7 Alternate Versions of the New York City Subway Map

In honor of Massimo Vignelli, godfather of the subway map, who died today.

Credit: Nobu Siraisi via Transit Maps

This is your first of three free stories this month. Become a free or sustaining member to read unlimited articles, webinars and ebooks.

Become A Member

The great modernist designer Massimo Vignelli died today at age 83. A data geek before it was cool, he inspired a cult following with his corporate logos and stark typography. But his most famous design remains the 1972 New York City subway map, an artful take on one of the world’s most complicated public transportation systems. Vignelli’s map was retired in 1979 to make way for the current version, but it still inspires heated debate, not to mention wannabe transit cartographers who, like Vignelli, have dreamed of a map worthy of the system it attempts to demystify. Below are a few endeavors that never made it to the platform wall, but are lovely nonetheless.

Max Roberts, a psychologist and transit consultant who has worked with Transport of London, the agency that runs that city’s Underground, rendered New York’s subway as a series of commanding concentric circles.

Credit: Max Roberts

KickMap took the standard MTA subway map and elevated it with a vivid colorful background that emphasizes where different neighborhoods begin and end.

Credit: KickMap

Brooklyn-based design team Triboro took Vignelli’s classic and stripped it down to orange and white, leaving an arresting image that would catch the eye of even harried New York commuters.

Credit: Triboro

This is a thing of both visual and audible beauty: the New York subway map as string instrument, using the actual train schedule to create the symphony.

Conductor: www.mta.me from Alexander Chen on Vimeo.

For “I Love NY” in map form, Seoul-based designers Zero Per Zero embeded New York’s transit system into a heart shape, rendering it cuddlier than it probably has a right to be.

Credit: Zero Per Zero

In certain ways, this homage to the current subway map, designed by architect and mapmaker Jug Cerovic, is a lot cleaner and easier to read than the real one.

Credit: Jug Cerovic

When the current New York subway map was introduced in 1979, designer Nobu Siraisi quickly recognized what a mess it was around the Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn. So Siraisi redrew that section of the map by hand, in a sketch that never made it off the drawing board, but is somehow gorgeous in its simplicity.

Like what you’re reading? Get a browser notification whenever we post a new story. You’re signed-up for browser notifications of new stories. No longer want to be notified? Unsubscribe.

Will Doig was formerly Next City’s international editor. He's worked as a columnist at Salon, an editor at The Daily Beast, a lecturer at the New School, and a communications staffer at the Open Society Foundations. He is the author of High-Speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia, published by Columbia Global Reports.

Follow Will

Tags: new york citypublic transportationsubwaysmappingtop 15

Next City App Never Miss A StoryDownload our app ×

You've reached your monthly limit of three free stories.

This is not a paywall. Become a free or sustaining member to continue reading.

  • Read unlimited stories each month
  • Our email newsletter
  • Webinars and ebooks in one click
  • Our Solutions of the Year magazine
  • Support solutions journalism and preserve access to all readers who work to liberate cities

Join 1106 other sustainers such as:

  • Anonymous at $10/Month
  • Anonymous in Cleveland, OH at $5/Month
  • Bruce in Muncie, IN at $60/Year

Already a member? Log in here. U.S. donations are tax-deductible minus the value of thank-you gifts. Questions? Learn more about our membership options.

or pay by credit card:

All members are automatically signed-up to our email newsletter. You can unsubscribe with one-click at any time.

  • Donate $20 or $5/Month

    20th Anniversary Solutions of the Year magazine

has donated ! Thank you 🎉