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Transportation Technology

A Circular New York City Subway Map To Straighten Things Out 124

Daniel_Stuckey writes "The U.K.'s Max Roberts, a mapmaker and critic, has created a map that sees this problem and then solves it by adopting a similar distortion strategy to the MTA map, but to a far greater degree. The map heads in the direction of a diagram and away from a map representing features. It may be the most lucid reinterpretation of the New York City subway map I've seen yet."
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A Circular New York City Subway Map To Straighten Things Out

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  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 28, 2013 @06:56AM (#44405171)

    "The U.K.'s Max Roberts, a mapmaker and critic, has created a map that sees this problem and then solves it"

    Sees what problem?

    Seriously, if you're going to summarise an article event then fucking do so the right way...

    • by Kawahee ( 901497 )
      Here's the "problem".

      If you're new to New York City, simply visiting for vacation, or, if you're a born-and-raised New Yorker that still can't point out any other states on a blank map besides Florida and Jersey, then you might also mistakenly believe what the MTA subway map tells you about the city—that it lacks any realistic level of fidelity and Manhattan is the blown-up silhouette of a Motorala RAZR:


      The U.K.'s Max Roberts...

      • by swalve ( 1980968 )
        I must admit I'm not too experienced in NYC's subways to be able to tell on my own, but does this new map accurately show the length of the different lines? Because it looks like it doesn't. I would think the #1 point of a subway map would be to help someone relate the underground routes to the landmarks above, and that the length of the different lines on the subway map relates accurately to the length of the ride taken. And the distance between the stops on the map reflective of the actual distances on
        • by znanue ( 2782675 )
          Neither map gives you an accurate idea of how long it will take to get to some place, and sometimes the maps show stations as connected but there's a long walk underground, for instance. If you use google to plan your route you're more likely to get some place quickly. Worse, tourists frequently take expresses when they meant to take locals, etc, overshoot the mark, get the wrong station because it sounds similar, forget to change trains, and more. Minimizing distance traveled is probably someone's leas
          • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

            by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @11:50AM (#44406495)

            ....sometimes the maps show stations as connected but there's a long walk underground, for instance.

            I once had the opposite problem on the London underground. I can't remember where exactly but I think it was going from the Planetarium to another tourist attraction. I looked at my underground map and saw I had to take two trains and switch lines to get to another station near the other attraction. I went into the underground and after waiting for trains emerged 20 minutes later - and realised that I was a few hundred yards down the road from where I had started!

            • Is it somewhere near the Virgin Megastore? I seem to remember there being two stations that were almost stone-throwing distance apart.

              It's not so bizarre when you consider that the network wasn't planned as an entity; the older (generally shallower) lines were originally independently operated.

        • The London Underground map has all of those issues and it's worked just fine for approaching 100 years. I don't see why New York visitors would have any more or less difficulty.

        • It's a pretty map, but it requires an extra level of abstraction for users to properly understand. NYC natives will understand the map just fine, but visitors will find it MORE confusing.

          I don't know about that - the London Underground map doesn't accurately reflect distances, yet it's one of the best known and easy to understand metro system maps in the world. This NYC map is the same, just for NYC.

          • I should add that it works best combined with an A-to-Z mapbook of the city. The London A-to-Z includes a Tube map; an NYC mapbook could include an MTA map.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by patiodragon ( 920102 )

        The map is not worth much without the streets on it. You usually need a map if you don't know where you are going.

        I look for the nearest street to the address I want to go to and then find the nearest subway station. The current map has worked for me for at least 30 years without any problems.

    • Part of the "problem" here is that the article itself doesn't explain anything. It shows two unlabeled maps side by side without explaining what either of them is, apparently assuming (with the same head-up-the-ass solipsism that it ridicules) that everyone is familiar with them. (I'm guessing that the one on the left is published by the MTA, but the fact that it doesn't show any subway routes makes me wonder.)
  • Laconic (Score:5, Informative)

    by EdZ ( 755139 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @07:03AM (#44405179)
    Concise description: a map of the New York subway system drawn in the style of the London Tube system map.
  • Circular Tube Map (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BenJury ( 977929 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @07:10AM (#44405195)

    The circular tube map, in my opinion, is much better than the square one we have now. Since the original was created quite a number of lines have been added, as well as tram lines and the overground lines which has caused it to be come quite cluttered. The circular map seems to solve this and give a much better indication of where the line actually goes. I'd hope TFL look at it closely.

    I don't know much about the NYC subway system but one thing is obvious, they really need to rethink the colours for the lines in Brooklyn, as they're far too similar!

