Anyone who's ever taken the NYC subway knows that wayfinding involves an overwhelming amount of physical signage. This includes subway signs, the various maps, and diagrams in stations, plus an array of printed posters filled with paragraphs of copy explaining service changes and construction that may impact your journey.
As a Brooklyn-based company, our goal was to help our city. By drawing on the power of digital we saw an opportunity to help people improve their days— and lay the groundwork for more citizens to opt for public transit when equipped with more efficient options to navigate the system.
Creating the MTA's first Live Subway Map was an 18-month collaboration between Work & Co, the MTA, the Transit Innovation Partnership. What resulted was the first real-time, live map of the subway system. This ambitious project marks the network's first major redesign in four decades.
The MTA Live Subway Map is a web-based digital tool that evolves the iconic New York City subway maps by Unimark International and Michael Hertz Associates. It uses the geometric clarity of Massimo Vignelli's diagram with the geographical and organic curves by Hertz, but powers it with technology to make a map more appropriate for our time.
A key challenge: How do you offer a user lot of information, but in a streamlined way?
Our solution needed to display individual train lines versus trunk lines in order to let riders see specific service changes that would impact that commute. We prioritized the capability for users to easily filter based on the train lines they personally use the most. With just a few taps, they can also see future service using the "Tonight" and "Weekend" options.
Using the MTA's data, the map dynamically redraws itself to ensure train lines are up to date and move in real-time, making it simpler for millions of New Yorkers and tourists to navigate the system.
Another key component of our approach was the understanding that there would be an expectation for maps to incorporate GPS. In digital contexts, we expect that blue dot to show up to help us with orientation. We anticipated the Live Subway Map would be used most on phones, so we focused on optimizing for mobile. As a responsive solution that requires no download, it also works well on desktop computers and tablets.
At first, the notion of having to squeeze all of the information into a small mobile-phone sized screen would seem like a big constraint. But the smaller canvas actually allowed us to merge geometry with geography while using the ability to pinch —and zoom in and zoom out— lets us be deliberate about the level of content that can be surfaced.
The new map makes commuting simpler for millions of New Yorkers and tourists who navigate the system.
We've continued updating the map and recently launched a new feature allowing users to find local vaccination sites and learn about eligibility.
Using the power of technology, we're confident that we could push the subway map forward to create something more powerful using data.
Our thinking was really rooted in offering a lot of information but in a streamlined way.
For example, we knew we needed to display individual train lines versus trunk lines in order to let riders see specific service changes that would impact that commute. We prioritized the capability for users to easily filter based on the train lines they personally use the most. With just a few taps, they can also see future service using the "Tonight" and "Weekend" options.
Another critical component of our approach was the understanding that they would be an expectation for maps to incorporate GPS. In digital contexts, we expect that blue dot to show up to help us with orientation. We anticipated the Live Subway Map would be used the most on phones, so we spent a lot of time optimizing for mobile. But it's a responsive solution, so it also works well on desktop computers and tablets.
At first, the notion of having to squeeze all of the information into a small mobile-phone sized screen would seem like a significant constraint. But it turned out to be a blessing because the smaller canvas allowed us to merge geometry with geography while using the ability to pinch —and zoom in and zoom out— lets us be deliberate about the level of content that can be surfaced.
Highlights of the digital map include:
Automatically updating train lines: Train lines will redraw themselves using real-time data to illustrate current and accurate train service status. Train lines fade out if a train line is not currently running and are denoted with dashes if trains are running in a single direction.
Moving trains: The user will see trains moving that help signal to users that the map is live and also reflect real-time locations of trains throughout the subway system.
Zoom-In features: Greater map detail exposed as the user zooms in, including the ability to see individual train lines, subway entrances, station names, street names.
Subway accessibility: the new map highlights accessible stations and provides updates to accessibility-related equipment like elevators and escalators.
Airports: The map visualizes both of NYC's major airports and the primary means of accessing them via the MTA system. The map indicates which train lines connect with buses and the AirTrain to be able to access the airports. Users can tap or click on an airport to learn even more about how to access the airport using public transportation.
Add to home screen for quick reference: iPhone and Android users can add the map to their home screen to access the map more quickly. The web-based map then behaves like a standalone app. Future integration with the MYmta app may be developed.
Dynamic and shareable URL: The URL will store the location a user is looking at, the zoom level they are on, the train line they've filtered by, and whether or not accessibility mode is turned on. This allows users to share exactly what they are looking at with each other or to save or bookmark a unique URL based on their preferred train line.
By releasing the map amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the goal was to help riders gain accurate info to stand on the platform less and get where they need to go. The Map serves as a helpful tool to streamline the experience for riders when they are returning into the system. As a great collaborator on this project, Rachel Haot at the Transit Innovation Partnership has said, it's times like these that digital tools go from nice-to-haves to critical infrastructure.
"This beta map is part of a variety of efforts we're taking to provide our customers with tools to help ensure their trips are as easy and dependable as possible," said Sarah Feinberg, Interim President of New York City Transit. "We want rider feedback as we continue to develop this exciting new tool. Especially valuable at a time when the MTA is facing a fiscal crisis of unprecedented magnitude because of COVID-19, I want to thank Work & Co for this incredible contribution to the transit system and to all New Yorkers."
For example, if they ride the 6 train primarily, they can visualize service changes for that line specifically. With just a few taps, a time filter allows users to decide if they view current train service or future service and includes "Now," "Tonight," "Weekend," "Weekday," and "Weeknight" options. By moving to "Night Mode," a user can see what the map will look like after 9 PM to reflect nighttime service changes.
They can zoom in and out to define the amount of information based on their needs or their personal commutes -- to see the whole system, or neighborhoods, or individual stations.