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Project: New York Subway Map in the Style of the London Tube Diagram

New York Tube Map - Small



Click here to view a larger version of the map

A little while ago, someone asked me on my Transit Maps blog whether I had ever seen a map of the New York subway system in the style of the London Underground diagram. Rather surprisingly, I hadn’t actually come across one, so I decided to draw one up myself. Having just completed my own reworking of the Tube Map, I was already acquainted with its design rules and requirements, so this project didn’t actually take that long.

All of the subway trunk lines have been adapted to use their closest matching colour from the Tube Map: the BMT Broadway uses the Circle line’s yellow, the IND 6th Avenue uses the Overground’s orange, and so on. The IRT Flushing line’s purple gets substantially darker to use the Metropolitan line’s maroon, as does the IND 8th Avenue’s blue with the Piccadilly’s dark navy. I used the Waterloo & City line’s sea green for New York’s three shuttle lines, as the W&C is the only shuttle-like line on the Underground, and it looked much nicer than using the Northern line’s heavy black. One notable thing is how terrible the IRT 7th Avenue (red) and IRT Lexington Avenue (green) lines are for colour-blind users when they run adjacent to each other.

The other thing to note is that – in true Tube Map style – service patterns generally aren’t shown. This, of course, makes this map next to useless for actually navigating the subway – there’s literally no distinction made on the map between the J and the Z, for example – but that’s the way things roll in London! I did make one tiny concession to New York’s complexity by adding route designation bullets at the terminus stations of each service, but you’re completely on your own after that. Express services, turnbacks, skipping stations at certain times: these are all trifling details that London does not even attempt to convey – so neither does this map.


The other departure from the true Tube Map style was the requirement to adhere to Manhattan’s street grid as closely as possible, rather than evenly spacing the stations out along a line. As can be seen above, this mostly works pretty well, although occasionally the density of labelling required a street to be pushed slightly out of alignment.


Once the map reaches the outer boroughs, a more diagrammatic and evenly-spaced approach could be used successfully. The section of the map into Coney Island works particularly well, I think.


The complex routing of lines near Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center actually turned out pretty well. The Tube Map “dumbbell” interchange symbol is particularly ill-suited to the needs of the 4 Av–9 St station complex. Here, even an offset symbol fails to clearly show that the (orange) D service does not stop along the southbound Fourth Avenue line. The single red tick across the green route line at the Brooklyn Museum stop is also less than satisfactory, but space limitations demanded that approach.


In real life, the R and M run underneath Broadway, so it was nice to be able to line the routes up with the N and Q Broadway station tick. Little touches like this are immensely satisfying when putting a complex map like this together.

Overall, this was definitely a fun little project. Applying the design language of one transit map rigorously to another system is always interesting, even though the results here are decidedly mixed. The map certainly looks attractive, but the Tube Map’s style is ill-suited to the intricate working complexities of the New York subway system.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!



  1. David

    Is it really possible you are unaware that for much of my youth and adolescence, the New York Subway used the “London Tube” map style?

    The MTA issued a series of maps of the subway system from 1924 on. In 1958–the year before I was born, they issued the first of a series of “London Tube” style maps:

    Similarly styled maps were issued in 1964 (the so-called “World’s Fair Edition”):

    …And also in 1966:

    In 1972, the MTA issued a completely revamped map, also in the “London Tube” style, but with a much brighter, “Peter Max” color scheme:

    The 1972 version is the map I remember best from growing up–logically enough, since I was 13 years old when it was issued and versions of it remained the standard until 1979 (when I was 20 and about to graduate from Columbia University), at which time it was superseded by a more traditional approach that combined elements of the “London Tube” style with a more geographically conforming approach:

    Incidentally, I mean no criticism…but it’s astonishing that apparently an entire era in MTA map-making has been lost to the knowledge of men.

  2. Pingback: What If New York Used London Underground's Map Design? - Magnate

  3. Out of complete curiosity, how big is this map? When trying to make maps for New York I’ve found it very challenging to keep type legible while also making the map a reasonable size.

  4. Hal Kapell

    I think this is great. The current NYC map is, in my opinion, one of the worst in the world. Their method of showing rush-hour service as parallel to full-time service (e.f., the “D” in the Bronx) is simply awful from a design standpoint, as well as not really explaining what’s going on to the uninitiated. (The daily users already know– they don’t need it anyway.) I also appreciate that even in your Londonesque non-geographic metaphor, you manage to show large swaths of unserviced areas– evidence of New York’s complete inability to actually complete lines proposed in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. One question is why you have chosen to omit the SIRT, a system with which the MTA map seems to have an on-again-off-again relationship. (And they also ignore the PATH system in Manhattan, let alone New Jersey, as well as giving short shrift to the commuter rail lines and ignore the Staten Island Ferry, which provides a FREE connection between the SIRT and subway lines proper. All in all, though, I love your version. Congratulations on a job extremely well done!

    • No, there’s no distinction made between local and express in any form: just as the Tube Map makes no distinction(some Metropolitan Line trains run express to/from Amersham and Chesham, but you’d never know from the Tube Map!)

      • dcs

        To be fair to the tube map, though, you wouldn’t really need to know whether these were express services – if you were trying to get to Amersham or Chesham then skipping stations on the way is a bonus, and if you’re going from either station then this information is clearly signposted to you. Since the vast majority of Underground services stop at every station on their lines, most users of the system would probably get confused by a load of extra lines trying to show you service patterns as well!

      • I think this is my point – the Tube Map doesn’t show service patterns because things are explained at the station with signage and announcements. Sydney is another city with variable service patterns along lines (all stops, express and what I call “one, two, skip a few” semi-local trains), but this isn’t shown on the rail map at all. Instead, announcements are made and destination boards scroll through the full list of stations the train is calling at. New York seems almost unique in its desire to show all the permutations of service on one map. For the most part, it works fairly well, although it does make the map seem very information-dense and somewhat impenetrable for casual users.

    • It’s because New York runs a fairly consistent set of express and local services (with the exception of some peak-direction services.) For instance, the A is always express between 207 St and Far Rockaway/Lefferts Blvd, Brooklyn trains using the Lexington Avenue Line always run express, and the D is always express in Manhattan and Brooklyn (the only times these are not the case is during late nights, but late night service isn’t depicted on the maps anyways.) Because it’s pretty consistent it makes more sense to delineate these express services.

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