Subway stuff

More and more, I’m fascinated by the New York subway system–how the tracks run through the city, where various lines go, the system’s history, and so on. I love reading about abandoned stations, platforms, and sections of track, and having romantic fantasies of underground lairs like Lex Luthor’s in the first Superman movie.

I recently bought the book Tracks of the New York Subways, which features full maps of the entire New York City subway lines. It shows where all the tracks and switches are and the intricate ways in which trains move through the system.

Recently, I read a blog post by someone who has traveled the entire 722 miles of the subway system, seeing every train line and every station. I think that’s my new ambition; and it doesn’t bother me that I’m not the first to do it.

Jumping continents, London’s Transport Museum has a nice Flash feature contrasting the London Underground map with the geography above. The tube map isn’t really a map, in the way we usually think of them; it’s a conceptual schematic.  The tube map shows, for example, Notting Hill Gate station on a perfectly straight horizontal red line that passes through Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, and Holborn, before veering sharply downward to Bank. In reality, however, the line runs at a slight upward diagonal to Holborn before diverting down to Bank.

The map as it stands is a thing of simple elegance. All angles on the schematic are at 45 or 90 degrees, for example. But it’s criticized for distorting the geography of the landscape above it. You can easily assume, as I noted above, that Bond Street is due east of Notting Hill Gate, when that’s not really the case.

The Transport Museum’s Real Underground site allows you to contrast the original 1993 map with today’s map. Click to see the “real” Underground, and the Flash interface morphs the elegant curves and lines and angles of the schematic into a more chaotic map that shows where the trains actually go. Not only is it informative, but it’s a creative use of Flash.

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