Massimo Vignelli subway maps not making a comeback in new subway cars, MTA says

A detail in new renderings of future MTA subway cars evokes a design of maps past.

Discerning illustrators and eagle-eyed transit buffs began connecting the dots of a comeback Monday after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office released interior images of the next batch of open-ended subway cars, which appear to feature Massimo Vignelli’s controversial, diagrammatic subway map of 1972.

After being commissioned by the MTA for a new subway map, the esteemed Italian designer attempted to streamline the MTA’s tangle of subway lines and street grids. Subway tunnels were represented through straight lines, 45-degree and 90-degree angles. Geographic waypoints were stripped—sacrificed for a cleaner, readable design more similar to the iconic map of the London Underground.

“We have tried to make reading the New York subway map as easy as following the yellow‐brick road,” Dr. William J. Ronan, then-chairman of the MTA, said as he introduced straphangers to Vignelli’s maps at the time.

Despite praise from Vignelli’s peers, the map was short-lived. It was scrapped in 1979 after riders and tourists griped over the maps’ geographical inaccuracies. (Most famously, those kvetched that Central Park was depicted as a square and water surrounding the region was illustrated with an off-putting beige hue.)

Design aficionados who still adore the map hoped for a return on Monday. Did the renderings hint of a return? Or was a designer just having some fun?

The MTA derailed such speculation. No, Vignelli maps are not returning. As it happens, the authority said that the interior image included The Weekender, a digital map that was also designed by Vignelli Associates for the MTA to illustrate weekend service interruptions.

So Vignelli happened to find his way into the rendering, but don’t expect him to help you find your way home.

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