The New New York Subway Map Works in Real Time

There's a new chapter, and maybe an end, for the "Great Subway Map Debate."

2 minute read

October 21, 2020, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Christopher Bonanos reports: "Today, the MTA is unveiling its new digital map, the first one that uses the agency’s own data streams to update in real time."

After giving a background on the historical precedents for the new map, Bonanos suggests that the map is perhaps the best of both worlds: a combination of the aesthetic accomplishments of the map designed by Massimo Vignelli in the early 1970s, and the more practical, user-focused approach designed by Michael Hertz Associates later the same decade.

"Vignelli’s diagram was a joy to look at and was nearly useless as an aboveground navigation tool. Hertz and Tauranac’s map functioned pretty well as a map to getting around town but inspired comparatively little delight," writes Bonanos to describe the precedent map designs.

The new map, however, is literally contemporary, writes Bonanos:

It’s so thoroughly up-to-the-moment that you can watch individual trains move around the system on your phone. Pinch your fingers on the screen, and you can zoom out to see your whole line or borough, as the lines resolve into single strands. Drag your fingers apart, and you’ll zoom in to see multiple routes in each tunnel springing out, widening into parallel bands — making visible individual service changes, closures and openings, and reroutings. Click on a station, and you can find out whether the elevators and escalators are working. 

MTA Subway Map

Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The new map is a product of Work & Co, and an expert as august as Michael Beirut has declared the new map to be "legitimately revolutionary," according to Bonanos. The article includes a lot more detail about how the leadership at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority kicked off the project and guided the work to its revolutionary completion.

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