    • In Soviet Russia, we have Circular Tube Map []
      • Really? Then why didn't you link to one?

        That's a rectangular map with one circle near the middle.

        • The Moscow Metro is one of the few in the world with an actual circular line. []
          • The Moscow Metro is one of the few in the world with an actual circular line.

            No it doesn't. According to your link it has a circle line. According to the map in your link, its shape is far from circular. If it's anything at all it's amoeboid.

            London also has a circle line. It's even less circular than that one.

            • I'm sure it is not a perfect circle any more than "lines" are straight lines. Both have to route around natural and possibly man-made obstacles. But I did read an interesting story. This route apparently was constructed during Stalin's reign. Allegedly, he had been drinking coffee, and at some point placed his coffee cup down on a map of the existing metro system at the time, creating a big brown circle, and this is how the idea for the route was first conceived. It is colored brown on the standard Mos
          • There's also the Yamanote Line [] in Tokyo.

            • Yes . . .apparently one of the busiest lines in the world at that. I believe Seoul also has one and that one is being built in (relatively) nearby Incheon.
    • Re:Circular Tube Map (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hymie! ( 95907 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @08:19AM (#44405423)

      The subway system's colors weren't designed for Brooklyn. They were designed for Manhattan.

    • But wouldn't a map where stations are displayed as close as possible to their actual geographical position be more practical? Distance estimation would probably be the first reason.
      • by BenJury ( 977929 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @08:54AM (#44405573)
        No, because its not the point of the map. its purpose is to make it easier to navigate the transit system. For example when your on a train, do you want a clear and concise diagram of the system so you can see where to change lines, or do you want a map that is geographically correct but is all squished together?
        • by Zakabog ( 603757 ) <> on Sunday July 28, 2013 @09:48AM (#44405795)

          The subway map is roughly geographically correct while not being all squished together. It's easy to see what stops you need to get off when you need to transfer and also it works as a real map for most tourists since a lot of attactions are displayed on the map (Rockefeller Center, Natural History Museum, Central Park, etc.) As a native New Yorker that uses a subway map almost daily, this circular design doesn't seem to add any benefit.

        • Well, I more often find myself thinking "I need to get to [some address], on a map it's right around this intersection, I wonder which stop is the closest". That's almost always the initial problem you face when you're about to go somewhere with a public transport system you're not intimately familiar with. Only after this do things like "which station should I change trains at?" factor in.

          Add to this that may times public transport systems will have a stop/station named "Something Street" which is actually

      • Do circuit diagrams necessarily reflect the actual length of the wires? How about LAN schematics?

        • Unfortunately subways don't move at the speed of light, so distance is a practical concern.

          • by kobaz ( 107760 )

            Awww :(

          • Less so than the number of connections, most of the time; you can spend perhaps a thrid of your time waiting rather then moving. Given that the nonlinearity is more pronounced the further out you get, and the further out you get the fewer alternative routes there are, it's not like you can do much about it even if you have the corvofugal vector.

            Also, once you've lived somewhere for a while, you sort of get a feel for it. It's clear that Hammersmith is much further from LHR than it is from King's Cross, th

            • Does your mom drive you everywhere? Because it seems to me you've never used the metro in a major city, ever.

              Sorry, but that was uncalled for. Not everybody lives in a metropolis with great public transport. Where I used to live didn't have any subway/train system at all. Where I am now there is marginal train coverage, but if you don't take it in rush hour you'll probably reach your destination minus a few personal possessions. If you want to take a phone or laptop with you during off-peak hours driving is the only safe option.

      • Not really. It's diagrammatic. The London Underground has had a map similar to this since the 1930's. Usually people will be given directions from the nearest tube station.

        You can use this in conjunction with an actual map if you really need to.
    • That's not to do with whether it's circular or not; it's to do with it being newer.

      Posters and paper maps (and screens) are rectangular. A circle wastes space. I suppose they could put ads in the corners ...

      • by BenJury ( 977929 )
        The transit lines for a city generally go from the centre out in all directions so you fill the whole page. NYC seems different as it starts in Manhattan and spreads out 'upward' and to the left, which also makes it perfectly suited. The remaining space is easily filled with the key.
        • The transit lines for a city generally go from the centre out in all directions

          Transit maps are schematic or topological. The direction is to a certain extent arbitrary, or at least approximate. They don't represent the true direction, nor are they intended to.

          so you fill the whole page.

          A circle can't fill a square page. Geometry fail.

