In what is the most significant update to New York City’s subway map since the 1970s, the MTA has launched a new digital diagram for straphangers that’s easier to navigate, provides seamless updates, and even shows you a cool little animation of your train kinda, sorta moving down the tracks.
Even if you don’t live in NYC, you’ve probably seen the iconic map of its subway. Like most things at the MTA, the map has undergone periodic revisions but was in serious need of a modern overall. On Tuesday, the transit agency unveiled its digital map update, and it’s a thing of beauty.
The first thing you’ll notice is that when it’s zoomed out, the various subway lines are crisp and clean without a bunch of visual garbage surrounding them. Zoom in on the green line, for example, and you’ll see it split into three lines representing the 4, 5, and 6 trains. Zoom-in to a specific station and grayscale street details fill out the map with information about the surrounding area while keeping your focus on the transit info. Click or tap on the station and clean pop-up with arrival times and alerts will expand. Travel info will be the biggest item people are searching for, but beleaguered New Yorkers with accessibility needs will be thrilled to find that they can get real-time updates on which escalators and elevators are malfunctioning at the moment.
Unfortunately, the most exciting update is a bit of an illusion—the soothing progression of little animated trains on the map’s lines. Speaking with Curbed, Sarah Meyer, the MTA’s chief customer officer who spearheaded the project, said that this feature isn’t very precise, particularly on lines designated by letters. “How real-time is real-time? You’re still getting some train data a minute after it comes in,” Meyer said. This information is expected to become more accurate as the MTA implements its plans for a computer-controlled signaling system.
Commuters can check out the map on desktop, mobile, or within the MYmta app.
Design geeks should check out Curbed’s lovely dive into the project’s background. It positions the new map as joining the canon of famous NYC designs like Milton Glaser’s I❤NY logo. Glaser did that work for free as a gift to his city. Work & Co., the design firm behind the map update, also did this work pro bono for the city. The designers even skipped the expected shortcut of integrating Google Maps because of its inability to display the map in the straight-up-and-down orientation New Yorkers expect. But they’ll make up for lost time and resources through exposure. The filmmaker behind the typography doc Helvetica will soon be releasing a short documentary on the project, and the designers intend to peddle their map product to other transit organizations.