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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Michael Tapp

The hidden meaning behind the New York subway’s colored tiles

Will Gleason
Written by
Will Gleason

The first colors that come to mind when you think of the New York subway system are probably the ones associated with each line on the official MTA map. In fact, countless tourists still refer to the “orange line” or “blue line” when they’re trying to navigate the system.

There’s another, lesser-known color correlation to the city’s trains, however. The Independent Subway, which was one of three systems that combined into the subway that we know today, contributed the A, B, C, D, E, F, G and Q lines to the city. Along these lines, the architect Squire J. Vickers designed a labeling system for each station by using colored tiles in the station's walls. 

Tiles of the same color were installed in every local station between express stations. That way, it was easy to tell what zone the train was passing through. Many of the original colored tiles were lost during various renovations, but some still stand today.

Here’s more information about the tiles that can be found in different stations, and whether or not they still exist. Check out the map below from VanMaps to see which color to look for at your local station.

Photograph: Courtesy Vanmaps

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