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Mikeabono saidA he started researching the city's best coffee shops using articles, blogs, Yelp, Google, and Zagat reviews, trying to avoid duplicates. In the 1970s, New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority did a huge transportation overhaul. But one eagle-eyed Reddit user spotted an old map from the 1970s that shows what NY's subway system could have looked like, had the MTA gone with a different plan. There's also a K line, a U line that runs through Brooklyn all the way up to the Bronx, as well as a bizarre O line that seems to do a loop de loop at 14th street.
Last night, the Museum of the City of New York brought together a panel of New York City subway map dignitaries for “The New York City Subway Map – Form v.
Massimo Vignelli started off the conversation with an introduction to transit diagrams around the world. Paul Shaw, author and typographer, then introduced some common problems to consider when making a subway map. With the onset of new technologies, more and more people are taking it upon themselves to alleviate some of these issues. Despite the obvious frustrations with and criticisms of the MTA’s design choices (and perhaps because no MTA representative sat on the panel), it was a jovial evening overall. Meredith Baber is a Project Associate at Urban Omnibus and a Masters candidate in the Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture Program at Columbia University’s GSAPP.
The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.
Perhaps the discussion might have had some real meaning if there was someone representing the MTA map. I could give you an essay, based on truth and actual experience with the map, because I’ve lived with it for over thirty years and am witness to its aging.
But the problem is that the current map is *neither* a clear diagram of the subway system *nor* an accurate depiction of the city’s geography.


Footer TextUrban Omnibus is the Architectural League's online publication dedicated to defining and enriching the culture of citymaking.
The pilot and development phase of Urban Omnibus was made possible by the Rockefeller Foundation. He also enlisted the help of his friends, and on the weekends tried to find out what type of equipment and beans were used at each shop to help determine quality.
Buses, subways, and stations were updated and modernized, bringing the city's subway system closer to what we have today. The M train starts and stops in Brooklyn and isn't affiliated with the B, D, or F, and there are more midtown cross trains, including the Q, X, and E. Massimo noted the differences between a diagram and a map, but stressed the importance of both form and function in both. Tauranac is a New York City native who has been making maps of the city for almost 40 years and sat as the chair of the committee to redesign the MTA subway map in 1979.
He explores the subway system, looking at signage and stations, and has come to understand the complexities that are inherent in a large transit system such as that of the MTA. Eddie Jabbour designed the KickMap as a geographical and graphically legible alternative to the MTA map, and even offered it to them to use. Serious discussions were balanced by more lighthearted conversations, such as favorite subway stations (which ranged from the abandoned City Hall station to the grand space of the 181st Street station in Washington Heights). I thought the discussion at the museum was great, but the MTA perspective would be valuable. Ongoing support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, the membership and board of the Architectural League, and readers like you.
The redesign intended to retain certain elements of a diagrammatic map, but based on geography, with a new color coding system for grouped trunk lines (prior to this, there was a different color for each line).
One archival image he presented showed a woman in a station, standing at a large call board.


If you just pushed a button representing your final destination, the board would tell you how to get there from your current station. So Jabbour and his son created an iPhone app, which notes day and nighttime service changes, options to receive notifications of unexpected delays, GPS technology to help locate nearby stations and a compass to help orient yourself after exiting to the street. This behemoth was the predecessor to smart phones and Google maps, but why did such a useful concept disappear from the subway system? The app has been downloaded by over 350,000 people — a sign, Jabbour pointed out, that people are calling for a less confusing option. Now, for unfamiliar travelers, it is hard enough even to know where to get on the subway, let alone travel from one destination to another and transfer trains. But, he added, we can’t rest on smartphone tools, which are only used by a fraction of subway riders. The 1972 Vignelli NYC subway map was an attempt at a diagrammatic display for the subway system, consisting of 45 and 90 degree angles, many colors, and extreme legibility. The current map is not for travelers who need expedited information, but for the person who has time to scan tiny type to decipher whether or not the N train stops at 28th Street. There is still a dire need for easily-accessible print media, or other innovations that can benefit everyone.
However, the map was criticized by the public, who found the lack of above-ground geographic and navigational details confusing. In 1979 the MTA ousted Vignelli’s diagram for a “more legible” version — legibility defined, not as visual and textual clarity, but as geographical clarity.



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