Subterranean Cartography, Geography, and the Usual Politics of the New York City Subway

An article in the New York Times from earlier this month offered an interesting inside look into the difficulties of designing the map of the venerable and labyrinthine New York City subway, the oldest subterranean railroad in North America. In 1972, a cartographer and designer named Massimo Vignelli was tasked with creating the first usable map of the subway system and its ever-expanding tunnels and spur routes. A few years later in 1979, a group of map-makers led by cartographer John Tuaranac revised the older Vignelli map, “with an artist’s touch but a less-than-faithful adherence to the city’s true geography.” Various geographic mistakes were made in the revision. In some places, such as on the West Side of Manhattan, Broadway Avenue is seemingly misplaced among the uniform grid of streets that crisscross the city. Other more noticeable quirks are also present, such as the supersized
outline of Manhattan compared to the real scale of the island.
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The 1972 map, designed by Massimo Vignelli. John Tuaranac’s job was to revise this edition. Photo from visualcomplexity.com.

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