There are free transfers between the New York Subway and the city's buses. So here's a map showing all of them

An extract from the Bullet Map of New York City Transit. Image: Anthony Denaro.

Is it possible to make one map of all of NYC’s transit services?

One night, years ago I was heading out to Jamaica to catch a bus to get to eastern Queens. I was sitting cross from the subway map, just staring at it contemplating…

Click to expand.

The Subway Map. Much discussed, much stared at, much debated, and much redesigned. It’s fun, for a certain type of a person, to look at it and to think of the alternatives.

Then the thought hit me: If I can transfer to the bus for free, why isn’t there a map that shows where to connect with buses? Why does the system map only show subways?

Why bother showing LIRR stations, MetroNorth stations and all the ferry lines? Why are arterial roads, like Flatlands Avenue and the Cross Bronx Expressway, shown? Why is the Hugh Carey Tunnel and the Triboro Bridge shown?

Why aren’t local buses, crosstown buses and the new fancy SBS buses shown? Could the whole bus system fit over a subway map, especially in the areas that aren’t served by the subway?

The whole system of buses and subways could fit on one map. It could work. Right?

And so I started out on a long slow journey to make one single map. This diagram would put together all NYC transit services that are included with an Unlimited MetroCard.

Millions of NYC residents live beyond a 15 minute walk to a subway station. Hundreds of thousands of people start their commute by boarding a bus and then transferring to the subway. This is a map for us.

One complex transit map, for one complex transit-reliant city.

Yes, it is possible to get all of NYC’s buses and subway lines onto one map. Click to expand.

Swipes for years

In 1998, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) introduced free transfers from bus lines to the subway, and from the subway to bus lines. A year later, the monthly and weekly Unlimited MetroCards were introduced.

With this new fare structure, NYC transit riders gained the ability to freely transfer between the subway and buses. This eliminated the “double fare zone” for riders who lived far beyond a subway station. It gave people who lived and worked near a subway station an alternative to riding the train. The Subway and Bus system were one system.

But 18 years after the creation of the single fare zone, the system has never been presented as one. The MTA rarely advertises the fare integration between subway and bus. It doesn’t announce transfers to bus lines at subway stations. It doesn’t have a single map that shows all of its services together.

Today, the transit system is two different systems. People take the subway all the time: for commuting, for pleasure, for dates, for errands, to get out of the rain, whatever. Subway ridership has reached record levels. At the same time, bus ridership has dropped.

Do riders not know they have other options? Options that they already pay for with their Unlimited MetroCards or via the free transfers with their pay-per-ride card?

Or are they are so flummoxed by the bus they just ignore it? Is bus service so unreliable that people with other options don’t want to touch it? And for people who live past subway territory, are they aware of all the bus options they have?


We’ve all done this: you just kinda stare at the subway map while you’re waiting for the train. Just stare. You’ve got time to kill, so you stare. And you think, “Oh, that’s where Jefferson Street is”, or “I wonder what Avenue X looks like?” or “There’s two DeKalb Avenues that are nowhere near each other”, or “If this L train doesn’t show up, could I take the 4 or the 5 to the J to A back to the L to get home?”.This staring and pondering is how people learn their subway options.

Bus riders don’t get this option. When you’re standing around waiting for a bus, there aren’t maps. At bus stops around the city, there are no bus map. In Jamaica, Pelham Bay Park, or Flushing, the biggest bus hubs in the city, you won’t find bus maps near the bus stops. Even at the new Select Bus Service stations, there’s no bus map.

In the places where people are waiting there to ride the bus, you can’t find the map to navigate it

And let’s talk about the bus maps that do exist. They’re real maps, so they show every, single turn and maneuver. They label everything. It’s a lot of information to take in. They’re great, actually — for bus drivers.

But they’re clunky and dense and, in my opinion, not pleasant to look at. It’s hard to follow lines across the map. Dense areas are murky and then shown off to the side as inset maps. Lines that travel across boroughs are easy to lose.

