diamond geezer

 Monday, November 09, 2009

Tube geek (26) Re-rivering the tube map
A couple of months ago, you may remember (of course you remember, even people who live in Lerwick probably remember) there was an incredible furore about the new clutter-free tube map. The River Thames went missing, and the general public went apoplectic. Never mind that nobody catches trains down the Thames, nor that the tube crosses the river without obstruction. The media screamed, Boris pronounced, and the Thames will be back on our tube maps next month.

Which creates an awkward problem. It'll be fairly simple to squeeze the Thames back into west and central London because there's plenty of room for manoeuvre. But out east it's a very different story, and two conflicting blue lines are to blame. One is the DLR, which insists on having umpteen stations every few hundred metres, and the other is the river's whopping great meander around the Isle of Dogs.

Here's the Docklands chunk of the latest tube map. It's noticeably simpler than used to be the case, with no East London line replacement buses, a single-blob interchange at Canary Wharf and a slimmer-than-before curve through North Greenwich. But now this elegant layout and spacing are under threat. Look at the gaps through which the restored Thames has somehow got to weave its way. First between Rotherhithe and Wapping (squish), then bending sharply south to the left of Canary Wharf. From here it's all the way down to squeeze between Island Gardens and Cutty Sark, then all the way back up and over the top of North Greenwich before flowing right back down again. Tight fit indeed. There's always been an unwritten rule on the tube map that station names must never be written across the Thames, but I wonder if they'll have to break that this time. Or maybe those IoD DLR stations will have to be compressed even closer together... which would be far easier if (cough) all the blue accessibility blobs were removed from the map.

Replacing the Thames won't help 99.9% of passengers to make their journeys, but it is going to make East London travel look far more complicated than it ought to be. The December tube map will be forced to sacrifice clarity of vision for political correctness, and all because people who rarely use the Underground say it must. Only a few weeks to wait and we'll see how good a damage limitation exercise the designers have managed.

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