In the last #ThePlusInMetsPlus, I talked about how traveling can be a hassle as it is, and to some, navigating the worlds fourth largest city seems like an impossible task, but if you study the subway map enough, you’ll be able to find some tricks and shortcuts that gets you to your final destination must faster.
But, first, I need to brag a little bit. I absolutely love the subway, as a kid, it was one of my top two favorite passions, along with Mets Baseball, and frankly still is. Also, I have a virtual map of the New York City Subway in my head, and I mean that. You could ask me how to get from Ditmas Avenue to Wakefield-241 st, or any other combination, and I’d be able to tell you the best subway route. However, keep in mind that I said: “Subway route,” which is due to the fact that I’ve stared at a New York City Subway map for my entire life, and while I have an average understanding of the cities bus lines, there is a lot more to New York City transportation that people just don’t see.
The traditional New York City Subway Map
While I was searching around at unique New York City transit maps, which I generally avoid, I found one map that caught my eye. Known as “The Bullet Map”, this map combines New York City Subway routes, Select Bus Service routes, and Local Bus routes.
This unique map unlocks connections that are hidden from the traditional NYC Subway Map, unless you look at a separate borough specific bus map, which tends to be confusing, as it doesn’t quite line-up with subway stations, and unlike the subway map, where it is understandable if you read it for a while, and has important colors that explain what line you are riding, the bus specific maps have arbitrary colors that do not indicate Limited Lines, or other important notes about the bus. The Bullet Map fixes that issue, take a look at a part of the map, and you’ll see what I mean:
Now, it is a little “bland” compared to the traditional map, and if you’ve never looked at the traditional version, this might be pretty overwhelming, but figuring out the best possible route is important knowledge to have. Founder of the Bullet Map, Anthony Denaro, agrees with that, and says this on his website
This information is vital – it’s knowing which bus to take when you arrive at the subway terminal, how to get into the city on one fare, when Manhattan crosstown buses turn to start going uptown, and what buses serve your neighborhood to get you to the subway.
Getting increasingly interested by the minute, I asked Mr.Denaro if he had a minute to answer a few of my pressing questions. So without further ado, here is my interview with the founder of “The Bullet Map”:
How did you get started with these maps? I’m an avid map collector, but I usually don’t stray from the traditional map.
I got started with these maps with the thesis of trying to combine the subway and bus system – all five boros – on one map that flowed between the boros. Currently the bus map can’t be overlayed on top of the subway system map. The bus maps make the subway system hard to read and follow.
I think the current maps are excellent for one purpose – for bus drivers and for those who need to and want to know exactly where and how the bus runs. The general public doesn’t need to know that. They need to see a simplified version that makes clearer where they can transfer between subways and bus lines.
Why do you believe that SBS is deserving of being on the same map as the Subway? As a rider, I find SBS to be often just as slow as local buses, and actually try to avoid them at all costs.
I put the SBS lines on the map to bring awareness to them. There’s not enough of them to warrant their own network map. But there is big potential for them to operate much faster than locals, with more ridership and advocacy for dedicated lanes and smart signals.
I do find the SBS lines to be a little faster. In my experience they have been reliable in showing up and operating at regular frequencies. The big determiner was that an SBS route stops at “stations” whereas a local bus makes stops. I think the presence of station “infrastructure” – fare machines, countdown clocks – makes the experience of riding SBS more like an honest rapid transit, closer to the experience of riding the subway.
That said, the MTA and DOT absolutely need to do more to improve the speeds of SBS. SBS isn’t real rapid transit. There are major improvements to be made. I hope that all the SBS routes end up with dedicated lanes. And to take it further.. what if there were SBS routes that operate in highway medians with real station infrastructure – Ocean Parkway, Queens Blvd, the BQE, the LIE?
A typical Select Bus Service bus operating on the M34 route
Is there a reason the map contains gray lines and not color sensitive by route like other Subway maps?
The early versions had light grey for subways, and dark grey for buses. I’ve since made a version that has the subway lines in their respective colors and the buses as grey.
There’s a lot of labelling of streets and routes on a bus map. Lots of little labels to be placed. I chose to make the subway station indicators and the name test to be quite big for legibility. This required placing the name titles directly above the station bullets. Having light grey lines freed up that space to place the names.
In the pre-history of making these maps, having light grey subway lines freed up a lot of space to overlay bus lines and their needed labelling. Initially I was concerned that the colors of the subway lines would interfere with the readability of the bus line labels. But I’ve since come around to the iteration that has colored lines and I think it’s a net postive.
On your Twitter description, you say you are based in Los Angeles, so I’m curious why you chose New York as a target city to launch you maps?
I’m a born and raised NY, I spent my whole life living in NYC – riding the trains, riding a bike, driving a car and lots of walking around. I could, seriously, draw maps of the subways and streets from memories. I can name locations in movies and photographs instantly. I’ve got a lot of NY in me. This project germinated from wanting to be able to see how to get around the whole city on one map. I would jokingly say that this map is my parting gift to my home city.
I relocated to LA about 8 months ago and am enjoying getting to know it’s curiosities and how to get around it – on it’s trains, buses, on bike, on motorcycle.
What is your favorite New York City Subway Line? (Or SBS route…..)
My heart belongs to the J train – it just does so many things, so right. I think the stations between Alabama Av and Crescent St are really cool with their station canopies that are just beautiful. The weird face sculptures at Cypress Hills and Woodhaven Blvd are the coolest pieces of art in the entire subway system. If you need to wait for a train indoors Chambers St is such a cool station. At the end of it all, the J train comes frequently and is pretty fast for a local train.
I too like the J Train for the R42 cars
What’s one tip you would give to a tourist trying to navigate the big apple?
Ask a few locals for directions. There’s never just one way of getting somewhere in NY but if you get two people to tell you the same thing, you’ll probably get to where you’re going.
This technically is a Baseball blog, so I have to ask you this: Favorite baseball team, and, do you have any predictions for the World Series?
I’m a Yankees fans. I keep my predictions to myself this year.
Finally how can somebody connect with you via social media, or learn more about your maps?
Find me on twitter @anththonyjoey or @bulletmap and on Instagram @bulletmap
Thanks to Anthony for taking some time to answer questions for #ThePlusInMetsPlus!