New York City Subway - Still typographically chaotic?

Vicke's picture

So I haven't been fortunate enough to be able to travel to New York yet but wonder if there is anyone here to enlighten me. Since Helvetica was implemented in 1989 as the official typeface for the system, how well is it faring now? Does it still have to compete with the mosaic tiled lettering of old or any other old enamel signed remnants of the past, or is it fairly well implemented and governed now that it's a much more coherent system?

Thanks, all contribution and discussion on the matter welcome.

.00's picture

Thankfully, the NY Subway System has never been, nor will it ever be a coherent system. Typographically or otherwise.
IRT, IND, BMT.

Vicke's picture

Hi jmontalbano, why would you say that, do you think it adds to the character of the city? Plus IRT, IND and BMT are all non-existent companies now. Isn't it a bit contradictory to not have a coherent system since New York's grid system is so rigid. Although please correct me as I must reiterate I have never been there and my knowledge of it is very shallow.

.00's picture

Long-time New Yorkers still refer to IRT IND and BMT.
Until the system is completely overhauled (which will never happen) those long-dead transport companies still influence the way stations and signage look and feel.

If you want to examine a completely coherent US system look at the Washington DC Metro. Designed and implemented as a single system, it does work well, although it is a bit dark in places.

.00's picture

Also, don't confuse Manhattan with New York CIty. Most of Manhattan may have an organized street grid, but The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens do not.

russellm's picture

"The Mostly True Story of Helvetica and the New York Subway
&
nycsubway.org... Learn more about the NYC subway system than you ever dreamed of... And other commuter rail systems from around the world, if you dig around.

russellm's picture

... and Queens do not.

No kidding, James.

Vicke's picture

Ah ok, that's interesting insight jmontalbano (or James, it may seem?). I guess it's hard to grasp without going there myself, as from what I understand of already reading russell's Paul Shaw suggestion: the majority of signage conforms with Helvetica Medium set in white on black, so how can there still be the IRT/IND/BMT influence, unless you mean other old signage like the mosaic tiles?

oldnick's picture

how can there still be the IRT/IND/BMT influence

  • "Don't touch that dial!"
  • "Give me a ring."
  • "You sound like a broken record."
  • "It's your dime."
  • "That and a dime will buy you a cup of coffee."
  • In other words: old habits—particularly linguistic ones—die hard.
dezcom's picture

Vicke,
I live in the Washington DC area. The city was an overall plan designed from scratch and so was the Metro (subway system). New York was a pioneering city that took on the task "after-the-fact" and dealt with unimaginable differences of opinion and perspective. While the DC Metro is wonderful, it is nowhere near as convenient as the NYC Subway. The answer "you can't get there from here" is often heard when asking for metro directions in DC. NYC Subway may be old and take some learning but you can always "get there". Because of its history, updates to signage is more complicated than it would be here in DC for example. The saving grace of NYC is its people. Contrary to what you may have heard about Big Apple coldness, the people who live here gladly help you with directions. Also, The NYC Police are always around and are very good at directions.

.00's picture

Russell,

My favorite part of the Queens roadscape is the appearance of such things as 43th Street, 43th Road, 43th Place and 43th Avenue all within a 1/4 mile of one another.

dezcom's picture

James, isn't that "Toity-toid" street? ;-)

flooce's picture

I love this thread. Thank you to the NewYorkians here participating.

I lived and worked in DC for three months and have to say being used to European cities, I find, although DC is almost all regards totally untypical for the US (east-coast, city-planning, building heights), already here the negative effects of sprawl are plainly obvious. I loved my DC experience, but hated the public transport there. Maybe part of it was the bad exchange rate and the price increase for the Metro right when I arrived ;) . (That brings me to the question: how do you punctuate and use parenthesis in combination with emoticons?)

European cities are just much more condensed, in a comfortable way however, as size-maximizing is not the ultimate goal over here.

In contrast to that, I have to say I absolutely love New York!

dezcom's picture

Flooce,
My son is now enjoying Austria at a a geophysics conference in Obergurgl.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dezcom/6179209960/in/photostream/lightbox/

flooce's picture

It must be most beautiful there at this time of the year, the Tyrollean Alps are very impressive. The landscape is probably one of the best aspects about this country. I hope he enjoys his time there and brings home good memories and photographies.

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