And buses that travel from borough to borough change color from map to map. There’s a separate map for each borough. If you’re taking a bus from Brooklyn to Queens, or the Bronx to Upper Manhattan, you need to look at two separate maps.

An extract from the MTA’s Bus Map. Click to expand.

In my opinion, the current bus maps fails from a way-finding standpoint. Subway stations are tiny specks. Bus terminals and destinations aren’t clear. Route directions aren’t clear. Transfers between routes and to the subway aren’t clear.

An extract from my map, the Bullet Map. Click to expand.

Getting On

To make a bus map that’s a clear to read and as a good subway diagram, I needed a good base layer. My theory is that people in NYC know 1) major streets and 2) subway stations. Most people can triangulate and figure out how to get around knowing those two things.

I started making a bus diagram and a subway diagram at the same time. For the subway diagram, I included the new Select Bus Service lines. The frequency and speed is close enough to subway service that it’s proper to put them together, plus the MTA hasn’t released a map showing all SBS lines. So it’s an added bonus of this project.

I laid out these parameters around my map.

1) Know the Audience

My audience is people who live in NYC and who frequently ride the transit system. This isn’t a tourist map.

Jamaica and its immediate environs on the Bullet Map. Click to expand.

2) Make it Simple 

The riding public doesn’t need to know every single turn and every single street. But they need to know most of the turns and most of the streets. Relative distance relationships between lines and stations is important to communicate.

3) But not too Simple

Focus on Subway lines, streets with buses, arterials and secondary streets. Include the relevant info needed to help people get around like expressways, rivers and big parks.

4) Stay in bounds

Include only services that are paid with an Unlimited MetroCard or offer the free transfer with a Pay-per-Ride MetroCard.

This includes the services of the NYC Subway, all NYC Transit and MTA Bus lines, NICE Bus (Long Island) and Bee-Line Bus (Westchester). But it excludes PATH, LIRR, MNR, Express Buses and EDC Ferries.

An extract from the Bullet Map. Click to expand.

5) Use clear design

Create one graphic system that works for both the subways and buses. Be true to existing NYCT standards for route bullets, typesetting and language:

1. Use station name + neighbourhood to denote a terminal;

2. No abbreviated names. Properly label stations regardless of how much space could be saved by dropping all the, say, “Av” or “St”.;

3. No inset maps for dense areas – the densest parts of a transit diagram are the most important;

4. Display everything at one scale, together.

Another extract from the Bullet Map. Click to expand.

The map

So here it is: a full NYC Transit system map. All of those hundreds of bus lines and subway stations, transit for everybody in NYC, together on one map.

First up, here’s the Subway & Select Bus Diagram:

The Subway & Select Bus Service Map. Click to expand.

Here’s Lower Manhattan:

Click to expand.

The Bronx, with its strange roads and curious topography, was easy to map:


Click to expand.

Queens is mess but a spread out mess. Like the Bronx, its arterials and routes create a grid as well.

Queens is really three systems: Western Queens, Northern Queens and Southern Queens. It caused some difficulty in laying it over the subway and then shoehorning into one. But the diffused nature of Queens gives enough opportunity to fix things to make it all fit:

Click to expand.

But then I got to Brooklyn.

Within Brooklyn, there are many unique conditions. Areas where buses run on one way streets. Areas where several bus lines share one street. The uncomfortable junctions of the various different street grids. The dozens of routes that jump from grid to grid.

Brooklyn has the most complex set of bus route info by a long stretch. Its street network is composed of six different street grids; then these grids needs to connect to Western Queens and Southern Queens. The subway lines then need to relate to Manhattan. It’s difficult to rationalise all that into a simplified diagram.

I started in Brooklyn, gave up, started other boros, discovered how easy they were, thought I was doing something wrong with Brooklyn, returned to Brooklyn, gave up and started again. Eventually, I got there:

Click to expand.

Brooklyn’s street layout requires the need for an incremental angle grid. This influenced how the rest of the city would be laid out.

