Tag Archive for 'subway'

The Mostly True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway

The Most­ly True Sto­ry of Hel­veti­ca and the New York City Sub­way:

There is a com­mon­ly held belief that Hel­veti­ca is the sig­nage type­face of the New York City sub­way sys­tem, a belief rein­forced by Hel­veti­ca, Gary Hustwit’s pop­u­lar 2007 doc­u­men­tary about the type­face. But it is not true—or rather, it is only some­what true. Hel­veti­ca is the offi­cial type­face of the MTA today, but it was not the type­face spec­i­fied by Uni­mark Inter­na­tion­al when it cre­at­ed a new sig­nage sys­tem at the end of the 1960s.

R-train icon, set in Helvetica and Standard.

I noticed this dis­crep­an­cy ear­li­er this year – I had to recre­ate some MTA sub­way icons for use on a project, and noticed that the R train map icon looked noth­ing like the Hel­veti­ca “R”. The MTA’s own web­site seems to be con­fused about the type used in the sys­tem icons, let alone its sta­tion sig­nage.

Enter typog­ra­ph­er Paul Shaw, and his 10,000+ word piece on AIGA’s site. Did you now that Boston’s sub­way sig­nage sys­tem was the first to use Hel­veti­ca, with­out mod­i­fi­ca­tions? Ever curi­ous as to the process by which enam­el signs are made? Want to just look at pret­ty pic­tures of sub­way signs over the years?

It’s a great his­to­ry, for fans of typog­ra­phy and the MTA.

Subway Love

Lisa’s photo on Gothamist!Anoth­er Valentine’s Day relat­ed post – Lisa’s snap­shot of this note in the Car­roll MTA sta­tion made it to a post on Gothamist!

The orig­i­nal is avail­able in her Flickr pho­to­stream.

She is kind of a big deal, ’round these parts.


They were clean­ing the Broad­way-Lafayette sta­tion last night. It always struck me as a par­tic­u­lar­ly filthy sta­tion, so I sup­pose this is good. But, peo­ple were walk­ing through the suds, slip­ping around – the MTA must have some good insur­ance. [from iPhone]

MTA Subway Map for iPhone

Since I bought my iPhone on June 30, I’ve been look­ing for an easy, high-qual­i­ty method for view­ing the MTA Sub­way map. The phone’s built-in Pho­to appli­ca­tion “opti­mizes” all pho­tos and images down to a dimen­sion and res­o­lu­tion that doesn’t work well for images with lots of small text and details.


In search of the optimal iPhone MTA map.

What I want­ed, was the abil­i­ty to view a PDF, or large PNG of the sys­tem map – and to be able to zoom in and drag it around eas­i­ly. Bill at iSubwayMaps.com out­lined one such solu­tion, which involved set­ting up a Yahoo! mail account, since IMAP mail accounts seemed to cache attach­ments local­ly on the iPhone. This did work for me, but I found the MTA’s PDF map slug­gish when zoom­ing or drag­ging around. And, I had to drill back through the Mail menus to get to my Yahoo mail account, (as I’m pri­mar­i­ly a Gmail user).

But, before I could go out and buy a old-fash­ioned paper pop-up map, anoth­er solu­tion pre­sent­ed itself:

File­mark Mak­er gets around the lim­i­ta­tions out­lined above, by writ­ing files to a temp loca­tion on the device’s HD, by using Safari book­marklets. Then, the files are acces­si­ble in Mobile­Sa­fari. And, because the files are writ­ten to iPhone’s HD, the book­marklets work whether you’re online or not – or whether you’re above ground or not.

Here are the MTA Sub­way Maps that I used to make book­marklets using this tool:

Underground Man” update

Thanks to Mint, I noticed that a few vis­i­tors were referred here look­ing for the text of a New York­er arti­cle writ­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2004 titled, Under­ground Man: Can the for­mer C.I.A. agent who saved New York’s sub­way get the Tube back on track?. I had scanned the text a while back, but my direc­to­ry secu­ri­ty set­tings on my serv­er were tight­ened, and the scans were no longer avail­able.

So, if you’re look­ing for the arti­cle, it’s is now prop­er­ly linked in the orginal post.

I still wish I had a way of extract­ing the text via OCR…

Underground Man

After read­ing Dunstan’s humor­ous post on British rail, and the sil­ly respons­es he received from Amer­i­cans and Ger­mans, I was remind­ed of an excel­lent arti­cle by William Finnegan in the New York­er last week, Under­ground Man: Can the for­mer C.I.A. agent who saved New York’s sub­way get the Tube back on track?

After scour­ing the New York­er web site and Google with­out luck, I decid­ed it was worth scan­ning and post­ing the arti­cle. Sor­ry they’re jpgs… I prob­a­bly won’t leave it up very long (file size/bandwidth), unless some­one can sug­gest a way to extract the text of the arti­cle.

I’m your pub­lic library.

UPDATE 9/12/2005: I changed my direc­to­ry secu­ri­ty a while back, so these arti­cles have not been linked. Here ya go:

IDEA! Boston ‘T’ Blog

Today I was sit­ting at the 1369 cof­fee­house in Cen­tral Sq., as I do most days of the week, read­ing the papers and gen­er­al­ly absorb­ing the hap­pen­ings… some guy in a shirt-and-tie fret­ting over Excel spread­sheets at his lap­top on my right. Anoth­er guy on my left, copi­ous­ly prac­tic­ing Chi­nese-look­ing script for words like “cow”, “apart­ment” and “love”. Ahead of me was a man in his mid-40s sit­ting with his young son, who was play­ing Game­boy and occa­sion­al­ly chat­ting with some of the peo­ple who work there. One of these girls was tak­ing a break with a cof­fee, bagel and the New York Times. I liked her Lacoste Izod polo shirt.

Any­way, I had time to sit there, in-between read­ing the Globe, Her­ald, Times and the Cam­bridge Tab, to think about the mer­its of liv­ing in a place like Cam­bridge. I real­ly have a lot of love for this side of the river—be it the bars, the wacky aca­d­e­m­ic types walk­ing around, or the Red Line. It’s got such a com­mu­ni­ty feeling—even for some­body like me who prefers to sit and watch rather than inter­act.

For some rea­son, I began think­ing about NYCbloggers.com, a project that intend­ed to cre­ate a geo­graph­ic com­mu­ni­ty of New York blog­gers, based on which sub­way stop they lived near. I love maps, pub­lic trans­porta­tion, and I couldn’t help but be in awe at the shear balls it must’ve took to tack­le such a project of that scope. I thought, why not try to do that in Boston?

Now, I know there are tons of Bostonite blogs, espe­cial­ly giv­en the 250,000 uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents that are here. BostonBlogs.com is doing a good job of set­ting up social gath­er­ings for us Boston-based blog freaks—although I can’t bring myself to attend one. Call it social pho­bia. Avoid­ance. What­ev­er.

Still, attempt­ing to tack­le some­thing on the scale of nycbloggers.com would be a chal­lenge. Christ, mak­ing the maps them­selves would pose all kinds of issues. And would blog­gers in Boston be inter­est­ed in such a thing?

New York­ers famous­ly have attach­ments to their dif­fer­ent sub­way lines—be it the F, A/C, 1/9 etc. It would be inter­est­ing to see the same kind of B-line or Red-line pride here in Boston. Once the back-end data­base stuff is devel­oped, I could see branch­ing out to oth­er cities—Buffalo per­haps? Pub­lic Trans­porta­tion needs a cheer­leader!

If any­one in Boston reads this and think that it is a worth­while endeav­or, shoot me an email. Maybe it’d be a good col­lab­o­ra­tion.