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26.08.2014
The recent post “The blessings of a Navigo card” by Philippa Campsie at the blog Parisian Fields comparing Paris and Toronto public transportation got me thinking about mass transit in the big cities that I have lived in.
Back in Northern California, while it may work fine within San Francisco, in Silicon Valley, public transportation is, ahem, inefficient. Now public transportation in New York and Paris isn’t perfect, and it might be smelly, but it works and all kinds of people use it every day. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. 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. When I was getting my masters at NYU, I would walk down my block in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn to the Carroll Street stop and take the F train into Manhattan to West 4th street. My husband is able to take the light rail to work because we live near downtown Campbell and he works in downtown San Jose, but as I am writing this he has just texted me to say that he will be home late (again) because the train isn’t coming.
As Silicon Valley grows (as it is doing exponentially), we are going to need reliable, efficient public transportation.


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.
I still remember hauling my computer and notebooks up the never-ending flights of stairs at that stop to finally reach the outside world. We started out living in Amelie‘s slanted, green-hued and slightly magical 18th arrondissement, home of Sacre Coeur, the beautiful gigantic white church on top of the hill. At this point, I would walk to la Gare du nord to take the purple ligne 4 to the sketchy Porte de Clignancourt. 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. After graduating, I would take the F up to 42nd street Bryant Park and walk through the Garment District, passing by the imposing New York Times building on my way to work for France Today magazine (now located in the UK). Our neighborhood was connected to the rest of the snailshell that is la ville lumiere by la ligne 12, which is a deep forest green.
Eventually I ended the relationship with the woman I was tutoring because a) it was a dodgy neighborhood and b) she was a rather snooty francaise. 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. A year later, I rode it all the way up to it’s second to last stop in Manhattan, 57th street. Our stop was Jules Joffrin, across from the city hall of our arrondissement and a friendly neighborhood bistro where we would stop for un demi (a beer) from time to time.


No matter, as it gave me more time to take other metro lines to do more interesting things throughout the city, like visit museums and go to cafes with friends.
If you wish to use a subway map in your own project, you should consider licensing the official MTA map, or try New York City Subway Route Map by SPUI, which is in the public domain.
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. I would walk down 5th avenue past the luxury brands on my way to the office of the French skincare company who was my last New York employer before moving with my new husband to Paris. To get to work, my husband took this line to the terminus (Porte de la Chapelle) where he would be greeted by prostitutes while crossing le peripherique into Aubervilliers to get to work.
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 only good thing about taking the train so far north was that on the way back I had my pick of seats to plop down in and then get lost in my New York Magazine all the way home. Many offices are located here in order to take advantage of the cheaper rent as compared to renting inside the city boundaries. 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. Additionally, if you are having trouble seeing the map below (perhaps because you have disabled JavaScript in your browser), Click Here.
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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