New York Subway Diagram

Version 4
by Joseph Brennan, May 1999 to May 2005.

Pure Design or Practical Tool?

I've become aware that people are using this map to navigate the subway system. I actually designed it to test out whether the London Transport Diagram's design could be applied to a New York subway diagram. In some ways, it doesn't work. The London diagram can be printed into a small pocket leaflet and still be legible and clear. Although good printing would permit a smaller version than is possible on a computer screen, this New York diagram still cannot be reduced to the same extent. I don't think much more information can be omitted, which means the New York system is just more complicated.

My design goals were to present a simple, clear diagram of all the passenger railroads in the city and just beyond, including all of the subway, PATH, the Newark subway, and the Staten Island Railway, and showing their relation to the Long Island Rail Road, Metro North, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak. I chose to use a very limited set of symbols to portray a very limited set of data, namely just the railroads and stations, station names, waterways. Use of a diagram allows enlarging of tangled areas to show the routings operated, making this more clear than a scale map.

As of version 4, I am now showing train marker letters and numbers. My idea had been that details of train routings are the next level of detail down from a general diagram of the area, but this has been the most requested feature, so I have decided to design with them. At the same time I have dropped closed stations.

Since I keep updating the diagram, it actually should be usable. I strongly recommend riders also obtain the official subway map, which was quite a good piece of design as well. The modified version of January 1998 is less satisfying than the one used for the past several years, which in my opinion was the best official map ever.

Tech Notes

Version 1 (June 1995) was created on a Macintosh Performa 575 using the drawing module of Claris Works 2, a pretty basic drawing program. The output was converted to 4 bits with Graphic Converter. Versions 2 (November 1995) and 3 (June 1997) continued the same process. The version numbers reflect some basic changes to the design that I can no longer remember.

The GIF versions were about 242 KB in size and expanded to a little over 3 MB of memory. The terrific compression was made possible by limiting the map to 16 solid colors and storing it into a 4-bit GIF file. When I first made this map available on the web in June 1995, I was concerned about the memory required to view it, but within two years that amount of memory was common! The compression still speeded downloading.

Version 4 (May 1999) was attempted with Apple Works on an iMac, but the software was less usable for creating diagrams. Lines that looked OK in Apple Works shifted randomly by a pixel in the output, causing many misalignments that destroyed the look of the map. I blew about 50 hours fiddling with it. I reverted to Claris Works, copied off the old Mac, and continued the same onto another iMac for 4.9 (July 2001). An OS update in 2005 prevented me from running ClarisWorks after 4.25 (September 2004), and 4.26 (May 2005) was kludged by editing pixels in the 4.25, which was unmaintainable. The diagram took a year off, during which volunteer Yuri Popov created 4.27 (February 2006). I was able to use an older Mac to make 4.28 (July 2006) and, after a long interval with no service changes, 4.29 (March 2009).

Version 5 (October 2010) was completely redrawn using Adobe Illustrator on a new iMac. It was a big job but the got a much improved appearance. This version was output to a PDF of about 272 KB, about the same as the GIF.

Design Notes

Transfer across platform, shown by a large circle across two lines, is distinguished from other transfers requiring stairs or passageway, shown by two connected circles. Thus for example, the careful reader will see that transfer between express and local on the Red line is across the platform at Times Square but not at Pennsylvania station.

Express and local subway service is shown by separate lines for the track pairs. This graphic representation eliminates the need for fussy station symbols that can be somewhat difficult to interpret on other maps. The reader can easily see that some trains bypass the local stations.

Versions up to 4 used line width to service levels of full-time (6 px) and part-time (3 px) service and no regular service (1 px). The last category was dropped after version 4. Part-time service is now shown by a line with a dashed white line on it. A thinner line is used for one-way services. From the beginning I consider a service part-time if it does not run 7 days a week, a stricter rule than transit operators use on their maps, because I feel that weekend riders should be able to assume that full-time services are running then. I do not indicate routes with no service overnight.

Versions up to 4 showed mainline railways in black, with once again thick and thin lines for full-time and part-time. This was rightly critiqued as giving them too much visual weight considering the lower service they provide compared to subways. In version 5 I changed them to thinner grey lines, and used a grey station symbol to call out stations that do not have good service. The definition of that is a little loose, but hourly service seven days is good.

As of version 2, I used a light grey color for lines under construction. These are "ghost" lines that exist to some extent even though they cannot be used for train service. In version 5, I began using dashed lines with the color of the probable train service. Since the beginning I do not show proposed services. I require evidence of construction in progress before adding one of these. It is too easy to propose and not fund.

Where lines cross, the one shown as crossing over really is the one that crosses over-- for those who care! The reason I show the track with no regular service is that most of it does see service from time to time during construction work, so that it seems useful to have it shown where it could be referenced for those routings.

Ferries are shown mainly because they relate to the rail system, principally the Staten Island Ferry, the only scheduled link between the Staten Island railway and the city. I know there are more ferries than shown. Most of them run only on weekdays, so it would be misleading to put them on the diagram without some further differentiation.

Airport light rail is shown since it is a form of rail line even if a very specialized one.

Changes from version 2 onward


I'm happy to hear from people about the map. Please direct comments to Thanks for viewing!

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