New Perspectives: Creative cartographers remap the MBTA

"Map 6," by Zemien Lee, is one of six entries in the running.
“Map 6,” by Zemien Lee, is one of six entries in the running.

The MBTA is stunned by the overwhelming response it has gotten from people weighing in on how the next T map should look. 

The transit agency opened voting Monday on its New Perspectives T Map Challenge. By 4 p.m. Tuesday, 8,722 votes had been cast to determine which one of the six finalists would be selected as the transit system’s new map.

“We are pleasantly surprised at the public’s enthusiasm for this project. That’s a huge number,” MBTA spokeswoman Kelly Smith said in a phone interview.

The contest, which is the first of its kind for the MBTA, launched in April as a way to get new ideas ahead of a series of T projects, like the creation of new Fairmount Line stations, the opening of Assembly Square Station, and the Green Line extension.

“The proposed maps are a fresh look at our system. The creativity and skill shown in all the entrants will certainly make their choice a tough one,” said MBTA general manager Beverly Scott. “I am looking forward to seeing who our customers choose as the winner.”

Nearly 40 maps were submitted from across the globe. A panel of experts including the MBTA, academics, urban planners and mapping aficionados selected the finalists.

To promote creativity and ensure some submissions met design and accessibility standards, the competition was structured with two entry levels.

Open Tier encouraged creativity and innovation. Maps could be interactive, and had to only show part of the system.

Classic Tier maps had to show the full system, with the aim to improve upon the standard “spider map.”

One map was made by cross stitch, and another was in the shape of a tree. Although the ambitious creativity was appreciated, Smith said the winning map will have to adhere to specific criteria.

t map cross stitch

“Those entries wouldn’t necessarily help you get around,” said Smith.

Former Boston resident and graphic designer Jon Feldman, who now runs Round Trip Graphic in Philadelphia, is one of the runners up for his map, “#5.”

“I’m expecting to win, actually,” said Feldman. “But it’s still a great honor and very humbling. … Hopefully the public will like it. I’m always looking for new ways to get work out there. I want to help people get around and figure out how they can use transit systems easily. I’m happy if I can do my part to do a service and contribute to society.”

The contest, however, was open to all skill levels — one needn’t be a professional graphic designer to be in the running. Twenty-four-year-old Kat Lawrence, of Chinatown, can attest.

“I’ve always been fascinated by subway maps. I studied urban planning in college and wrote my undergrad thesis on various approaches to creating transit maps,” said Lawrence. “So when I saw the design contest, I thought it would be a really fun challenge to try to apply some of my research to my hometown.”

The winner will not receive money or any type of prize; however, Smith said the winning designer would gain tremendous exposure by having their map used by the transit agency.

Voting ends on Sept. 20. The winning map will be distributed throughout the system at a date yet to be determined.

The full gallery is available on MBTA.com. People can vote for their favorite map at Zoomerang.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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