How New York City Restored Service to the Subway… Map

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If you looked at the MTA’s website in the days following Hurricane Sandy, you probably saw a subway map (pdf) that wasn’t what most straphangers were used to.

To protect New York City’s subway system, all transit shut down in advance of the storm. But then the under-river subway tunnels flooded, and the MTA had to convey to riders what was and wasn’t running.

That’s Chuck Gordanier’s job, and he began booting up his Mac before the storm even ended.

He’s a manager at the transit agency. His task was — and is — to quickly translate the continuous service changes into a stripped-down map. So he began subtracting subway lines and stations. At first he thought the result was almost too harsh.

“But then once I saw this I thought ‘hey, that kind of fits the mood, doesn’t it?’” he said. “So I just kept stripping it down, taking everything off. The ferries weren’t going, why should they be there? The parks were closed, remember? So why should the parks be there? So I just took out everything that wasn’t actually happening and ended up with this.”

The map, shown on screen in Adobe Illustrator. (Photo by Kate Hinds)

‘This’ is the subway recovery map, and it’s a stark contrast to the normal one. No perks, like neighborhood names, landmarks, or even the street grid. Just colored lines on a gray and white background showing what’s operational, and shaded out lines showing what isn’t. Gordanier’s been working 14-hour days to keep the map current. As in: power’s been restored to lower Manhattan? Color in the 1 train. The Joralemon Tunnel’s been pumped dry? Color in the four and five. Lather, rinse, repeat.

A list of the dozens of changes Gordanier made to the subway map since Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Kate Hinds)

“When I had it done,” he said, “and it was right, then we’d put it on the website right away and we’d roll out a quickie print version to post.” Gordanier says it’s a matter of turning on and off some of the 50-plus layers that make up the map. He demonstrates how to power up the G line. “First I’ve got to find the G train layer,” he said, clicking the mouse to unlock it. “There’s the G train–see that, 30 percent? Boing. There it is. Full strength.”

(He got to do that for real Wednesday, when it began running again.)

Gordanier says he’ll keep updating the MTA’s subway recovery service map until things get back to normal. Until then, it’s a work in progress.

“Today, later,” he said, “it will probably be different.”

Example: two hours before this story aired on WNYC, the MTA restored full service on the L line.

Watch the return of subway service below.

By Kate Hinds – contributor to Transportation Nation, a This Big City partner site.