    • by csumpi ( 2258986 )

      The circular tube map, in my opinion, is much better than the square one we have now ... I don't know much about the NYC subway system but one thing is obvious ...

      ...that you don't know what you're talking about?

    • The circular tube map addresses a problem but doesn't completely solve it. The spokes work. The circular parts aren't so good. The ones that head away from the city converge to the central axes. The Victoria Line and and Bakerloo Line have disconcerting hooks that make them very hard to follow.
      • by BenJury ( 977929 )
        I agree it's not perfect. But there are some really nice points, like how the the west parts of the Picadilly Line, Central Line and Metropolitan Line all meet. I also have a big soft spot for how he has incorporated the underground 'roundel' logo into the map.
        • I also have a big soft spot for how he has incorporated the underground 'roundel' logo into the map.

          Wild guess: you use a Mac.

          By "use" I mean "carry around ostentatiously", of course.

      • I find it easier to follow straight lines (especially when they're at a multiple of 45 degrees) than curved ones, but maybe that's just familiarity.

        Looks like a solution in search of a problem to me.

    • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

      The only thing this map does well is show the lines crossing the east river. If anything, it's counter-intuitive because it looks like many lines connect, when in fact they don't. A tourist might get on the Q line in Brighton Beach and expect to transfer to the S line to get to the G line. Or take the Green G line to Harold Square. Not going to happen.

      Forcing the lines to be on parallel circular lines causes you to make assumptions about continuous service between two points on that line, when there

  • Current map? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by loufoque ( 1400831 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @07:47AM (#44405295)

    Where is the real map so that we can compare it to it?
    Why can't people write good articles? Including the current map for comparison should have been an obvious thing to do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kilo Kilo ( 2837521 )
      This [] is a few years old, but a pretty good example. It's the first thing I looked for too.

      I'm not a native NY-er, but I'm pretty familiar with the city and I'm good with maps. If I need to go from Manhattan to Brooklyn, I know in my head where I'm going on the map. This thing distorts a traditional map so that geographically you're all messed up.

      Probably the best thing the MTA can do would be to make separate maps for the different lines or even just the different boroughs. Or just have a fri
      • The Vignelli Map. A triumph of minimalist, functional design - and pure beauty to boot. The original had some geographic information (parks, major landmarks, etc) but when he redesigned it for the Weekender he stripped even that out. Now it's just lines and stops, as it should be. You need to worry about geography on the street, not in the Land of the Mole People.

    • Re:Current map? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 28, 2013 @09:47AM (#44405783)
      • Re:Current map? (Score:5, Informative)

        by dinfinity ( 2300094 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @02:27PM (#44407429)

        Wow, that looks so much more useful.
        They should switch from the stupid circular map in the article to this one ;-)

        Seriously, though. The reason they didn't include this map in the article was probably because it is so obviously better than the circular one. They had to juxtapose the circular one with nothing to make it look like it's worth anything.

        • The funny thing is the map they had before it was even more useful: it had bubbles at major bus transfer points that showed all of the transfers (and the neighborhoods the bus routes served). They still use that version in the stations but not on the trains or for taking home. The extra information was removed because some consulting firm said it was too "confusing" - yeah maybe for tourists, but for us natives it was amazing.

  • Useless (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @07:54AM (#44405319)

    The problem is that subways rarely take you exactly where you want to go. They take you NEAR where you want to go. So your destination is not the subway station you're going to but some other place not on the network ABOVE GROUND that is near that station. Which means distorting the subway map into a flow chart that doesn't line up with the above surface maps/topography is a deal breaker. I want to know where the hell I'm going. Not just the name of the station but the actual street I'm going to pop out at. Because that's where I'm actually going.

    This might work fine for tourists. I really don't know. Maybe some guy reading off a card finds this more useful for getting around. But couldn't the same guy do just as well with the old map? I just don't get the point of this map. It makes the map less useful.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This kind of map works very well in Boston. ( There, the location on a map is next to useless for driving distances because of all the random street layouts and oneways and occassional construction. The large, iconic map gets you to a station at or near your stop, then the wall maps at the stop give more local directions.

