Finding your way around is getting easier

Maps: From Michelin to the New York Transit Authority, cartographers are helping people navigate in cities without squinting at tiny street names or fighting with folding.

February 14, 1999|By Betsy Wade | Betsy Wade,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Much has been made lately of mapping features on the Web. They have their advantages, including the ability to customize the cartography. But I've found that maps taken from the Web do not help me much on the road unless they are So, as a map-dependent, I continue to linger by the racks in bookstores, comparing legibility and manageability - how the map folds.

Still, it is usually hard to be sure how well a map will work until you get where you're going and see if it omits minor streets, has a crease or staple through an address or, worst of all, ends short of the destination. For years, central London maps expired south of Islington.

Some new map formats, and new approaches to navigation, are appearing these days. Here are a few.

Michelin maps

Michelin has moved briskly on city streets. One series of these close-ups is mapped and packaged for walkers rather than the drivers who were the tire company's original impetus for going into publishing. The maps are detailed and legible, which means large, but the folding system makes them useful out of doors.

The scales range from 1:10,000 (Rome and Lyons) to 1:17,500 (Brussels). A street names can be read with the naked eye. All the maps are 39 by 52 inches, folded into 13 panels that turn like a book's pages, with nothing printed on the back.

A booklet inside the front cover provides an index to streets. With the The prototype for the blue-covered book-fold street maps was Paris No. 12, as it is marked on the cover. It has been a steady seller since it came out in 1982, according to Eileen Osteen of the company's marketing department. Barcelona (No. 41) was next, for the 1992 Summer Olympics. This spring brought Lisbon (39) for the World's Fair and Madrid (42) in addition to Brussels (44), Lyons (31) and Rome (38). Amsterdam (36) is due by December. These usually cost $12.95. Information: 800-223-0987.

Streetwise Maps

Streetwise Maps in Amagansett, N.Y., noted as a publisher of ``one-handed'' folding laminated maps for walkers, has expanded its definition of ``street'' to cover states and regions - New Jersey and New England, for example. Its first such map for Europe was published this year: Streetwise Tuscany. It is miles to the inch.

It may be more for trip planning than for on-the-road navigating, but this map would have helped in driving there because it is in relief, and hills are a big factor in elapsed time in Tuscany. It also shows railroad routes. Streetwise Tuscany costs $6.95. Streetwise Maps: 800-497-1314.

Van Dam's New York

Stephan Van Dam, a New York map publisher who describes himself as an ``information architect,'' is the creator of small origami-like maps for 80 cities on the model of his most familiar, New York Unfolds. Now he has published a pocket city atlas: NY@tlas.

This is a fat book, 6 inches square, that covers the whole city, in two scales. In Manhattan, each page depicts one square mile, and he expects you can walk one axis in 20 minutes; the other borough sections are shown in squares two miles on a side, for driving.

In all cases, the pages showing the next section, which are enumerated in the margins, overlap deeply, so no street disappears into the void. In the upper right corner of the right-hand page is a schematic of the whole borough showing which part of it the map on that page covers.

The adjoining pages read across, which produces inevitable mismatches over the binding, but since the distances are small, it's usually possible to figure out a name from another map. House numbers, a maximum of one to a block, appear in white on the plum background; they are hard to read.

In the back of the book is a street index for each borough, some utilitarian telephone listings, a baker's dozen of Top 100s - attractions, education, government, hotels, recreation - also with phone numbers.

There is also Van Dam's choice of 10 watersheds in 100 years of New York history. This paperback book is $10.95 at bookstores. Van Dam: 800-863-6537.

Manhattan and more

In the department of free maps, ``The Map,'' the Metropolitan Transit Authority's first overhaul of its subway diagram in almost 20 years, made its debut in January. It has been revised steadily, most recently in July, to take note of construction changes.

Such changes were also on the mind of John Tauranac, a cartographer who put out two new New York maps earlier this year. His ``Manhattan Buses and Subways, 7 Days a Week, 24 Hours a Day'' is a tightly packed bundle. Unfolded, it is 16 by 9 inches; the four plastic-coated panels present weekday subway and bus maps facing each other, likewise the evening and late-night map pairs. One map panel is given to Manhattan tourist attractions.

The difference between bus service on weekdays and late at night is remarkable: The day bus map is packed as tightly as the subsurface of New York streets, while the night map looks as empty as 2 a.m. The suggested retail price is $5.95.

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