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September 1st, 2015

I’m currently writing and drawing a book about a bridge for a pretty big series of books I’ll be talking about a LOT at some point. I’ve learned more about bridges and bridge engineering in the last three weeks than I thought I’d ever want or need to know.
Last week I was in New York, leeching off a trip Sacha had to take for work, and taking advantage of it to spend a few days meeting with some editors at Abrams and Roaring Brook. When we arrived at the hotel on Delancey Street, I noticed immediately that we were right at the pedestrian entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. So while Sacha headed out early for her client stuff, and since I didn’t have my first appointment until noon, I spent that morning meandering to Brooklyn and back.

The Williamsburg Bridge is the bridge over the East River I guess I think about the least when I think about those bridges. (Don’t you have a list, in order, as well?) For me, it’s the Queensborough Bridge, otherwise known as the 59th Street Bridge first. Woody Allen saw to that. Second would be the Brooklyn Bridge, of course. It was the first bridge I walked across when I was 17 visiting NYC in 1985. Third would be the Manhattan Bridge, mainly just because it’s next to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Several years ago, the pedestrian and bikeways were redesigned and rebuilt, and now the Williamsburg carries more bicycles on any given day than any bridge in the world. I think every single one of them was crossing at the same time I was.

So here is a collection of the photos I took on the walk. I was fascinated with the pink color of the walkway against the grey and blue of the bridge and sky. It was morning, about 10am, and the light was fantastic. Last but not least was the graffiti. It was everywhere, covering nearly every surface, to the point where it became just texture.

The pictures were taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX7 and with my iPhone.

See them on Flickr here or click the photo below.

a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge

subway map

May 28th, 2010

I’ve been interested in maps since forever. When I was younger I had maps of The World, Europe, the US, and various archipelagos and islands pinned to my wall in Pasadena, Texas, reminding me every day that there was a big ol’ world out there beyond southeastern Texas. At some point I went through my grandmother’s collection of National Geographics and stole as many maps from that magazine as I could. Years later, when I was in high school, my grandmother mailed to me a box of the ones I apparently missed. Being a nerd, I was into Dungeons & Dragons, of course, and I only played “dungeon master” merely so I could create the myths and especially draw the detailed maps of fictional worlds that the players were forced to explore.
Later on, in my San Francisco apartment, I had USGS survey maps of various national parks (Yosemite Valley and the Grand Canyon most memorably), a bus map of Paris, and an old map of the New York City Subway.

The NYC Subway map holds a special place both in my heart and my own special version of hell. I spent a summer in NYC in 1985 when I was 17 years old, and I spent a good deal of time trying to decipher that map. If you’ve ever seen the NYC Subway map, imagine plunking a nice kid from Texas/Arkansas down in the middle of Manhattan and giving him that map, a few tokens, and a nice “have fun!”
I ended up spending two years of college in New York, so eventually it all came pretty naturally. I also spent a year of college (and then another year afterward) in Paris, where the system is much simpler and the Paris Métro map reflects that. Still, I was always very aware of the frequent visitor to the city, standing out in a crowd of New Yorkers, staring at that map — either on the wall of the station or on the platform of the train — looking like they were lost or soon would be.
Now, fast forward a couple of years to, say, 2010. I’m working on this series of big books about transportation for HarperCollins called Everything Goes. I’m writing about and drawing as many different types of vehicles as I can cram into three books. And while it looks like I’m not going to be able to get many references to maps in as I’d originally hoped, I have spent a good deal of time reading about and looking at transit maps. It was during this research that I found (just chanced upon actually) a book called Paris Underground: The Maps, Stations and Design of the Métro (Amazon link here) by Mark Ovenden. The book includes maps of the Métro since its inception in 1900, as well as photographs of the stations and the various printed ephemera, like tickets and brochures, that have been used by the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) over the years. It’s really a terrific book. The cover of that book lists Ovenden as the author of another book called Transit Maps of the World (Amazon link), which I of course promptly ordered. This book is just as good, with both historical and current maps of dozens of subway systems from all over. Paris and New York, of course, but also Hamburg, Mexico City, Montreal, Osaka, and even good ol’ Philadelphia.

