), YouTube videos of fan trips, my own observations looking out the window of trains through tunnels, and talking to retired track workers I was able to draw what I believe to be the most accurate track map of the NYC Subway ever. Features I’ve added to the map are all provisions for future expansion and abandoned sections with a notes section explaining each one as well as an exploded view for the more complex stations and areas obscured by overlapping tracks. I’ve elected to remove all streets as not to clutter the map and also not to imply that specific sections (such as crossovers) are perfectly aligned to the street grid. While the map is geographically accurate at this scale tracks had to be spaced far enough apart to read correctly so lines are not perfect aligned with the widths of the streets. Also some train yards have been truncated to fit within the geographical boundaries of the map.

Previously: New York Subway Line Posters; A Map of the London Underground Track Network.