Mark Ovenden has been a real “geek” about transportation maps since he was a kid, when he’d draw maps of the New York and London transportation systems, as well as “fantasy maps” of transportation systems he dreamed up. As he grew older, started a media career, and began to travel, he continued to collect maps from the cities he visited, and friends snagged maps for him from the cities they visited, while borrowing from his collection for their trips.
Ovenden assumed that a book compiling all these maps already existed, but when he looked around, he realized there was a void he might fill. He began with his own maps, and then started hunting down more, even asking local restauranteurs to help translate his requests for foreign maps into languages like Urdu. After getting permission to document new and old maps of systems from Beijing to Toulouse, France to Los Angeles, Ovenden had what he needed.
Transit Maps of the World was first released in Britain in 2003; this month, a new, expanded edition hits US shelves. Through his popular book, Ovenden has encountered thousands of likeminded fans of transit maps, ranging from design and cartography aficionados to determined globetrotters to fascinated kids.
He explains that the iconic nature of maps arises partly from their value, the purpose they serve for the underground traveler, far below the famous skylines that typically orient you in a city. “One of the things about being underground is there are no landmarks,” he told Flavorwire. “Because you’re underneath it, you can’t see it. So the maps have become mythical in their popularity. Without them, how would you find your way through this rabbit warren of tunnels?”