Greater Greater Washington

What if the NYC Subway map looked like the DC Metro's?

Washington's Metro subway map, with its thick lines and bullseye transfer stations, is iconic. What would New York's subway map look like in Metro style? Chris Whong shows us.

Image by Chris Whong.

Whong redrew the Manhattan and Bronx part of the map with the 45° angles, station symbols, and simplified diagrammatic design of the Metro map. The many lines take up a fair amount of space, which is one reason New York doesn't actually make a map this way. But it's actually quite readable.

In fact, New York has had diagrammatic maps in the past, particularly the famous Massimo Vignelli map New York used from 1972-1979, which confined lines to 45° and also eschewed a lot of other information like the street grid, which is part of the current NYC map.

Portion of the Vignelli map.

Whong's full map is below:

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 


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Love this. It is quite readable and for how rarely I use the subway outside of midtown, it actually shows me where the lines go much quicker then the real maps does. Interesting. Love the caption on the bottom (except rats!).

by JDC Esq on Dec 30, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

I guess the only thing is the official wubway map gives you a better idea where the actually entrances are. Addition of a few major streets/avenues to the Metro map could actually be useful though it's hard because the WMATA map is more stylized and less accurate geographically.

by BTA on Dec 30, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

*subway, hah

by BTA on Dec 30, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

The diagrammatic Vignelli map has been reborn as MTA's Weekender, a digital map. It is a beautiful update and very easy to read. See here:

by John P on Dec 30, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

Using the DC stylized map I do not know where to get off the train, or how far the station will be from my destination. I have to look for the "complete" geographical posters on platforms, which are not available until I get off. NYC, one of the largest cities and systems in the world, can publish a geographical map with "complete" information. Why can't DC?
For those who cannot read a real map post both styles in the trains.
Look at the Silver Line map. Where do you get off in a Tysons for some office address? Answer: you just have to know.

by T Johnson on Dec 30, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

Unlike Metro, the NYC subway has express routes. If the map doesn't show where the express stops are, it is fundamentally flawed.

by movement on Dec 30, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

T Johnson: each station has very detailed neighborhood maps that show the stations and the exits, and 1/4 to 1/2 mile walking radii. I do wish WMATA would offer print versions of those maps.

by John P on Dec 30, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

@T Johnson

Fortunately the private industry has done just that, with little maps centered around each metro stop.(probably what @John P was referring to)

Stationmasters D.C. Area Metrorail Atlas Guide to Station Neighborhoods served by the Washington, DC

One of the first books I purchased when I moved here in 2012.

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 30, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

Yes, Metro, please provide more detailed street grid information on the maps, because the first time I take the Silver Line to Tysons I will not make any effort to use the internet in advance to determine my stop . I will just be using dead reckoning and lucky guesses, and your map will be the only source of information I can consult.

Seriously, does anyone really board the train with no clue about the correct stop, and then rely completely on the onboard map? Seriously?

by David on Dec 30, 2013 2:59 pm • linkreport

Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't the station-specific pages for Metro used to have "Stationmaster" links on them?

by JDC Esq on Dec 30, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

@JDC esq, Yes, they used to have links to the "stationmaster" maps, and before that, a link to a PDF copy of the map posted at the station was on the station page. They seem to have replaced that with a link to a Google map at "What's nearby?"

In the past, I was able to ask the person working the kiosk for the area map. He or she would have a pad of preprinted maps, copies of what was posted at the station, and tear off the top copy to give to anyone who asked. When the Metro ran reliably on the weekend, it was pleasant to choose a Metro stop or two, do some research about activities and interesting sites, get a copy of the local map and spend the day exploring. I haven't asked for a local map recently, so I don't know if they have discontinued that practice.

I will say that some of the maps in the station are very out of date.

by OtherMike on Dec 30, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport


If people are using the internet to figure out how to get around than why do we have crap like GWU, UDC, GMU, Penn Quarter, Galludet U, Ballpark etc added on maps or tell customers you can transfer to MARC, VRE, Amtrak, Greyhound at so and so stations or this is your last transfer point between the Blue and Orange Lines ?

Why not have nothing but the names of stations and that is it without any background information of the area if they are truly using the internet than all of that stuff is not needed.


