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.



In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.