I started out using 45/90 angles. But I found this to be too rigid to accurately display the entire city. Then I switched to 15/30/45/90 degree angles, but found that to be too messy and random appearing.

Then I tried a 30/60/90 set of angles – but I suffered from losing the snap of having a 45 degree line.

I ended up landing on 22.5/45/90 degrees angles. That 22.5 is the magic number that made this project work. It affords the right subset of minor angled lines at 22.5/67.5/112.5 degrees. This kept the map looking neat enough.

The entire thing.

Getting Off

This project started with the thesis of “make it fit and make it look good”. I’d say that, without too much patting myself on the back, that this was accomplished. I’d love to hear feedback on design choices, errors and opinions.

The other questions – of actually getting people to ride the bus moe, making the system more efficient and desirable – are best left to the City’s Fathers and Mothers and the MTA. There is only so much capacity in our subway system, and most of it is used up. To transport masses of people, we must look to the surface.

But New York, here’s your subway and bus system together in one map, for the first time. Step lively to the surface and the ride the bus, NY.

You can find a bigger version of the map here, and learn more about it or on Twitter. This article was originally published on Medium and re-appears here with the author’s permission.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.



Owning public space is expensive. So why do developers want to do it?

Granary Yard, London. Image: Getty.

A great deal has been written about privately owned public space, or POPS. A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed the proliferation of “pseudo-public spaces”. Tales of people being watched, removed from or told off in POPS have spread online. Activists have taken to monitoring POPS, and politicians on both sides of the pond are calling for reforms in how they are run.

Local authorities’ motives for selling off public spaces are normally simple: getting companies to buy and maintain public space saves precious public pounds. Less straightforward and often overlooked in this debate is why – given the maintenance costs, public safety concerns and increasingly unflattering media attention – developers would actually want to own public space in the first place.

To answer that question it’s important to note that POPS can’t be viewed as isolated places, like parks or other public spaces might be. For the companies that own them, public spaces are bound up in the business that takes place inside their private buildings; POPS are tools that allow them, in one way or another, to boost profits.


In some cities, such as Hong Kong and New York, ownership of public space is a trade-off for the right to bend the rules in planning and zoning. In 1961 New York introduced a policy that came to be known as ‘incentive zoning’. Developers who took on the provision of some public space could build wider, taller buildings, ignoring restrictions that had previously required staggered vertical growth to let sunlight and air into streets.

Since then, the city has allowed developers to build 20m square feet of private space in exchange for 80 acres of POPS, or 525 individual spaces, according to watchdog Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS).

Several of those spaces lie in Trump Tower. Before the King of the Deal began construction on his new headquarters in 1979, he secured a pretty good deal with the city: Trump Tower would provide two atriums, two gardens, some restrooms and some benches for public use; in exchange 20 floors could be added to the top of the skyscraper. That’s quite a lot of condos.

Shockingly, the current president has not always kept up his end of the bargain and has been fined multiple times for dissuading members of the public from using POPS by doing things like placing flower pots on top of benches – violating a 1975 rule which said that companies had to provide amenities that actually make public spaces useable. The incident might suggest the failure of the ‘honour system’ under which POPS operate day-to-day. Once developers have secured their extra square footage, they might be tempted to undermine, subtly, the ‘public’ nature of their public spaces.

But what about where there aren’t necessarily planning benefits to providing public space? Why would companies go to the trouble of managing spaces that the council would otherwise take care of?

Attracting the ‘right sort’

Granary Square, part of the £5bn redevelopment of London’s Kings Cross, has been open since 2012. It is one of Europe’s largest privately-owned public spaces and has become a focal point for concerns over corporate control of public space. Yet developers of the neighbouring Coal Drop Yards site, due to open in October 2018, are also making their “dynamic new public space” a key point in marketing.

Cushman Wakefield, the real estate company in charge of Coal Drops Yard, says that the vision of the developers, Argent, has been to “retain the historical architecture to create a dramatic environment that will attract visitors to the 100,000 square feet of boutiques”. The key word here is “attract”. By designing and managing POPS, developers can attract the consumers who are essential to the success of their sites and who might be put off by a grubby council-managed square – or by a sterile shopping mall door.

