Kick 1-0 Vignelli

Downtown Brooklyn as represented by Massimo Vignelli

Downtown Brooklyn as represented by Eddie Jabbour's Kick Map

Apart from confusion, rats, and the smell of stale urine, perhaps the most definable element of the subway system is its map. Having gone through a multitude of changes from three separate diagrams for the IRT, BMT, and IND to the unified version we see today, there is constant debate over how best to represent the subway’s ever changing and complex route patterns. Should it attempt to be geographic, as the current map attempts to do (and fails considering Manhattan is far larger than it is in real life alone), or should it be schematic?

The first radical change came with Massimo Vignelli’s schematic model, modelled after many mid-20th century metro maps in Europe, especially the famous London Underground diagram. By caring little about geography and giving each line its own station bullets and lines, it has become infamous and highly polarizing. Some consider it to be brilliant, creating some order out of chaos, while others believe it to be garish with little to no harmony with the actual layout of the city (the Vignelli map does actually place 50th Street underneath Broadway west of 50th Street underneath 8th Avenue). Personally I believe that while attempting with good faith to make some sense of the subway, Vignelli’s design inherently fails for a number of reasons that will be mentioned later.

A few years ago, Eddie Jabbour became relatively well-known in transport circles as well as New York City for his Kick Map, an attempt to combine the good aspects of Michael Hertz’s official map according to the MTA and Vignelli’s former creation. It should be noted that the current coloring scheme dates to a time after Vignelli, and thus it is slightly unfair in this regard to critique him for color choices, although he did release an updated version in 2008. The proposal became successful enough for Jabbour to be invited to the MTA’s offices to discuss the use of his map, but was eventually rejected.

So why have I said titled this post “Kick 1-0 Vignelli?” First, I believe that the Kick Map should be implemented as the new official map below, and second it shows significant improvement over the Vignelli map while incorporating what positive features it did have. Both give each line, even at the Manhattan trunk level, its own line on the map. To ease confusion, Jabbour slightly separates the schematic lines so they stand out more strongly while also giving each line a slightly different tint (the A is slightly lighter than the C, but both are noticeably blue). Further, there is still an incorporation of the neighborhoods and street grids under which the subway runs in the Kick Map, but it is distorted enough so as to not be exactly accurate while easy to read.

Like Vignelli, there is a rejection of the local/express setup currently seen on the map, as this system breaks down even in Manhattan. Are Park Place, Wall Street, and Fulton Street (as well as Clark Street and Borough Hall in Brooklyn) local or express stops on the 2 and 3, as the services that stop there are technically expresses in Manhattan, but there is no actual local services on the Brooklyn Branch of the 7th Avenue Line? Intriguingly, the Kick Map notes the times of certain services, a convenient way of simplifying weekday-only services such as the B. Vignelli’s map requires the notation of cross streets at each station because the extreme distortion means that there is no accurate way of denoting the thoroughfare under which each line runs, while Jabbour does include this notation, thereby reducing clutter. He also eliminates “Street” and “Avenue” when necessary, which is surprisingly useful. Other small details include the addition of a red square indicating that a station does not have a free transfer between directions, incredibly useful when one doesn’t know a particular station well.

Perhaps where Vignelli goes wrong the most is that he doesn’t incorporate New York City into the subway map, as the two are intricately related. It is impossible to credit the development of Midtown and Upper Manhattan, as well as the growth of the outer boroughs without recognizing that the subway brought people into and out of Manhattan, as well as running under a fully planned grid system in the most densely-populated sections of the city. In London and other European cities, where no such logic exists to streets and stations are usually named after neighborhoods or landmarks, this is unnecessary and a true schematic such as Beck’s Tube Map is more appropriate. Vignelli’s map just lays the subway on top of a blank canvas that is meant to represent New York, while the Kick Map, and to an extent the current map, incorporate important places, regions, and streets while keeping the subway the primary focus of the plan.

So who do you think wins, the Kick Map (Eddie Jabbour) or Massimo Vignelli? Perhaps the current map is the best or another design altogether needs to be proposed. Whatever the result, New Yorkers will always debate the best map for their subway.

One Response to “Kick 1-0 Vignelli”
  1. Eric B says:

    I really liked the map, and had sent in suggestions to MTA to use it as well. The differtent color shades were an idea I sent to Jabbour. I later decided different colors or line textures should represent different times of operations, but aaround that time was when the earlier suggestion began appearing on the map.

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