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

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

This image has been archived or removed.

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.

This image has been archived or removed.

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?

This image has been archived or removed.

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.

Recent Stories

‘Caribea’ Grill Readies Space Left Vacant by Domino’s on Allen Street

Ever since Domino’s ditched its decades-old Allen Street location three years ago, the commercial space has been a vacancy consistently peddled on the market. Now, a new concept is a-knockin. Caribea is as it sounds – a fast casual pan-Caribbean grill. The restaurant at 203 Allen will seat fourteen tables and a stand-up bar, for […]

The Projects Jockeying for the $20M Chinatown Revitalization Funds

Several months ago, Governor Hochul announced a $20 million grant in the form of the Downtown Revitalization initiative (DRI).  Some forty sites around Chinatown were identified during the DRI process, which is led by a Local Planning Committee of community representatives and supported by State agency staff and a consultant team. That list was ultimately […]

Displaced Chinatown Business Returns Months After Devastating Fire

Four months after a deadly fire knocked out 78 Mulberry Street, one of its businesses returned to the scene. Ewa Trading Company reopened in its former Chinatown home earlier this week. The store had spent some of the interim displacement period selling from a shuttered Vietnamese restaurant a few paces north. The two-alarm fire broke […]

EDC Sues Essex Restaurant for Back Rent over Former Essex Market Lease

Three years removed from its relocation across Rivington Street, the city filed suit against the Essex restaurant for alleged unpaid rent. The Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sued Essex for nearly $60,000 in unpaid back rent on the former Essex Market building it previously occupied, according to the lawsuit filed Monday. The city entity claims that […]

Exile on Orchard Street: Tenement Museum Recreates Exhibits During Renovations

The Tenement Museum is amidst a preservation project at 97 Orchard Street, but will continue its programming with replicas not too far away. The 1863-era tenement this past Sunday embarked on “vital” restoration work to preserve its walls, floors, roof, as well as the installation of a new HVAC system that will provide improved climate […]