      I've also traveled in New York. the old map was pretty useless because it's way too cluttered in the busiest junctions and doesn't show the p

      • The "old" (I assume you mean current) NY subway map is amazing: compare []. The Boston map is good but kindof crappy in some ways - for example, I kept going to Aquarium on the blue line for Quincy market because I had no idea the green line Haymarket station was close. And it sucks for strictly transit purposes too: from that map it is impossible to know that the E at the unnamed stop just before Heath st and D at "Brookline Village" are actually a 5 minute walk apart. Similarly, the D at Reservoir, C at C

    • Re:Useless (Score:5, Informative)

      by BenJury ( 977929 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @08:07AM (#44405371)

      But that's the point, these stylised maps are to navigate the transport system, not to get around at a surface level. They serve different needs. When you've a map where all the lines are geographically correct it makes it hard to understand how to get from station A to station B, make out the station names and there is a lot of wasted space! Have a look at the London underground geographical map [] vs the actual tube map [] for example.

      Far better to have a map that fits the purpose. If you want to navigate at the surface level, buy a proper map.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I think a lot of people who are very familiar with the 'standard' London Underground map would find the geographical version fascinating, slightly disturbing and strangely beautiful (like some sort of multi-coloured octopus).

      • As someone else said, your idea means we need additional maps to cross reference with your map.

        I do understand what you're saying though. You want some sort of station flow chart.

        How about just having a list?

        That is, have a normal geographically accurate map above with color coded lines. Consider having some sort of ID code/line name by the lines if you've got too many lines for colors to clearly differentiate them.

        Then have a list for all their stops in order. Put some sort of code/color dot/etc by stops t

      • Possibly of use to you: []

        That is what I think the maps should more resemble. YES, it know it isn't very polished. Please assume the actual map fit for publishing was cleaned up a bit. Look over a city road map and you'll see more detail then even in that map without crude elements that make this map look bad. Just look at the information.

        Ideally, I would super impose or integrate this map with a regular city map so that you could very easily see w

      • Far better to have a map that fits the purpose. If you want to navigate at the surface level, buy a proper map.

        Fortunately one can buy a nicely made flat map that has both the geography and clear subway navigation on it. I got my last one, for Boston, at a bookstore a few years ago (remember those?) I think it was about $7, thinly laminated, and folded cleverly upon itself, for pocket storage.

        You won't find it for free from the bureaucrats who only care about their fiefdom, but there was a need so it was

      • by jrumney ( 197329 )

        When you've a map where all the lines are geographically correct it makes it hard to understand how to get from station A to station B, make out the station names and there is a lot of wasted space! Have a look at the London underground geographical map [] vs the actual tube map [] for example.

        Here's a London Tube Map []. What is the quickest way to get to Bayswater from Queensway?

        • OK, I'm not at all familiar with London, but the proximity of the stations led me to suspect that walking would be fastest. Google Maps seemed to agree in this particular case. I'm aware of course that, as others have pointed out, this correlation does not always work (e.g., in Boston). Two adjacent stations may require a 40 minute walk through a bad neighborhood (e.g., West 25 and West 65 in my native Cleveland). But the combination of physical and topological maps usually work well everyplace I've eve
    • by Anonymous Coward

      1) Use above ground map to locate nearby station to your start/destination.
      2) Use subway map to work out how to to get from station A to station B

      Above ground maps are for use above ground. Subway maps are for use below ground. Don't conflate the two.

    • Then you look at a street map to see where your destination is in relation to the nearest subway station, and where you are in relation to the nearest subway station; and the subway map to figure out how to get by subway between the two stations.

    • I agree one million percent.

      How am I supposed to drive to Heathrow using this pile of crap []

  • by fazookus ( 770354 ) * on Sunday July 28, 2013 @08:03AM (#44405359)
    This makes sense. The original subway system started in Manhattan and it is still basically the hub for the entire system... if you want to go from the Bronx to Brooklyn you have to go by way of Manhattan. If you take the F train in Queens to go to Brooklyn you use the 'downtown' train, named so because it goes downtown when it goes through Manhattan. There are generally no direct lines borough to borough though there are exceptions, so Manhattan, while physically small, is disproportionately large in terms of lines and passengers served, as is shown on the circular map.
  • Even Atlantis had a subway with concentric circles, according to Indiana Jones & The Fate of Atlantis.

    If it worked for them, it can sure work for New York.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If it worked for them, it can sure work for New York.

      Clearly it didn't.

      Probably the reason it sank...

  • Staten Island (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by LMariachi ( 86077 )

    Can’t they just leave Staten Island off of there altogether? That’s not part of the subway, and it only got included on the official map after it won the mayoral office for Giuliani, who is a total asshole.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That subway network [] is somewhat more complex than New York's.

