The World's Most Impressive Subway Maps

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The New York City Subway map is more geographically accurate (ie, more like a road map) than that of any other large urban rail network, a trait that design critics claim keeps it cluttered and unwieldy. But it wasn't always that way. The inaugural 1904 map is a gorgeous antique of diagrammatic design. And an update by Massimo Vignelli, published by the MTA between 1974–1979, was also schematic, with simple 45-degree diagonals and separate colored lines for each route. While the MTA eventually abandoned the map, owing to its lack of geographical accuracy, it has since become an icon of smart subway map design. Last year, Vignelli was commissioned to make an elegant revision.

The most recent incarnation, designed by Michael Hertz Associates, uses single colored lines to represent collections of services (the 4, 5, and 6 trains are shown with one line) and opts for a more realistic representation of the city. Though the size of Staten Island has been greatly reduced to keep the map more manageable, its geographic faithfulness still keeps the map larger than it might be with a schematic design. And yet even if it's size leaves tourists struggling just to unfold the thing, it's hard to imagine navigating the five boroughs any other way.


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