A 2011 London Assembly Report found that the expansion of Canary Wharf in the 1990s was a turning point for developers who now “assume that they themselves will take ownership of an open space, with absolute control, in order to protect the value of the development as a whole”. In many ways this is a win-win situation; who doesn’t appreciate a nice water feature or shrub or whatever else big developer money can buy?

The caveat is, as academic Tridib Banerjee pointed out back in 2001: “The public is welcome as long as they are patrons of shops and restaurants, office workers, or clients of businesses located on the premises. But access to and use of the space is only a privilege and not a right” – hence the stories of security guards removing protesters or homeless people who threaten the aspirational appeal of places like Granary Square.

In the US, developers have taken this kind of space-curation even further, using public spaces as part of their formula for attracting the right kind of worker, as well as consumer, for nearby businesses. In Cincinnati, developer 3CDC transformed the notoriously crime-ridden Over-The-Rhine (OTR) neighbourhood into a young professional paradise. Pouring $47m into an initial make-over in 2010, 3CDC beautified parks and public space as well as private buildings.

To do so, the firm received $50 million  in funding from corporations like Procter and Gamble, whose Cincinnati headquarters sits to the South-West of OTR. This kind of hyper-gentrification has profoundly change the demographics of the neighbourhood – to the anger of many long-term residents – attracting, essentially, the kind of people who work at Procter and Gamble.

Elsewhere, in cities like Alpharetta, Georgia, 3CDC have taken their public space management even further, running events and entertainment designed to attract productive young people to otherwise dull neighbourhoods.

Data pools

The proposed partnership between the city of Toronto and Sidewalk Labs (owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet) has highlighted another motive for companies to own public space: the most modern of all resources, data.

Data collection is at the heart of the ‘smart city’ utopia: the idea that by turning public spaces and the people into them into a vast data pool, tech companies can find ways to improve transport, the environment and urban quality of life. If approved next year, Sidewalk would take over the mostly derelict east waterfront area, developing public and private space filled with sensors.

 Of course, this isn’t altruism. The Globe and Mail describe Sidewalk’s desired role as “the private garbage collectors of data”. It’s an apt phrase that reflects the merging of public service and private opportunity in Toronto’s future public space.

The data that Sidewalk could collect in Toronto would be used by Google in its commercial projects. Indeed, they’ve already done so in New York’s LinkNYC and London’s LinkUK. Kiosks installed around the cities provide the public with wifi and charging points, whilst monitoring traffic and pedestrians and generating data to feed into Google Maps.

The subway station at Hudson Yards, New York City. Image: Getty.

This is all pretty anodyne stuff. Data on how we move around public spaces is probably a small price to pay for more efficient transport information, and of course Sidewalk don’t own the areas around their Link Kiosks. But elsewhere companies’ plans to collect data in their POPS have sparked controversy. In New York’s Hudson Yards development – which Sidewalk also has a stake in – ambiguity over how visitors and residents can opt out of sharing their data when in its public square, have raised concerns over privacy.

In Toronto, Sidewalk have already offered to share their data with the city. However, Martin Kenney, researcher at the University of California at Davis and co-author of 2016’s ‘The Rise of the Platform Economy’, has warned that the potential value of a tech company collecting a community’s data should not be underestimated. “What’s really important is the deals Toronto cuts with Sidewalk may set terms and conditions for the rest of the world," he said after the announcement in October.

The project could crystallise all three motives behind the ownership of POPS. Alongside data collection, Sidewalk will likely have some leeway over planning regulations and will certainly tailor its public spaces to its ideal workers and consumers – Google have already announced that it would move its Canadian headquarters, from their current location in Downton Toronto, into the first pilot phase of the development.

Even if the Sidewalks Lab project never happens, the motives behind companies’ ownership of POPS tell us that cities’ public realms are of increasing interest to private hands.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.