Submission – Is there an awful typographical error in the New York Subway Map?

Submitted by Nelson Ricardo, who says:

Big typographical oopsie in the latest release of the NYC subway map [September 2014, to coincide with the reopening of the Montague Street Tunnel – Cam]. Station names written horizontally are markedly darker than those written at an angle.


Transit Maps says:

I was all ready to agree with Nelson – I opened the PDF up in my browser and the angled type did look terrible – until I did a little more research and opened up the PDF a few different ways (browser plug-ins vs. Acrobat vs. Preview). In short, not all PDF engines are created equal, and some of them render objects or type in a sub-optimal way.

Opening the PDF in Chrome using the PDF plug-in resulted in “bad” angled text, as did using Preview (which uses Apple’s own PDF engine, not Adobe’s). Opening the PDF in Acrobat Reader or Acrobat Pro on both a Mac and a PC resulted in much better rendering for the angled text, as shown above. Strangely, Safari (Apple’s own browser) uses an Adobe PDF plug-in, so the type renders well there!

For final proof, I managed to unlock the secured MTA map PDF and open it in Illustrator: all the type labels in the above image are 6.92pt Helvetica Bold, regardless of what angle they’re set at.

However, differing amounts of horizontal and vertical scaling have then been applied to the text labels (extremely poor typography!), which is probably what is causing the different PDF engines to render the type so differently.

Source: MTA website (PDF)

Question: Differentiating Local/Express Services

An anon asks:

What is the best way to display two different lines that share a section if one acts as a local service and the other as an express service? I wanted to use ticks to represent the stations on this map, is there any approach to this problem that allows me to use it?


Transit Maps says:

The solution here is best summed up by the words of the great Massimo Vignelli, who distilled the very essence of transit diagram design down to one little quote:

“A different color for each line, a dot for every station. No dot, no station. Very simple,” 

And if you’re using dots as your station markers, it really is that easy, as shown by Vignelli’s own New York Subway map (the 2008 version is shown above), where the express patterns of the 2 and 3 compared to the 1, for example, are easily distinguishable.

Using ticks as station markers does make things a little trickier. You’ll note that the London Underground map separates routes that run along the same track but have different stopping patterns, so there’s absolutely no chance of confusion. I show the section of the Metropolitan Line and Jubilee Line above, but it also occurs on the Picadilly/District Lines west of Earl’s Court. If the route lines touched each other, a tick could be interpreted as belonging to all the lines at that station, so the London approach really is for the best, I feel.

Hard Rock Cafe - New York Subway Map Guitar Pin

As much as I hate to admit it, this is actually pretty darn awesome. With its 45-degree angles, it’s definitely channelling the Vignelli diagram far more than the squiggly official map.

Source: jeffliebig/Flickr

Happy Easter from Transit Maps!

(Bet you never thought I’d find an appropriate image for this!)

(Source: zhujianxun/Flickr)

Historical Map: Working Sketch for 1979 New York Subway Map by Nobu Siraisi

As you might probably guess, I’m not really that fond of the current New York Subway map, although its longevity is certainly to be respected. It was first revealed to the public in 1979, and — despite revisions, service changes and disasters — has remained pretty much the same ever since.

However, this preliminary sketch by designer Nobu Siraisi, collaborating with Michael Hertz on that map, is nothing short of delightful. It looks like it was made in an effort to untangle the web of route lines around the busy Atlantic Avenue station with an eye on label placement as well. Note that the label for Grand Army Plaza station has been erased from the right hand side of the route lines and redrawn to the left. It’s also interesting to see just how much cleaner and legible even this spaghetti-strand map is without the underlying street grid of the full map.

The interview in the Gothamist that this image came from is definitely worth reading, although Michael Hertz certainly has a very rose-tinted view of how his map replaced the Vignelli diagram that came before it.

Source: Gothamist interview with Michael Hertz in 2007, via Aaron Reiss (Twitter)

Video: New NYC Transit Touch Screens

Neat little video from Gizmodo giving an overview of the new touch screen maps/informational kiosks at Grand Central. Is it just me, or does it take forever for the map to find and draw a requested route?

(Source: Gizmodo/Vimeo)

Fantasy Map: New York Subway Map in the Style of Washington DC’s Metro Map by Chris Whong

Yes, it only shows Manhattan and The Bronx with small parts of Brooklyn and Queens, but this is still a pretty awesome mash-up. Aesthetically, it’s a dead ringer for the Washington, DC Metro map — big, fat route lines, the “double ring” interchange stations, green areas for parkland, etc. Nice work from Chris to mimic this style so closely!

While the map looks great, it really also shows how unsuited the bold, simplistic approach taken by the DC diagram is to a complex transit system like New York’s. Vital information that New Yorkers depend upon for daily travel is simply nowhere to be found: the distinction between local and express stations, for example, or any indication of those hugely important free transfers between certain stations. 

A few little errors that I see on a quick scan: the “A” and “L” lines are missing their terminus letter designation markers, and 42nd St/Port Authority has no station marker at all.

In the end, Chris probably made this because it seemed like a fun thing to do, and it’s certainly that and more. But it’s also very interesting to see that what works for one city doesn’t always work for another!

(Source: Chris Whong’s website)


A skyview of Manhattan with overlaid subway and rail lines. 7 Subway Extension, the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, and East Side Access included.

Another fantastic aerial photo/subway routes mash-up from Arnorian — a companion piece to this very popular piece that shows more of New York and New Jersey.

What I really like about this is that you can make out individual buildings and streets quite easily — the Empire State Building is immediately obvious, for example — placing all the lines shown in a very real and recognisable context. I can definitely relate many of the locations that I visited on my trip to New York a few years ago to this view, which is kind of cool. 


R33 Bluebird World’s Fair Car 9306 Detail, with Map. Image by Black Paw Photo.

Love it!

  1. Camera: Canon EOS REBEL T3i

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)