However I fail to see why WMATA does not publish geographically accurate maps aswell as the current version many systems around the world do including the London Underground and the Tokyo Metro or atleast have a downloadable PDF on their site which would only incur cost every 5-10 years when they decide to change something.

by kk on Dec 30, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

Massimo Vignelli, himself, intended that the much-celebrated schematic map should be accompanied by a geographically-accurate map.

I'll say that again: the man who designed that highly abstract subway map? He felt that it was incomplete without a spatially oriented companion.

Here are Mr. Vignelli's exact words:

Dear Friends,

How can I remain silent in such a heathed debate about NY Subway Map? I would like clarify just a few issues that
will help to better understand the project.

When we were asked to design a new subway map, we devised a system of four maps to convey the proper iniormation :

1 A System Map

2 A Geographical Map

3 A Neighborhood Map

4 A Verbal Map

All these maps were to be posted in the stations, so that complete information could be provided to the people using the subway.

The System Map was only concerned with providing information from point A to point B.

The Geographical Map provided information, including MTA stations, on a real topographical context.

The Neighborhood Map provided information about the area around the station at street level.

The Verbal Map decribed how to reach a destination, which train to get, where to change, and when to get out.

Samples of all these maps were done, but not implemented. Only the System Map was implemented. Instead of dumping it would have been better to implement the system of information, rather then trying to overlap all those semantically different needs into one map, as they have done.

The System Map we designed obviously had some faults which were inherent with the direction taken, but we thought at the time that the overall result was more relevant then the discrepancies found here and there in the map. After all, we had in our project all the other maps to cover all the other needs.

As it stands, I agree with the positive comments the map has received through the years, and I regret the whole project was never implemented as it should have been.

I hope this clarification will help to set things straight.


by David R. on Dec 30, 2013 5:18 pm • linkreport

Am I the only person who noticed that this map would be extremely misleading and basically useless due to the amount of information omitted? For those who are not familiar with the NYC Subway system each color doesn't represent a single line (for example the A, C and E lines are all blue on both this and the real map) and while the system is open 24/7 not every line is running and some lines make different stops late nights and weekends. Also, the map doesn't appear to account for the difference between express and local trains.

by Jacob on Dec 30, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

All true, but this map isn't supposed to be useful, it's a design experiment and a nostalgic/fun connection between two cities and subways I hold dear. The fact that these design elements don't work well for NYC is what makes it interesting, and has led to some great discussion about what makes a good transit map.

by Chris on Dec 30, 2013 8:31 pm • linkreport

@kk - The current map has those extraneous names (GWU, UDC, GMU, Penn Quarter, Galludet U, Ballpark) because the board let the station-naming process degrade to nonsense. The best station names are simple and unique. Look at the station names in London, New York, and Paris. You won't find anything like the abomination that is "U Street | African-American Civil War Memorial | Cardozo".

You wrote: "Why not have nothing but the names of stations and that is it without any background information of the area?" My response: Yes, a thousand times yes. The main map needs just the rivers, the parks, the state lines, and a handful of significant landmarks. And take a knife to the station names. It's just "Foggy Bottom", not "Foggy Bottom GWU".

David R wrote: "Massimo Vignelli, himself, intended that the much-celebrated schematic map should be accompanied by a geographically-accurate map." My response: He got his wish. It's called the Trip Planner, Bing maps, Google maps, or a dozen different smartphone apps. Or, you just call up GWU on the old-fashioned phone, and they tell you "Foggy Bottom". You don't reply, "What? Your acronym is not in the station name? How will I ever find it?"

by David G on Dec 31, 2013 6:15 am • linkreport

I think this map combined with look at the destination listed on the train will probably get most people where they need to go. If I'm trying to take the A or C to brooklyn then I'll know not to get on the train marked E and then the map will be great for letting me know when I should expect to be at Jay Street.

Then again the first time I went to new york I kept telling my fellow travelers to make sure we get on the "red 6" train thinking that the colors were important.

by drumz on Dec 31, 2013 7:55 am • linkreport

This map is a good demonstration of why form must follow function; why the design principles that work for a system of DC's scale and nature don't work for DC. Other comments have noted those reasons (multiple lines, express stops, street grid info) but I just wanted to summarize that conclusion.

by Squarely Rooted on Dec 31, 2013 8:52 am • linkreport

I think this map combined with look at the destination listed on the train will probably get most people where they need to go.

