Waka Waka Waka
Fantasy Map: Subways of North America by xkcd
My Twitter feed and my Tumblr inbox are both absolutely overflowing with references to this map from the “xkcd’ web comic, so here’s a post about it!
xkcd has always been a comic for geeks, and has a long history of awesome map-related work — my favourites include this Lord of the Rings movie narrative map, and the particularly carto-nerdy discussion of map projections — so it’s nice to see the strip’s attention turn to this particular facet of cartography. Randall Munroe’s typically wry sense of humour can be seen in a lot of the labels on the map: “graveyard for passengers killed by closing doors”, the “Green Line extension to Canada” from Boston, and the inclusion of the infamous Springfield Monorail from The Simpsons. It’s definitely worth exploring in great detail — my favourite is probably the inclusion of the idiosyncratic and once-futuristic Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit system at West Virginia University as the connection between Washington, DC and Atlanta.
A lot of people are already having issues with Randall’s definition of a “subway”, which he defines thusly:
For the pedantic rail enthusiasts, the definition of a subway used here is, with some caveats, “a network containing high capacity grade-separated passenger rail transit lines which run frequently, serve an urban core, and are underground or elevated for at least part of their downtown route.” For the rest of you, the definition is “an underground train in a city.”
If we’re going to be pedantic, then there are some strange omissions — Seattle’s Central Link light rail (grade-separated, frequent, serves the city and runs underground through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel) just off the top of my head. I feel sure many people could think of others!
What the map does show well, even in its cartoon-like execution, is the complete dominance of New York’s subway system (the mouseover tooltip for the comic states that about one in three North American subway stops are in NYC). Randall has remained quite faithful to the actual official system maps for each component city, so New York ends up taking up a huge portion of the map.
But, despite the undeniable brilliance of this map, I know I’ve seen very similar pieces before this. This more serious map of almost exactly the same thing was featured on the Beyond DC blog last month, and this awesome piece by Bill Rankin from 2006 which shows all North American metro systems (a far more inclusive phrase than “subway systems”) at the same scale is also highly reminiscent of this piece. In the end though, it’s infused with enough wacky “xkcd-ness” to make it take on a life of its own.
Here’s how it works: Each turn, you build some track and add a new station. And so do your opponents. Because you’re not the only line in town, you have competition. Your goal is to serve as many desirable blocks as possible, while keeping your opponents at bay. How? Well, every piece of track you lay down cannot be crossed. So every turn, you are building walls. The only way through is via stations.
Over time a subway system will develop, its layout determined by how you and your opponents have chosen to play the game.
I would buy this game in a heartbeat.
Historical Map: Plans for New York Subway Expansion, 1920
I found out about this awesome map from a tweet from Vanshnookenraggen (otherwise known as Andrew Lynch) just the other day.
Originally, I was just going to post the black and white map from the 1920 New York Times article that the original blog post references, but then I realised that the image on the blog linked to a super high resolution PDF of the map. As I found the map in the newspaper article a bit difficult to decipher (lots and lots of intersecting black lines!), I decided to colour it up in Photoshop myself, just to make everything a bit easier to see and understand.
Not everything is perfect: the source material looks like it’s been (understandably) scanned from an actual copy of the newspaper, so a lot of finer detail has been lost. It looks like some of the proposed lines are actually improvements of the existing track and really should be a thick red line superimposed on a thin black line (look closely, and you can see that some red dashed lines are joined together by a thinner line). However, especially in the tangled web of downtown Manhattan, I really couldn’t make things out, so all thicker lines are red.
The map itself details the almost outrageous plans for expansion that the New York Subway had way back in 1920 — everything you see in red was planned to be built in the next twenty-five years (by 1945!). Of course, not everything seen here has come to fruition, but you can’t accuse the planners of not thinking big!
Head on over to Flickr to look at the map in high resolution — and let me know what you think of my handiwork!
Book Review: “Vignelli Transit Maps”, Peter B. Lloyd with Mark Ovenden
As a graphic designer with a keen interest in transit maps and a fairly thorough knowledge of their history and usage, I thought I had a decent understanding of Massimo Vignelli’s diagrammatic version of the New York Subway map, which was used from 1972 to 1979.
This outstanding book has proved me almost completely and utterly wrong.
So much of what we think we know about the Vignelli map is simply hearsay and legend, repeated Chinese whisper-style across the internet, until we’re left with something that almost, but not quite, resembles the truth. Fueled by excellent research and interviews, and presented with beautiful (if occasionally a little small) maps, photos and illustrations, this book is essential for any lover of transit maps and good graphic design.
