The New York City Subway is the fourth busiest rapid transit rail system in the world. There are 26 subway lines with 468 stations. Not an easy thing to visualize.* In 2010 a major design relaunch tried to improve the maps’ readability. But subway map design has a long history.
1931: The London Underground, Harry Beck
In 1931 Harry Beck, an electrical draughtsman at the London Underground, was the first to produce a diagrammatic map. According to the New York Times this map would “go down in history for its graphical ingenuity”. Beck based the map on the circuit diagrams; the result was an instantly clear and comprehensible chart. This revolutionary design has survived to the present day. Beck also made some drafts of diagrammatic maps for the Paris Métropolitain.
1972: New York Subway, Massimo Vignelli
In 1972 Massimo Vignelli reduced the boroughs of New York to white geometric shapes and eliminated most of the topographic details and the level of visual noise by using gray (not green) to denote Central Park and beige (not blue) to shade New York’s waterways. This new and more comprehensible design was radical and often criticized. In 1979 Vignellis map was replaced by a more traditional topographical version, including the New York City street grid and blue color for the waterways.
2010: New York Subway, The Weekender
The new subway map for New York, introduced in 2010, was said to be a huge improvement but is still struggling to serve two purposes: the aim was to comprehensively represent the streets and to help navigation through the New York underground. There was, however, a great digital improvement: ‘the Weekender’, a little online guide to service interruptions.
Traffic can be a nightmare – especially in big cities. A visual arts student filmed a 3-way intersection in NYC to show why 74 per cent of accidents happen in intersections: pedestrians jaywalking, cyclists running red lights, and motorists plowing through crosswalks.
But there are other places in this world where traffic is even less organized and looks more dangerous but still works – for example in India. Every one who owns a vehicle, whether a two wheeler, 3 wheeler or four wheeler has just learnt to manover the vehicle on the road, not in respect to the rules but in respect to the movement of other vehicles around.
Some European countries have adopted this form of traffic regulation, to minimise fatal accidents within city limits. It’s called “Shared Space”.
At the moment trains remain probably the last unconnected space in NYC – but they don’t have to anymore. The “L Train Notwork”, a digital experiment/stunt/art project from the creative agency WeMakeCoolSh.it, launched on New York’s subways Monday, allows commuters to chat and flirt via their devices.
In certain cars on the L Train, the favored line of hip New Yorkers zipping between some of the city’s hippest neighborhoods WeMakeCoolSh.it established something looking quite like a www connection at first sight. But users are linked to fellow riders in a chat room instead. To keep the conversations going the digital agency also provides the users with webby-looking visual and literary content.
David Zax says in his Fast Company report: “If the World Wide Web is a Borgesian, universal library, then the L Train Notwork is an intimate art gallery.”
We think it could make a daily commute at least more enjoyable.