Not really. You'd have some awfully confused passengers wondering why their 2 train went flying through Columbus Circle as an express when the WMATA-style map showed they would stop there.

Of course, that's not the point of this map. But there's a reason New York uses more complicated maps - they have more complicated service patterns.

WMATA's service patterns are increasingly more complex, as well. Add in some other potential changes, and you can easily see the limits of WMATA's relatively simple map and color-based nomenclature.

by Alex B. on Dec 31, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

@ David G

One point you missed all people don't have smartphones (for tourist most wont be using their phones if international tourist due to non supported bands or very high roaming fees)

Also there are those that do might not have data or service at _____ location which is common in the Metrosystem as i do not have coverage but in a few stations .

You are also adding clutter why do we need the parks, and significant landmarks. Why not just rivers and state borders ?

by kk on Dec 31, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

I think the benefit of the DC map is that it is all about "how do I get from the station I am in now to another station?" The paths are extremely clear, everything else is just to give some basic context about where the heck you are in the city. You should know that you've crossed a river or an interstate or a county line just to give you some more frame of reference. It's not supposed to be a "here's everything you can do nearby all over the city", there are a million other resources for that, smartphones and station neighborhood maps included.

In NYC, on the platforms they have a giant version of the map (maybe 5'X5') that's exactly the same as the smaller ones on the trains. From this discussion, it occurs to me that the maps on the trains should be simpler, and all about helping people who are already on the train find their destination easier. The bigger maps on the platforms could be more detailed to help people figure out what's nearby.

Also, I LOVE the transit map captcha here on GGW!

by Chris Whong on Dec 31, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

Even if they have smart phones NYC can be tricky to navigate on the fly. For a while I used to still carry around a paper map when I visited but I know manhattan well enough now that I don't need one. I feel like the DC metro system basically gets you to a neighborhood center while the subway is more of a point to point system that almost requires more planning because there are so many options.

by BTA on Dec 31, 2013 12:03 pm • linkreport

"the fact that these design elements don't work well for NYC is what makes it interesting, and has led to some great discussion about what makes a good transit map.

by Chris on Dec 30, 2013 8:31 pm"

Or, what makes a good transit system....i.e., what the DC system lacks.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Dec 31, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

I must be the only NYC transplant who prefers the NYC subway map over the metro.

by Jeff on Dec 31, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

I have a smartphone but have found that I still prefer a paper map for most trips/vacations.

by drumz on Dec 31, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

Not only does this omit too much information - but it's not even really comparable because the DC Metro serves the DC suburbs as well. There is now way this even works for the 4 subway boroughs (since Brooklyn and Queens is omitted) let alone trying to configure for the commuter rail lines (NJ Transit - Metro North - Long Island Rail Road). The only NYC train system a map like this would work on is he PATH system.

by Andre on Dec 31, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

Here is a link to another NYC Transit Map that may be of interest to readers in this thread:

by Peter on Jan 2, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

Seriously? No outer boroughs? No express trains? No reflection of different routes running over the same lines, or of rush-hour/late-night services? Look, DC people, I know you love your clean, brutalist, overcrowded and non-upgradable Metro, but just because when you come up here you only visit Manhattan and take cabs doesn't mean your map is gonna work for us New Yorkers! ;)

by Dave on Jan 2, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

No, not seriously. This is a design exercise, it's meant to be interesting, not useful or practical.

by Chris Whong on Jan 2, 2014 3:07 pm • linkreport


"I think this map combined with look at the destination listed on the train will probably get most people where they need to go. "

Not really. For instance nothing on this map indicates that the C train will stop at 23rd St while the A will not.

"Then again the first time I went to new york I kept telling my fellow travelers to make sure we get on the "red 6" train thinking that the colors were important."

Then your friends must of have been very confused looking for a train which doesn't exist since the 6 trains is shown in green.

by Jacob on Jan 2, 2014 4:48 pm • linkreport

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