Lance Wyman: The man behind Metro’s newest subway map

September 18, 2013
Lance Wyman, designer of Metro's iconic subway map. (Jennifer S. Altman - for the Washington Post)
Lance Wyman, designer of Metro’s iconic subway map. (Jennifer S. Altman – for the Washington Post)

Some transit geeks can’t get enough information about the latest version of Metro’s map so here’s some more as we chatted with the map’s designer, Lance Wyman.

Wyman, a New York graphic designer, spent two years redesigning the subway map under an $80,000 deal with the transit agency. Wyman was the designer of the original Metro map when it first came out some 30 years ago when the system opened.

Metro’s map is an iconic symbol of the D.C. region and riders biggest message to the transit agency in redoing it: don’t change it too much. Wyman’s latest task was to add the soon-to-open Silver Line in Northern Virginia.

“In a way it was like designing camouflage,” Wyman said of remaking the map. “You had to adopt to changes but make it look like it hasn’t changed. You had to keep what had become a visual icon to the city.”

Wyman is best known for designing the logo for the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City and icons for the old Washington Convention Center and the National Zoo.

In redoing the Metro map, Wyman was presented with several restrictions. His canvas couldn’t get any larger. He had to keep many of the well-known icons like the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. Plus, he had to show how the Silver Line would run through downtown, and make it all readable and easy-to-use.

Wyman had done a previous updated version of the map that added Metro’s service changes on the Blue and Yellow lines for the agency’s RushPlus, where trains run only to certain stations at certain times of the day.

But Wyman said figuring out how to add the Silver Line was harder.

The Silver Line extension being built from East Falls Church will be 23 miles long when completed. The first phase is 11 miles and includes four new stations in Tysons Corner and one in Reston and is expected to open early next year. Construction of the second phase, which will run to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County, is expected to start in mid-2014.

Putting the Silver Line on top of the Orange Line on the map made it look like it was simply “added on,” Wyman said.

Putting it in between the Orange and Blue lines, Wyman said, made it look more like “an integral part.”

He also had to show that three rail lines – Blue, Orange and soon Silver – would run to downtown stations.

Many riders have been confused about where the five new Silver Line stations will bed and exactly where the line will run. Some didn’t realize that the Silver Line trains will actually continue through on the Blue/Orange line tracks and stop at downtown stations before turning around at Largo Town Center. Some riders thought they would have to get off at East Falls Church and transfer to an Orange Line train to get downtown.

Many riders also “wrongly believe it will serve Dulles Airport in the first phase,” according to research from Metro.

Another design challenge for Wyman: using a black dot with a white center like he had done in the original 1970s map to show that three lines — Blue, Orange and Silver — would stop at certain stations didn’t work.

“The black was too powerful,” Wyman said. “It was an extremely difficult problem to solve.”

The solution: He made white marks, what Metro calls “connectors” to show how the Silver Line will stop at downtown stations.

Wyman also made the five rail lines slightly skinner than they had been so he could fit in all the necessary information on the map. And he shaded in the Beltway in a slightly lighter gray color than it was previously. He also added green space to show the parkland area around the Anacostia River.

In the legend of the map, he also added the Metro Transit Police phone number (202-962-2121) in response to rider feedback that they often can’t remember the number.

To make things more geographically accurate, Wyman adjusted stations on the Green Line, near the D.C. border. The Congress Heights stop, for example, is a little further north of the Prince George’s County and District line on the new map, making it more accurate of where it is actually located, according to Metro officials.

Metro estimates that it will need to replace 6,000 maps throughout its system, including 5,000 on rail cars and 1,000 mostly in stations. Officials said it will cost at least $30,000 to print and install some of those maps.

I'm a Washington Post reporter, working an early morning shift that deals with crime, lottery winners, traffic, you name it.
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Ashley Halsey III · September 18, 2013