These maps do the same thing for me as the maps I had on my wall when I was twelve. I love following the routes and seeing the names of the stops and imagining what one sees when one emerges from underground at that point. When I loved in Paris, it was a cheap thrill to take the Métro to some unknown station and explore the neighborhood it served, then find my way home again. This daydreaming, I suppose, is a virtual version of the same.

Me in the Métro, 2004

Me in the Paris Métro, 2004.

This all came about today because The New York Times published an article this morning about a new edition of the aforementioned subway map that will be introduced next week. Each time a city updated its transit maps, various controversies ensue as certain elements are simplified or removed, others are added or enlarged, and the process of trying to please everyone including locals as well as tourists ends up making everyone unhappy. In this case, Manhattan, being the busiest and most congested borough of the city, has been enlarged (engorged actually, it’s really fat) while Staten Island, with its sole tendril of a line running from St. George to Tottenville, has been stuffed into a small box and shrunk down in size. I’m sure the residents of Staten Island are insulted, even though, really, the move makes sense. The NYTimes story has a terrific (but too small!) interactive feature detailing ways in which the map has changed from the current edition to the new one. Go see that here.
Poking around the Googles this morning led me to a couple of other interesting places as well.

The Metro Transit Authority (MTA) which is the agency that oversees the subway and bus system of NY has a maps section of their site that’s pretty slick.

The Paris RATP’s site has the Métro map available for PDF download here and a smaller “wallet size” edition here. (watch it, the links open the PDF maps).

My new favorite time-waster: An interactive map of the Paris Métro.

If you know of any more interesting sites and resources, leave a comment!

highway spaghetti

February 19th, 2010

I spent my teenager years living in Pasadena, Texas, a suburb of Houston. We moved there from Little Rock when I was eleven, and the first “fact” I remember was that the highest point in Houston was an overpass. This may have been a joke (my stepfather was full of these kinds of things) but judging from these overpasses, not too much of one. There are several places in Houston that my mom called “spaghetti bowls” where several directions and lanes from several intersecting freeways merge and connect. These are from Google Maps.

As a kid, these fascinated me. As a teenager and young adult trying to drive on them (as well as the ones in Dallas), they infuriated me, and now as an adult who drives mainly in Philadelphia and New Jersey, where they have other kids of bizarre transportation issues, they fascinate me again.

You can see a pretty strong inspiration from these highway intersections in my puzzle that was published by Mudpuppy a few weeks ago, and now I’m working on a big book about cars and trucks and other forms of transportation (yes yes, again, mais pas en Francais!) and I’ve been collecting photographs for reference. I spent a chunk of time this morning looking on Flickr for good overpass/highway pictures and I just want to share. So many amazing things.

kumiyama JCT

kumiyama JCTcredit: mozu-guzu on Flickr.

overpasscredit: k n u l p on Flickr.

Austin Highway 1credit: Billy Jack O’Toole on Flickr.

Daikoku Junctioncredit: kokix on Flickr.

credit: TKNK. on Flickr.

HighFiveLookingTowardsSouthEastcredit: paul.derry on Flickr.

Hakozaki JCT 箱崎ジャンクションcredit: sinkdd on Flickr.

Highway Junctioncredit: sqzg on Flickr.

DSC_4551.JPGcredit: U3K-Y on Flickr.

Above I-280 and Hwy 87, San Jose, Santa Clara County, Californiacredit: cocoi_m on Flickr.

credit: changezi on Flickr.

I10-610credit: scottapeshot vis Google Maps on Flickr.

downtowncredit: scottapeshot vis Google Maps on Flickr. This is the “spaghetti bowl” I write about above. Thanks Scott.

interchange 101 @ 280/680credit: cjw333 on Flickr.

And one of my own taken from a bus in New York City:

spaghetti highway