More than anything else I’ve read, this book places the Vignelli map in a proper historical context — what preceded it and why that left the door open for a modernist design firm (rather than cartographers) to produce something new, but also what led to its abrupt and premature death in 1979. There’s definitely more to the story than the usual “New Yorkers didn’t like a diagram/square Central Park/beige water” reasons that you often hear.
As well as a thorough analysis of the map itself — reproductions and accompanying text are presented for every version of the map — the book also delves deeply into the labour-intensive and time-consuming production methods required to create a map as complex as this in the days before computer-aided design. Asked to come up with an initial conceptual “trial map” in 1970, junior designer Joan Charysyn (who also independently created this New York Commuter Rail diagram in 1974) had to hand-cut pieces of PANTONE colour film into 1/8” strips and then assemble the route lines onto a one-foot-square board, adding station label type as well. Of the work, Charysyn simply states, “the execution of the comp was tedious and done in as few pieces as possible.”
The book also deals with Vignelli’s work for the Washington, DC Metro: he designed the wayfinding and station signage that is still largely in use today, but the contract for the system map was given separately to Lance Wyman. The book shows some of Vignelli’s very early (and very minimalist!) conceptual sketches for the map, and explains exactly why Lance Wyman’s proposed station icons (similar to the ones he had designed for Mexico City’s Metro) never got off the ground.
The book also discusses the reintroduction of the Vignelli map in 2008, comparing and contrasting it against the other modern player in the New York Subway map market — Eddie Jabbour’s Kick Map (Jabbour writes a preface for the book, and his admiration for Vignelli’s design philosophy and body of work is obvious).
This book is absolutely essential for any lover or student of transit maps or graphic design. It’s well written, thoroughly researched and beautiful to look at: what more do you need? Five stars!
Published by RIT Press, December 2012. 128pp.
Order page is here — Book is $US34.99 plus shipping.
(Note: Transit Maps purchased their own copy of this book, and did not receive any compensation for this review, financial or otherwise)
NY Subway Map and Tokens, 1990
Great little slice of history here. The photographer on Flickr seems to recall the cost of a token as being 60 cents at the time; Wikipedia prices it at $1.15.
As a graphic designer, all I can see is the terrible registration in the (cheap) printing — look at the huge yellow halo bleeding out to the right of the green and red printed areas. (In four-colour printing, green is made from combining cyan and yellow inks, red is made from magenta and yellow. When the plates are poorly aligned with each other, the presses run too fast, or cheap paper stretches or moves during the printing process, you get misalignment of the inks, leading to poor registration like this.)
EDIT: As has been pointed out to me, the tokens and the map shown in the photo aren’t contemporaneous. The “solid brass” token shown here was used from 1980 to 1985; during that time, the cost of a subway ride rose from 60 cents to 90 cents. (Source: nycsubway.org’s comprehensive page on subway tokens)
Historical Map: 1974 New York MTA Commuter Rail Map
Submitted by dpecs, who says:
Vignelli-inspired map (designer unknown) of the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Roads. On display until March 15th at the New York Transit Museum’s exhibit Grand By Design, on the centennial of Grand Central Terminal.
Transit Maps says:
Designer unknown? The amazing book “Helvetica and the New York City Subway” attributes this map to one Joan Charysyn, saying she designed it freelance in between stints at Vignelli Associates and Unimark. It’s my understanding that the map was designed to be part of a three-map system (commuter rail, subway, and locality map) that was meant to be displayed at every station. However, the scheme (much to Massimo Vignelli’s constant disgust) never really eventuated.
To my mind, this map isn’t quite as successful as Vignelli’s subway map, mainly because the Long Island RR is one uniform blue throughout, meaning the map provides very little in the way of routing information. This is probably fine for regular commuters, who know which train they need to catch, but isn’t so great for non-regular users of the system. It’s still a fine example of early 1970s transit map design, and is obviously the inspiration for this modern map (Jan 2013, 4.5 stars) of the Metro-North lines that I’ve featured previously.
Vignelli NYC Subway Map - Street Grid
An image from Massimo Vignelli’s recent talk at the New York Transit Museum about the development of his (in)famous diagram. The chance to hear Vignelli talk about his work really makes me wish that I lived in New York.
Anyway, I find this image particularly interesting because it shows the underlying grid of streets and avenues that was used to place the route lines accurately. Although the map we see here appears to be the 2008 revision (which then evolved into “Weekender” map), you can be certain that the original 1970s version was based on a similarly exacting grid: order and structure in design is what Massimo Vignelli is famous for, after all.
(Source: *Bitch Cakes*/Flickr)