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1979 Subway Map Designer Takes New Routes With Upgrade

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One man responsible for the subway map as we know it has taken another stab at it. Designer, architectural historian, and the all-around cartographic savant John Tauranac chaired the MTA committee that produced the basically ubiquitous guide to our subterranean jungle, and in 2011, he revised his handiwork. This June, he unleashed the most recent version, profiled by the New York Times, which aims to improve upon all the old drafts. (Note that these are "unofficial" renditions, entirely unaffiliated with the MTA.) To name a few modifications, Tauranac has added the Second Avenue line and the extension of the 7 train, tagged outdoor stations and ones where you can't reverse course without paying another fare, and notes in small type when stops are actually located on different cross-streets than their names would imply (e.g. West Fourth). No concentric circles here?it's all about fine-tuning the map's accuracy without sacrificing any clarity. There's also something to be said for aesthetic value, so Tauranac changed the font from Helvetica to Myriad.

What was in it for him? "Satisfaction," Tauranac replied. "It seems to me that there's always room for improvement. Every time I look at a map, I think, 'You know, that should be an eighth of a pica further to the right.' You become obsessed by these things." Not every detail can be geographically spot-on, of course, though Tauranac aims to be accurate?for example, not rendering something east of an avenue west of it on his maps. It's not always to scale: "The relationship between things becomes distorted and distended. The map is 4.5 inches wide between Broadway and 86th and Lexington and 86th, but 4.5 inches down on Lexington and you're in Union Square." Midtown has five "trunk lines," which is why that part of the map is so fat. On the other hand, "where there's not a lot of activity you can squish it," Tauranac jokes. "That's a technical map term."

Want one of your own? They're priced anywhere from $14.95 and are sold at the NYU Bookstore, the Tenement Museum, and online and via e-mail from Rare Posters.
· Tauranac Maps [official]
· A Redesign of the Subway Map, From One of Its Designers [NYT]
· Taking Blame, Grabbing Glory for Subway Map Errors [Curbed]
· Imagine If NYC's Subway Map Had Rad Concentric Circles [Curbed]