The narrative in the late 70s was—or now, in retrospect, seems to have been—that of the heroic proletariat overwhelming Italian design's repressive modernism, all cleanliness and grid. New York would embrace a map as “mongrelish” (Vignelli's derisive term) as itself. Three decades later, it's not so easy to define the battle lines, and the current subway map looks so different from both the 1972 and 1979 ones that that it's not easy to ascribe victory to one side. Chances are, though, that if you're giving it that much thought, you're the kind of person who generally assumes that the good guys lost. But who are the good guys?
I don't know to what extent one should consider subway maps public art and to what degree the aesthetics of the design should be allowed to overwhelm basic functionality, but any time a synopsis of the discussion of these things includes a paragraph like the one above, it's worth a read.
H/T- Chris McEntee