Editor's Note

New MTA map goes back to the future

A New York City “subway diagram” on a trial run resembles the much-maligned Massimo Vignelli modernist design from the 1970s.

The new MTA map.

The new MTA map. MTA

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority clearly has a tough time learning its lessons. The Wall Street Journal reported last week about a new subway map that the MTA is trying out at the Times Square, Grand Central and Fulton Street stations, among others. This new one is more in line with the maps used by other major transit systems. It runs train lines alongside each other, showing more clearly how they interact.

Trouble is this “subway diagram” (it’s not even called a map) looks almost identical to the modernist version by artist Massimo Vignelli that was scrapped in 1979, seven years after it went up. New Yorkers hated it because it distorted the geography of the city (they shrunk Central Park!) confusing riders when they went above ground. It was replaced by the current map designed by Michael Hertz Associates, which still plays around with geography, but not to the degree that it earns a spot at MOMA.

I remember Vignelli’s “System Map,” primarily because of its modern, futuristic look which ironically inspired the designs of today’s subway maps used by so many other cities. But I was a kid in the 70s hooked on science fiction shows and visions of the future. New Yorkers also were fearful of the subway then because of high crime. Having a map that’s not user-friendly didn’t make things better.

Sarah Meyer, the MTA’s chief customer officer, says she wants to gradually introduce the new map in a way that “doesn’t cause fear.” She also may want to consider preventing some rage too. New Yorkers are picky when it comes to subway art – I mean maps.