Official Map: New York/New Jersey Regional Transit Diagram — Full Review

After our first glimpse yesterday, now it’s time for a more in-depth look at this map. Thanks to everyone who sent me a link to the PDF (and there were more than a few of you)!

First things first: this MTA press release confirms that the map was designed by Yoshiki Waterhouse of Vignelli Associates. It’s definitely nice to see that the original creators of the diagram continue to shape its future, rather than being handed off to another design team.

That said, the original source that this map is based off — the 2008 revision of Vignelli’s classic 1970s diagram, as used on the MTA’s “Weekender” service update website — actually creates some problems for this version of the map.

Because the bright primary colours used for the Subway’s many route lines are so much a part of the map’s look (and indeed, the very fabric of the Subway itself, appearing on signage and trains across the entire system) it forces the NJ Transit, PATH and Amtrak routes shown to be rendered in muted pastel tones in order to differentiate them from the Subway. This results in a visual imbalance between the New York and New Jersey sides of the map: cool and muted on the left, bright and bold to the right. I also feel that the PATH lines up to 33rd Street become a little “lost” compared to the adjacent subway lines.

The other result of using pastel route lines is a loss of contrast between all those lines: they all register at a similar visual intensity, making them a little harder to differentiate. Because of the sheer number of lines that have to be shown, some of the NJ Transit routes have lost their “traditional” colour as used on their own official map (Nov. 2011, 1.5 stars). The Bergen County Line is no longer light blue, but the same yellow as the Main Line, while the Gladstone Line now uses the same green as the Morristown Line. Their original colours get redistributed to New Jersey’s light rail lines and Amtrak.

Some people have noticed that the map shows weekday off-peak services and commented that this is useless for the Super Bowl, which is held on a Sunday. However, the map has to be useful for the entire week of Super Bowl festivities, not just game day, so I feel it’s doing the best it can under the circumstances. If it really bothers you, @TheLIRRToday on Twitter has made a quick and dirty version of the map that shows weekend service patterns. As as has been pointed out to me, service on Super Bowl Weekend will be close to that of the weekday peak, so the difference is negligible anyway.

What bothers me is the fact that the football icon has an extra row of laces. NFL balls have eight rows of laces — the icon shows nine.

Our rating: Based on the classic Vignelli diagram. While it remains true to its minimalist roots, it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessors. The need to integrate so many different routes and services while retaining familiar route colours for the Subway mean that the left half of the map isn’t as visually strong as the right. Still far better than many North American transit maps. It would also make a neat souvenir of a trip to the Super Bowl! Three stars. 

3 Stars

(Source: NJ Transit “First Mass Transit Super Bowl" web page — also available on the MTA website)

Submission - Aerial Photo of New York City with Rail Lines Superimposed 

Fantastic work from Transit Maps reader Arnorian showing the New York Subway, PATH and NJ Transit Lines on top of an aerial photograph of central New York City. When you view a transit system like New York’s through the limitations of a small printed or on-line map (be it the official map, the Vignelli diagram or even the hybrid Kick Map), it’s easy to forget just how big and complex it is. A representation like this shows that complexity and scale to full effect, and also looks quite breathtakingly gorgeous.

Bigger image in this Skyscrapercity forum thread.

Update: I’ve replaced the image with a newer version that has been amended to take into account some comments that readers have made. I’d also like to properly attribute the photographer who took the photo that the map is overlaid on: Dennis Dimick — go and check out his Flickr stream!

Unofficial Map: New York Regional Rail by Jake Berman, 2010

Directly related to the last post, here’s another map of greater New York’s regional rail. Designed by Jake Berman in 2010, this map takes a completely different approach to Carter’s work.

It uses colour-coding to differentiate between agencies, rather than routes, and shows services as main lines and branches, rather than showing each and every route along their entire length. This makes for a simpler-looking, more compact map, although it means that the map doesn’t even attempt to show any service patterns.

Aesthetically, the map is reminiscent of the stark, angular look favoured in the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s (examples here and here).

What we like: The treatment of the major hub stations on this map is lovely - the grey background simply and effectively sets them apart. Inclusion of the AirTrain lines at JFK and Newark is nicely handled, while the use of striking magenta type to call out transfers to other services is fantastic.

What we don’t like: One minor nitpick is that the western NJ Transit lines look a little cramped in comparison to other parts of the map. Also, the names of branch lines are quite small and hard to read because they’re contained within the route lines themselves.

Our rating: A completely different way of tackling the same problem as the previous map, but equally valid and attractive. I do slightly prefer being able to trace a route from one end to the other on a map, but this is still a comprehensive guide to regional rail in and around New York. Four stars.

4 Stars!

(Source: subwaymaps/Jake Berman)