Earlier this week, one of our favorite mappers Vanshnookenraggen posted to his Tumblr a vision of the IND (Independent Subway) System, if its map had been colored according to an original coding system devised by Squire J. Vickers. Vickers was the chief architect of the New York City system, before and after its amalgamation and his background as a painter probably contributes to the creative color system. As Vanshnookenraggen writes, “Color coded stations were grouped between express stations to alert a rider which zone they were going through. At each express station, the colored tiles would change. Some station tile color patterns have been changed with repairs and renovations.” But, riding the trains lettered A, B, C, D, E, F and G today you still get a sense of Vickers’ coloring system (the stations that have white tiles with a band of color and station name lettering in black and white tiles).
Photo from New York Transit Museum
And indeed, as we suspected, the color names, as 6sqft reports, “are based on paint chips and Berol Prismacolor pencils. Red stations include ‘Scarlet Red,’ ‘Carmine Red’ and ‘Tuscan Red,’ just to name a few, and ‘Light Green,’ ‘Nile Green’ and ‘Hunter Green’ are some of the green family used.
Green family tiles at 14th Street on the F Line
There is also a system to the madness. The colors always follow the same evolution as you move away from Manhattan – red, yellow, green, blue and purple – changing as you reach each express station. The G train is the exception, as NYC Subway notes: “Since the ‘G’ line skirts Manhattan, and could thus be said to point away from Manhattan in both directions, all stations from Court Square to Fulton Street have tiles with the same color group, namely green. Three different shades of green exist in this section.” At express stations, the band of tiles is wider.
Yellow family tiles at 23rd Street C station with miniature art
Green family tiles on the Franklin Avenue C station
It has also been noted that while Vickers certainly admired Heins & Lafarge, the team who designed the IRT subway line and its mosaics, Vickers felt that his tiles would be easier to clean.