    • by Njovich ( 553857 )

      Looking at the maps, I wouldn't say the Tokyo map is bigger or more complex? Having visited Tokyo, the sheer crowds, enormous stations, and multiple separate metro companies do make it complex though :). I don't really think a new map is what would fix that though ^^

      disclaimer: haven't visited NY

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )

      Tokyo was my first experience of subways. After that, I had no problem deciphering other cities' subway maps. Thankfully, Tokyo seems to be the only city with a subway map design inspired by a bowl of ramen.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As someone familiar with the subway and the standard maps, I don't really see much advantage in this alternate design. The current are easy enough to deal with if you have decent reading skills. I prefer the way the current map indicates the points at which you cross from Manhattan - Brooklyn.

    Also: the map has at least one mistake: Fort Hamilton Parkway and Church Avenue (on the F line) should be switched with each other.

  • It does seem that the information content on the page is spread out much closer to uniformly, so it is mostly an improvement. But there are spots on the map where information is crowded together to preserve the aesthetics of the curves, so really no different in principle from a geographically accurate map or a stylized grid or any other solution.

  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @10:06AM (#44405889)

    "A Subway named Mobius"

  • This [] does not look broken to me. When I visited NYC many moons ago, I was not confused by the Subway. I didn't even have a map--I just used the ones in the station. To be fair, I never left Manhattan; but I did go way up to the Cloisters. I even took an express train back downtown. No missed stops. Just as easy as DC metro. Of course, I have laces on my shoes not velcro and I'm not a "designer". What? You don't like the tone of that? Shove it, buddy. This is a story about New York!

    • It's very hard to see what lines connect to what lines in southern Manhattan.

      Looking at both of them, tell me, where do I change from Line G to Line 7? How about Line A to Line 1? Line B to line G? This is a lot easier on the circular map.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This map is beyond useless. It gives you no idea of where you'll start or where you'll end up. Yes, you can finally see where your connections are, but that's really secondary to not ending up 3 miles away from where you wanted to be. Look at the D line in Brooklyn, 18th, 20th, Bay Parkway and 23rd all lie on 86th street, which can be seen as a stop on the R and N lines. This map shows the path to be perpendicular to 86th street, not on it. The distortion of Manhattan to cause the top of the borough to be w

  • Massimo Vignelli redid both the signage and the map for the MTA in the 70's. Minimalism all the way - the signage remains to this day, white Helvetica on a black background, simple colored circles for the lines, and almost nothing else...there's barely even any arrows.

    And his map...oh, it's a thing of beauty. "It was not a map. It was a diagram. It was not about what happens aboveground. The purpose of the diagram was to show where the subway lines go." So perfect that when the MTA wanted a weekend-service- []

  • Comparing the maps side by side, the most noticeable difference is the font size and the thickness of the route lines. This makes it seem more organized and less squeezed together. But in reality, to be able to read it from the same distance it would have to be in a larger format.

    You can probably "improve" the current map by the same techniques and not have the same level of distortion. Maybe, a more detailed version can be put in pamphlet form and large station kiosks and the current form can go in each tr

  • Can someone explain where this "silhouette of a Motorola RAZR" thing fits in?

    A link to (or even to a page with a link to) the current MTA map might have helped give a little context, too.

  • Professional map-maker putting extra effort into making non-crappy map makes better map.
    News at eleven.

  • Most of the stations - esp in S Brooklyn, outer Queens and The Bronx, serve mainly commuters and New Yorkers ( I mean seriously, how many tourists go up to see the hall of famous americans in The Bronx ? or the Bronx Zoo ? or the Brooklyn Museum ? (fabulous Egyptian collection btw)
    Tourists need mainly manhattan, and the existing map does ok; the main problem is the multiplicity of trains on the tracks - local and express
    If you are a serious tourist, get a Guide Michelin, or whatever the e-quivalent is; it w

    • I've always managed to find interesting destinations outside of Manhattan. This might be because I usually drive in and around the outer boroughs, and park near a subway or NJ Transit station to get to Manhattan. I'm not afraid to drive in the outer boroughs when I'm there, which is usually weekends, although even I'm not crazy enough to drive in Manhattan if I don't have to. In the outer boroughs, you can't really tell what's there if you're on the subway (even though it's often above ground there). Dr
  • This all goes back to Harry beck []

    He basically designed the abstract London Tube map and later the famous Paris Metro map on the same general priciple: sacrifice geo accuracy, for readabilty.
    Reasoning would be one requires a different map underground, then above ground, as underground counting stations, and finding the best spot to switch trains is more important then geo correctness.

    Circular has nothing to do with it, London's and Paris' are for square, but still have t

  • Okay, where are the express trains? I don't see any diamond shapes on this map. Has the author been to NYC?

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