Let's talk about the new MTA live subway map.

So, the NYC MTA made a new live subway map, and I've had a lot of requests from people to comment on it. Personally, I think it's a solid idea, but the execution is lacking. 
Some background: there's three schools of thought you could use to draw NYC's subway system.  First, you can draw a diagram, like Massimo Vignelli did in the 70s.  This does a great job of making sense out of the disorganized pre-industrial spaghetti of Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City, and it shows all the subway services accurately, but you have to do violence to the Manhattan grid to get there.  New Yorkers hated this in the '70s, because anyone who's lived in NYC knows that 50th and 8th is west of Broadway, not east, as Vignelli depicted it.
Second, you can draw it mostly geographically, like the current MTA map or the old Hagstrom map of the '40s and '50s.  This matches up better with how New Yorkers see and navigate the city, but it makes navigating the subway a pain in the ass.  Lower Manhattan, LIC and downtown Brooklyn look like a mess. 
Finally, there's the hybrid approach of Eddie Jabbour's Kick Map and the current redesign.  This is necessarily going to be a compromise, but it's probably the best way to make sense of Lower Manhattan/Downtown Brooklyn, while still preserving the integrity of the grid and showing which trains run where.
So, the current redesign has a good design philosophy, but they were sloppy as hell about it.
The first big sloppy mistake they made is showing the stations incorrectly.  A clear example of this is the big Canal St station in Chinatown.  Canal is actually four stations: the JZ on Centre, the 6 on Lafayette, the RW on Broadway, and the NQ directly beneath Canal, two stories down.  But the way they drew it, it shows all seven lines stopping at Lafayette and Canal, which is just flat wrong
This is not what the subway actually does.
And making matters worse, they don't show that the NQ runs over the Manhattan Bridge after Canal St.  It's like the map was designed by someone who never took the train to Brooklyn.
The second big sloppy mistake is how they draw the lines themselves.  Let's go to central Brooklyn.  They add all kinds of janky curves to the subway lines that just don't exist in real life, and I have no idea why they did this. 
In real life, the BQ2345 trains run directly under Flatbush in a straight line, the Franklin Shuttle runs in a straight line on Franklin, and the 2345 under Eastern Parkway runs in a gentle curve.  For some reason they drew the trains zig-zagging all over the place, even though that part of Brooklyn has a pretty orderly street grid.
There are certain places where you can fudge the geography, like Lower Manhattan, East Williamsburg, and Long Island City, because they have street networks seemingly designed by a space creature who doesn't do Euclidean geometry.  But you can't, and shouldn't, do that in places where the streets are designed to make sense.
In short, this thing desperately needed a few more rounds of revisions before going public. 

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  • james on

    You initially agree that designing this map takes a compromise but then you are quick to jump to the conclusion that the designers didn’t make these choices deliberately? I was excited to find your blog but your take on this map is pretty bad.

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