MTA Tests New, Easier-to-Understand Subway Map in Nine Stations
by Yehudit Garmaise
Subway riders may notice that New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has posted, in nine subway stations, a new subway map to depict more clearly the routes of the system’s tracks.
The new map refers back to 1970, when the most famous design of modernist designer Massimo Vignelli, depicted the city’s vast underground transit system in such a striking, geometric, and abstract design that the Museum of Modern Art now displays it.
In Vignelli’s subway map, different colors, such as turquoise, bright pink, green, red, and yellow represent each subway line, simple black point represents each of the city’s 472 stations, and the black and white simple typeface, in Helvetica Medium font, is used for the text.
“We like design to be visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and above all, timeless,” once said Vignelli, who passed away in 2014, and who owned a design firm with his wife, Lella Vignelli.
The Vignellis also designed furniture, public signage, housewares, and well-known packaging, such as Bloomingdale’s famous “Little Brown Bag.”
Despite the subway map’s elegant simplicity, users found it difficult to read and misleading without more contextual, geographical visual clues, and the map was replaced with one that has been in use since 1979, which was designed by Michael Hertz Associates.
Vignelli’s subway map did not to resurface again until 2012 when the MTA used Vignelli’s design in an app that riders used to track maintenance work.
In more recent years, the MTA used Vignelli’s subway map in printed service-change announcements.
Since 1979, however graphic designers and design enthusiasts have continued to admire and appreciate the beauty of Vignelli’s original creation.
"It's a diagram, more than a map," Vignelli once said of his famous subway map, which was inspired by the also famously elegantly simple London Underground map, which was designed by Harry Beck in 1931.
The MTA’s new subway map provides more geographical accuracy and better reveals to riders how the vast system’s tracks interact with each other, than the subway map that has been in use for more than 40 years.
For example, the current subway map confuses riders by depicting multiple subway lines, as one, where they run together, while the new version clearly shows up to four tracks, such as the 4, 5, and 6 lines, running parallel to each other.
The Vignelli-inspired new subway map, which is rectangular rather than square, and uses blue, and not Vignelli’s beige to represent waters, also now includes Staten Island and its railway, which were left off the map in 1972.
"What I’m trying to do is introduce this map in a way that doesn’t cause fear, introducing it gradually so people can get used to it,” said Sarah Meyer, the chief customer officer of the MTA, who added that she hopes to phase out slowly the current map and replace it with the new version: as long as it is well-received by the public.
The MTA’s new subway map can now be seen at stations at Times Square, Grand Central, the Fulton Transit Center, and six other stations.
Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann