New to the Library Collection: Tauranac New York City Subway Maps

New York City Subway Map,

New York City Subway Map, Tauranac Maps, 2014. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

This special edition of the Map of the Month celebrates a recent donation to the library: a set of New York City transit maps designed and published by Tauranac Maps. Pictured above is a portion of the latest Tauranac New York City Subway map and guide, published in 2014. I have long wished to have a version of this map in our collection as it represents an alternate lineage of the modern New York subway map. It is a refinement of the map published in the 1960s, a map deemed so visually confusing it prompted a major redesign in 1972. While the current MTA map is clearly an improvement on the austere and abstract Vignelli map that was the result of the 1972 redesign, the Tauranac map develops a different set of design elements from the 1960s maps.

The Map of the Month for July 2014 featured the famed 1972 Massimo Vignelli diagram of the New York City subway system and outlined in brief the objections to the map. Among the complaints were its distortion of geographic features and its lack of detail about routes and schedules. A committee was formed in response and charged with the creation of a more geographically representative map with more complete information for riders. That committee was headed by John Tauranac, a freelance writer and map designer, who had recently published Seeing New York: The Official MTA Travel Guide (1976). The result of the committee’s work was the adoption in 1979 of the Michael Hertz Associates map as the official map of the MTA, which is still in use today (with frequent updates). By 1992, Tauranac thought he could improve on the official MTA map and began publishing his own map of the New York City subway system. Tauranac has published several versions of this map through 2014, incorporating system updates and sometimes refining design elements along the way.

Noteworthy in the latest edition is Tauranac’s inclusion of the first phase of the Second Avenue subway line scheduled to open at the end of 2016. (Click on the image of the map to zoom in and see the new line.) This line is not yet depicted in the MTA map. What you will not find on Tauranac maps are Long Island Railroad or the Staten Island surface rail routes, as you will on the official subway map. Tauranac maps are subway only maps.

Clearly there are similarities between the Tauranac and MTA maps. Compare the two segments of the latest version of both maps below. Both are diagrammatic, in that clarity is favored above geographic accuracy. Both rely on color-coded trunklines to depict the different subway lines (a technique borrowed early on from the London Underground maps). Both identify station stops outside the trunk lines.

Detail, The map, 2015. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Detail, The map, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2015. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Detail, New York City Subway Map, Tauranac Maps, 2014. Brooklyn Historical Society Map Collection.

Yet notice how the Tauranac map has created clarity by using only 45 or 90 degree angles to depict the subway lines. The same alignment is also used for the station identifications. The MTA map is clearly trying to depict the actual, more curving lines of the subway lines and shows the stations stops at the various distances. In terms of visual impact, the two maps are very different, with the Tauranac map clearly emphasizing visual clarify and uniformity.

Another element not found on a Tauranac map are the text bubbles that ‘float’ over the less busy parts of New York and point to stations to clarify multiple transfers. Instead, Mr. Tauranac has repurposed the text boxes found in the 1967 map published by the NYCTA, the very map that prompted the redesign by Vignelli. You can see clearly how Mr. Tauranac has been inspired by this earlier map by following this link.

Although the Tauranac map has preserved the simple geometry of the lines and the boxes identifying the lines within the trunk lines, there have been significant improvements. The Tauranac map shows transfers much more simply and clearly by connecting the white station identification boxes. Mr. Tauranac has also opted to eliminate the redundant red areas indicating transfer stations and the circular line identification labels that made the 1967 map so visually overwhelming.

With just this brief look at these few features, it is clear the Tauranac map represents a parallel vision sprung from the NYC transit map designs of the 1960s and 1970s. Tracing the design revisions of the Tauranac maps themselves as they were published from 1992 to 2014 would make an interesting study as well. You can do this for yourself anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. No appointment is necessary to view these maps.

These maps were added to the collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society Library and Archives through donation by John Tauranac in 2015.

About Lisa Miller

Lisa Miller has been cataloging maps at Brooklyn Historical Society since August 2013.
This entry was posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Library & Archives and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to New to the Library Collection: Tauranac New York City Subway Maps

  1. Pingback: Visualizing NYC Transit: A History of NYC Subway Maps - Information Visualization

  2. When the so-called 2nd ave. subway opened in January 2017, first-time riders were given a free subway map published by you. It is excellent, but it will not last ayear. It should be laminated. I have lived in Manhattan for more than 9 years and have a much-used subway map published by Tauranac Maps. it is laminated. The first one lasted 5 years, and the second one is now more than 4 years old and still serviceable. PLEASE consider publishing a laminated version of the new map. Barnes and Nobles told me that you do not have such a map. I am looking forward to getting one when it comes out.

  3. Steve Freidus says:


    Of the many Manhattan maps I have seen, yours is the best. Steve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *