Discussing the Past and Next 50 Years of the NYC Subway Map

Posted on: October 26th, 2015 at 5:10 am by

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Raleigh D’Adamo (left) and Harris Sjchechtman (right). (Source: transitmaphistory.com)

Many Boogie readers and staffers are die-hard subway buffs. Growing up, we would enjoy competing with friends, connecting to as many train lines as possible in order to figure out the fastest routes through the boroughs. (Yes, we’re geeks, we admit it. Plus, we weren’t old enough to drink; we had to entertain ourselves somehow.)

And we would never, ever be caught dead looking at a subway map in a station. Between the city being more dangerous at the time, and trying to keep up a certain level of cool with our peers, we had to know where we were going – or at least look like we did.

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Massimo Vignelli signing a copy of the 2008 subway map for author Mark Ovenden. Photo: Peter B Lloyd, November 2009 (Source: transitmaphistory.com)

With that said, we love having debates about the design and function of the different subway maps with other friends who share our obsession. Subway obsessives are intense, emotional, and sometimes heated about the best map design. Is Tauranac’s intricate map, which was more geographically correct, better than the clean geometric lines of its predecessor by Vignelli? Or did the design buff in us like the Vignelli map for its simplicity, despite the accuracy-defying contortions it needed to achieve it?

And now that so many are using subway apps, which one is the best? Do we even need the paper maps anymore? Will we soon have embedded chips with Siri-esque voices telling us where we should transfer?

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Eddie Jabbour and his Kickmap. (Source: transitmaphistory.com)

Tomorrow evening (October 27), “The Subway Map: The Last 50 Years, the Next 50 Years,” a panel discussion on these very topics (excepting maybe that last one) will take place at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. Not so coincidentally, this was also the setting for the Great Subway Map Debate of 1978. It is known for many reasons, including a heated statement by Massimo Vignelli, who later said he had to suppress his “homicidal urges” towards the other panelists. (As we mentioned, subway enthusiasts, along with designers, are nothing if not passionate about this sort of thing.)

We don’t really think that anyone will come to blows tomorrow, entertaining as that might be. But they will be talking about the ideal subway map. Experts have admitted that the New York City subway system is so complex that it is nearly impossible to create something perfect. But, we are looking forward to some good subway trivia and compelling discussion.

Looks like a pretty cool lineup of panelists including:

  • Raleigh D’Adamo, whose innovative map for the Transit Authority (TA) led the TA to jettison their long-standing three-color mapping scheme (based on the three companies who built and owned the original subway lines), and to adopt a scheme in which each route is color-coded. The same concept is still used today.
  • John Tauranac, who led the 1970s committee that created the quasi-geographic subway map that has lasted (with some changes, additions and deletions) for 35 years.
  • Peter B. Lloyd, historian of the subway map and author of Vignelli: Transit Maps (RIT Press, 2012).
  • Eddie Jabbour, principal of the branding agency Kick Design. With his son Dan, he designed the KickMap transit app, which has had more than a million downloads and has been featured in several books on information design and mapping.
  • Joe Brennan, renowned for his scholarship on the subway, who has for twenty years been maintaining the official subway map that has garnered much praise.
  • Sarah M. Kaufman, Assistant Director for the Technology Programming at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation. She formerly worked at the MTA, where she led the Open Data program and created a conference and online exchange between the MTA and software developers. That program provides the foundation for the many subway map apps for mobile devices that are now on the market.

“The Subway Map: The Last 50 Years, the Next 50 Years” will take place at Cooper Union’s Great Hall, 7 East 7th Street tomorrow, October 27, 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. The talk is free. RSVP here.

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