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NYC Transit (and a shout out to the Kingston Trio!)

I've moved from my Bob kick on to transit (for now anyway, I got tickets to the concert on the 16th, if you have a car would you like to go?).  I heart public transportation. I appreciate it more and more now that I don't have a car and my brother-in-law is a transit planner. Thanks Will for helping grow my enthusiasm for the T!

Vignelli's 1972 map

I thought I'd write a bit about the famed NYC transit map. In 1972, Massimo Vignelli redesigned George Salomon's subway map, which was the City's guide until then replaced in 1979 by Michael Hertz's design (which is still in use, with some modifications). Vignelli's design took some liberties (Central Park as a square?) to lay out an easy-to-read subway (not street) map. Each subway line was represented by a color, and each stop by a dot. What's not to like? Many did not appreciate the abstraction. But have no fear if you are in the first group, Men's Vogue commissioned Vignelli to update the famed '72 map. 500 signed limited-edition prints were released and sold out on May 1- bummer, heavy sigh. If you can't find a copy on eBay you can read more here or pick up the May Design issue of Men's Vogue. If you're a real collector of NYC subway maps be sure to check out this awesome site that has pictures of maps dating back to 1924!

Photo of the current map, the Kick map, and Vignelli's map

Personally, I'm a big fan of the Kick Map. From their website: "The Kick Map is a 'hybrid' concept that resolves the 50-year debate between the exclusive use of either a diagrammatic or topographic mapping of the New York City Subway...It is designed with a combination of both diagrammatic and topographic features, thus enhancing the strengths and eliminating most of the weaknesses of both types." It's easy to read and I love that you can put into context where you are in the city. This is very helpful for those of us who haven't lived their life in NYC, and probably to some people who have lived all of their life in the Big Apple.

Also, back in January, The Times had an article "Does the MetroCard Need a Makeover?" YES! But sadly, as with many large businesses, design is not the first thing on everyone's mind. Which, I guess is a good thing in this case since transporting people should be. But, and don't get me wrong I don't consider myself a Boston-girl at all even though I live here, NYC could probably take a page from the Charlie Card book.

I think that the MBTA card is cute and funny and ties in with the overall "rebranding," shall we say, of the T. Although, if you actually listen to the entire Kingston Trio song (which I have; yes I own it and enjoy a sing-a-long here and there) you come to understand that the song was written to protest a fare increase, very ironic considering the Charlie Card was introduced during a, wait for it, fare increase! "Now you citizens of Boston, Don't you think it's a scandal that the people have to pay and pay? Fight the fare increase!"


Anonymous said...


Interesting post. I agree with you about the "Kick Map" being the best one. I like the incorporation of neighborhood names and landmarks, as well as the VERY subtle use of shading on the routes/services that share a line. (Look at the Lexington Avenue 4-5-6 line in Manhattan and you'll see what I mean - the 4 is actually the lightest green and the 6 is the darkest).

My only problem with the Kick Map is the lack of info concerning connecting buses, which the current MTA map does with those horrible huge "bubble boxes". But I guess there's no real easy way to do that, and it is a subway map and not a bus map. At least the buses to LaGuardia are shown on the map itself.

Finally, anyone interested in these graphics should get the books printed about the original diagrammatic subway map - London's - by the Londaon Transport Museum. They are called "Mr. Beck's Underground Map" and "Underground Maps Since Beck". I know, I know - only transit and/or design uber-geeks like these books, but I thought they were very interesting and fun to read.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, another book I forgot to mention for all you map geeks out there is "Transit Maps of the World" by Mark Ovenden. It just came out this year and sells for about $25.00. It has every urban train map in it and explains many of the design facets of each one.


Shannon said...

Two things:

1. I am totally obsessed with Massimo Vignelli's map. I've always thought people should appreciate it maybe not for its functional use as a map, but as a beautiful simple look at a city that can seem so overwhelming and complicated.

2. I'm also excited that you wrote about Paul Rogers in a previous post. I also came across his work several years ago. I couldn't agree more that it evokes the past but it has an undeniable modern feel. Love it!