Sunday, April 10, 2011



I ride the subway ten times a week. I stare at the MTA subway map when it's there in front of me. I can't help it. Some things bother me.

Not really the design itself. Obviously they had different goals than I had when I created my own diagram. That's OK. Seeking the balance of information and clutter is a difficult thing. I won't even get into it. I think they did pretty well with what they wanted to do. But on its own terms, there are some odd points.

Here's the worst one:—

They've taken the trouble to use the full name of the Whitestone Bridge, but they don't know where it is! It's been like this for years. It's like this on the cluttered version shown here, and on the cleaner version that is used in subway cars. They recently fixed it for the online map:—

The bridge was about a mile and a half out of place. And it's an MTA property!

I know that second map looks really blurry. That's how they have it on the web page.

You might well say that the bridge has nothing to do with the subway, so the error does not affect subway riders. This is true although it leads one to ask why the bridge is shown. But I said I wasn't going there. My point is that if you're going to show something, show it where it is.

The next one is about rail lines:—

They want to give us an idea where the Metro North Harlem Line stations are in relation to subway stations. That's worthwhile (and I do it on my diagram too).

The map really emphasizes how close Woodlawn is to 233rd St. In fact it looks like they are adjacent. If you go there you'll discover that from Metro North to the subway is a third of a mile up a steep grade. I wonder whether the map exaggerates the closeness because once in a very great while a service disruption leads them to ask Harlem Line passengers to change there.

I re-drew the position of the Harlem Line:—

This is still a bit wrong because the distance from Woodlawn station to the subway is about the same as the distance from Fordham station to the Fordham Road subway station (orange), and the latter is farther apart on the diagram. But that's because of the convention that the scale gets larger as you approach the central area, so it's acceptable. I think the map reader senses that because of the station spacing on the subway lines. It's something like perspective. Or is it just me? On the plus side, I got the Harlem Line out of Bronx Park (it really does run along the edge) and I have the stations on the correct side of the cross streets.

More misplaced railroads:—

This is right at the top edge. The New Haven Line does branch off north of Woodlawn, but it does not cross under the elevated subway. It's still very close to the Harlem Line at the Harlem Line's Wakefield station. Does this matter? Maybe to a stranger walking around up there.

The Hell Gate Route is horribly misplaced. Admittedly it's an Amtrak route of minor interest to subway riders, and there are no stations on it in this area. So maybe you don't need to know exactly where it is. But to a stranger walking around, the presence of its massive fills and bridges is overwhelming, so it is a landmark. The arch bridge looming over the elevated Ditmars Blvd station is certainly noticeable, and a user of the Northern Blvd station would observe the heavy overpass at street level.

Here's another one that might be political:—

The Nassau St line from Chambers St to Broad St is the only part of the subway system that is just plain closed evenings, nights, and weekends. No service at all. Shouldn't this section be shown with some kind of dashed line? The only clue on the map is that marker letters J and Z are shown in a light typeface at the two affected stations. I doubt many people catch that. I think someone didn't want to draw much attention to the situation.

There's a design problem around here:—

The station spacing on the red and green line is weird. In real life the stations are evenly spaced. I can see that they wanted to line up the two Church Ave stations to the grid, and the Flatbush Ave and Avenue H stations. This little area is jammed together compared to the areas on both sides. Compare to real life:—

(from Google maps)

As you can see, the yellow-orange line stations on the left are not evenly spaced, and Beverley and Cortelyou are notoriously close. But the red-green line is has only a slightly longer spacing before Flatbush Ave, not enough I would say to bother with on a diagram. I would simplify the grid to say that the first two stations are even with each other on lines at right angles to subway, that Newkirk (red-green) is at a line between Cortelyou and Newkirk (yellow-orange), and that Flatbush is at a line between Newkirk (yellow-orange) and Avenue H.

By the way the variant spelling of Beverly and Beverley on the diagrams is not an error, or rather it shows accurately the names that have been on the station signs since the stations were opened. Street signs disagree too.

And now I feel very picky, but:—

Isn't there a transfer there? The minuscule line that should be between the circles is missing.

1 comment:

  1. fantastic post! a stranger wandering around in different parts of town *does* want to know these details. ~sholsted