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.