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.
Yes, I've seen this NY Times subway infographic piece. It's… odd. Seems to excuse bad design with some magical hand waves and expect us to believe this is really the best map that could be made.https://t.co/5xjiAK9EQz
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.
(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:
An exhibition at the New York Transit Museum, Navigating 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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
At The Skiffy and Fanty Show, Paul Weimer reviewsAtlas Obscura. “So is there a point to the book? Is there any good reason to read the book and not just go trolling and traversing through the website, which has many more entries? Yes. Even in an interconnected world such as ours, there is a tactile experience to flipping through this book, coffee table style […] While wandering through links on the website is a time-honored tradition, the book has a presentation that the website can’t quite match.” I reviewed Atlas Obscura last September.
As for the other new map book about New York City, Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s Non-Stop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, there’s a review up on Hyperallergic by Allison Meier, replete with photos of the book. “Every map is an intense act of creative collaboration, with essays and illustrations in Nonstop Metropolis from over 30 artists and writers. […] And the maps emphasize that this city’s character is often missing from our more official cartography.” [WMS]
The Displacement Alert Project Map is a tool built by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development that maps, building by building, the risk of gentrification in New York City—i.e., where the rent is about to get too damn high. Intended for use by housing advocates, tenant organizers, community groups and others, the map calculates the risk of displacement—being pushed out of affordable housing—based on several factors. “Access to this data equips communities with information necessary to fight back against the displacement of residents who are being priced out and pushed out of their neighborhoods, to stop the harassment of tenants by bad landlords, and to prevent the expiration and loss and affordable housing units.” [Gothamist/Maps Mania]
Never mind research that suggests that a single map adding bus lines to an already complicated subway map is cognitively overwhelming. Anthony Denaro has created a map of the New York City transit system that shows bus as well as subway routes—basically, a map of every means of transportation accessible by Unlimited MetroCard. Complex? You bet. Difficult to produce? Unquestionably: Anthony takes us through all the design choices he had to make. Difficult to use? Impossible for me to say (I haven’t even visited New York), but as Anthony points out, this map isn’t for tourists; it’s for frequent users. And no doubt it’ll be yet another engagement in the ongoing New York Subway Map War. [CityLab]