Subway maps distort the reality on the ground for all kinds of reasons. What happens when we make decisions based on them?
London’s city center takes up about two percent of the city. On the Tube map, it looks four times as big.
Over in New York City, Central Park—which is a skinny sliver, much longer than it is wide—was depicted in some 1960s and ‘70s IRT maps as a fat rectangle on its side.
So public transit maps are distorted, quite on purpose. All of them enlarge city centers. Many use a fixed distance between stations out in the boonies, even if, in reality, they’re spaced wildly differently. Curvy lines are made straight. Transfers are coded with dots, lines, and everything in between.
According to Zhan Guo, an assistant professor of urban planning and transportation policy at NYU Wagner, certain cities allow for more flight of fancy than others. San Francisco and New York have a lot of geographic markers, so passengers will only accept so much map distortion.
New York’s grid system further discourages excessive futzing. In Chicago, the line is elevated, which leaves even less leeway. But in a place like London, with twisty streets, few geographical markers other than the Thames, and an underground system, you can pull a lot more over on people...