The Advent Circle [C-2] (a 12 day countdown to the de-circling of the Circle line)
If there's a newly extended Circle line, then there must be a new tube map. Normally this would dribble out across the network unnoticed, appearing by stealth on station walls and in racks of handy carry-sized diagrams. But times are not normal. In September when the Thames was removed from the previous version of London's tube map, the world almost ended. But the Chairman of TfL eventually noticed, and responded, and insisted that the river went back in. So the fresh strip of yellow to Hammersmith will be the last thing everyone's looking at when the new map starts to appear. They'll be hunting for the ribbon of blue.
Ooh look, there it is. There's the Thames, wiggling its way round Docklands and North Greenwich like it never went away. Blimey, how did Londoners ever survive while it wasn't there? A quick comparison suggests that it's gone back in almost precisely the same position as it was in March, just slightly closer to the bottom of the Circle line now that lots of superfluous text has been removed. Some of the Thames-side stations aren't quite so evenly spaced as they were before because the river's had to be squeezed back inbetween, but there's been no major displacement. I have to say I think the map looked better without, but it looks OK with. Move on, there is no story here.
But ooh look, something else is back. The fare zones have returned, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 9 out at Amersham. They're quite lightly shaded, possibly a shade of grey lighter than before, but still distinctly visible. The map's re-zoning has had three particular consequences. Firstly, it's again possible for Oyster users to work out how much their journey is going to cost, rather than passing through the system and keeping their fingers crossed they don't travel one zone too far. That's a desperately important improvement, especially with National Rail rollout and OEPs just around the corner. Secondly, the equal spacing of certain stations along certain lines has had to be sacrificed. Barking to Hornchurch, for example, has regressed to irregular spacing so that the boundaries of zones 4, 5 and 6 can be shown more clearly. And thirdly, the entire map looks a lot busier. The clean white feel of the September diagram has vanished, to be replaced by a subliminal grey blur. Shame, but practically very necessary.
On the bright side, a lot of the other decluttering apparent in the previous incarnation has survived. Canary Wharf remains one station, rather than a triangulated mess. Blackfriars is simply crossed out, rather then requiring additional text to explain why. Peak-hour-only segments are still solid, not dotted. Hurrah, decluttering, good. But the wheelchair blobs remain, alas, because they're allegedly deemed essential.
Here's another snippet from the new map, the part detailing why the new diagram is necessary. There's the newly extended Circle line heading off to Hammersmith, its yellow streak barely distinguishable from the H&C pink alongside. Edgware Road is returned to life as two separate stations, rather than an ill-advised mega interchange. And the Bakerloo line has been elevated above the Circle rather than below, which better represents its geographical position in real life. This latter shift has two particular consequences. Firstly the interchange at Baker Street has more than doubled in size as the Bakerloo and Metropolitan keep their distance from one another. Secondly at Paddington, oh dear, a distinctly unhelpful interchange symbol has evolved. The map used to show the H&C to the north of the other two connections, and now it shows it inbetween. There's absolutely no clue that the Bakerloo and District lines might be quite close to each other and the H&C further away, which was at least hinted at before. This makes for a better-looking diagram, but it's a topological deceit that won't help passengers negotiating the new Circle services.
Has anything else changed, I hear you ask? Not a huge amount, as far as I can tell. King's Cross St Pancras International has lost its "International" (because there's no such tube station), and good riddance. The National Rail symbols are red again, rather than blue, so they stand out. Embankment is no longer a National Rail station, and Euston Square is no longer an interchange. Bow Church has ducked below the District, and Shadwell's slipped east of the ELL. Shepherd's Bush Market now has a line break after Bush rather than after Shepherd's. Sorry, I'm taking this rather too seriously, aren't I? I'll stop there.
You may not spot the new tube map immediately. It's only starting to roll out today, and by rights it doesn't have to be in place until Sunday morning. Indeed, given that some stations (e.g. Bromley-by-Bow) are still bedecked throughout with the March 2009 tube map, it may be some time before September's river-free diagram vanishes completely. Keep your eyes peeled. And do make sure you keep a paper copy of the previous map, because Beck's diagram may never look as minimal again.
1pm update: Now that the full new tube map is available on the TfL website, I see that the idiot dagger-inserters have been allowed out again. Daggers are used to indicate stations at which odd service patterns exist, and travellers should therefore "check before you travel". Cannon Street has a dagger, for example, because it closes early, and Chesham has a dagger because you'll probably have to change trains to get there. Bank and Monument used to have daggers because of escalator renewal work, and I'm delighted to see that they no longer do. The Olympia shuttle now only has a dagger at the Kensington end, rather than wasting an extra one at Earl's Court. But other special arrangements elsewhere are now marked by an embarrassment of ugly superfluous baggage. Every part-time Piccadilly line station between Uxbridge and Rayners Lane now has a dagger, for example, rather than just the station at each end. Most horribly, every single Northern line station between Warren Street and Waterloo now has a dagger, for the not very important reason that passengers travelling south might have to change at Kennington. Every station except Embankment, that is, where the idiots forgot to add one in. The result is an inconsistent mess which helps almost nobody, and detracts from the overall clarity of the diagram. Meanwhile at West India Quay, where it would be damned useful to advise passengers that the southbound DLR no longer stops during peak periods, there's no dagger at all. Honestly, does nobody proof-read these maps? I'll volunteer to check the next one in the summer prior to printing, TfL, if you're interested. And try decluttering properly next time.