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Midtown Designer Seeks to Simplify the Subway Map

By Ben Fractenberg

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — Eddie Jabbour wants to sell the MTA a new, better subway map — for just $1 a year.

Jabbour, who runs a design and branding company in Midtown, spent three years creating his map, which he believes is easier to navigate and more accurate than any other the MTA has ever used.

"[The MTA map] is like 30 by 20 inches. It’s huge," he said. "It’s very confusing; layered with all this [visual] noise.

"I thought, 'I'm a designer, if I think I can do better, why not give it a shot?'"

Jabbour said his goal was to create a plan that kept the best features of two subway maps — one designed by Massimo Vignelli in the 1970s which is simple but not geographically accurate,  and the current "topographic" map which is more geographically correct but more visually tangled.

"I liked the Vignelli map; its simplicity," said Jabbour. But he points out glaring problems, such as the fact that the map placed the 50th Street and Broadway stop west of Eighth Avenue instead of east.

Jabbour bought old maps on eBay to compare designs and visited the city’s most complex subway stations to see how accurately they were represented.

The "Kick Map," named after Jabbour's firm, Kick Design, follows a topographic style by, for example, showing where the 4, 5, 6 trains jump from Park Avenue to Lexington Avenue as they travel north. But it also is diagrammatic when it straightens out roads, like Queens Boulevard and Grand Concourse, and uses straighter lines for subway routes.

It also clearly shows each line as a separate entity.

Jabbour got the idea to create the map in 2001 when a client commented on how confusing it was to navigate the subway system. After years of refining his map, he reached out to the MTA in 2007 on a whim. To his surprise, they agreed to meet with him.

While the MTA officials said they liked his map, Jabbour said they told him "thanks, but no thanks."

An MTA spokesman told DNAinfo that there was nobody left in the organization who had originally met with Jabbour, but he said the Kick Map was helping to fulfill the MTA’s goal of making train information more accessible.

"We’re very pleased to see that so many great transit-related apps are being developed to help our customers navigate the system," said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. "This is what we hoped would happen when we made our data available online at the beginning of last year."

In August 2008, Jabbour translated his map into an iPhone app — and it's been downloaded more than 465,000 times.

"When the iPhone came out, we saw there was nothing for apps with a map and train times," said Jabbour.

Jabbour is gearing up to release the latest version of his app map, which will sync with MTA train schedules and download onto a user’s phone so they can check estimated train times even when they are underground.

The app also works with Google Maps, showing the local area around each station, and can give people specific alerts for subway lines.

While the success of the app has been gratifying, Jabbour said he still has hope he may one day see his map design hanging in subway stations.

"The offer still stands," he said.