There are two opposing positions in the debates swirling around the design of subway maps, and they are as inimical to each other as Good and Evil, Order and Chaos, Jedi and Trekkies. On the one hand are those that structure a subway system as a topological system, with stations equally spaced along neatly organized and colored lines. The prime example is the London Underground map designed in the early 1930s by Henry Beck; Beck made all the lines run vertically, horizontally, or at 45 degrees in order to emphasize the network and its connections at the expense of geographical fidelity; indeed, in 2009, the great geographical divide in London, the River Thames, was dropped from the map! On the other hand are those subway maps that seek to relate the stations to geographical reality. Here, the usual example is the New York City subway map, renowned for its lack of aesthetic appeal; Manhatten is swollen by the need to fit in all the details, but the overall goal is to emphasize how the stations relate to above-ground geography.
I have to wonder whether there's a philosophical difference here. In London, residents seem to like the Underground; they appreciate it, understand it, and want to use it. In New York, where the subway has long been seen as a site of physical danger and immorality, and is moreover a confusing hodge-podge of express and local trains, and numbered and lettered lines, residents seem to barely tolerate the system and need the reassurance that it is, in fact, connected to the surface above and not a separate world. (But then, I grew up in London ...)
So I was very pleased to see the work of a British designer, Max Roberts, who has turned the ugly NYC subway map into a thing of beauty:
This really is an elegant and effective map of the network. Bravo!
mhe (h/t Mark Monmonier)