The East London Line opens properly on Sunday - not just the northern bit up to Dalston but also all the way south past New Cross Gate. Which means yet another new tube map. Available to pick up in stations from today, should you be lucky enough to find a copy. What gives?
Suddenly, southeast London sort-of exists. This is the first time that the tube map has ever ventured into Bromley or Croydon, and the first time it's ever nudged further south than Morden. That's got to be a good thing. There are nine fresh stations altogether, from Brockley all the way down to Crystal Palace and West Croydon. None of these stations is actually new, of course, they've merely been swallowed up by a different rail line. But the Overground, like the DLR, is given special dispensation to appear on the "tube map" even though it's not part of the tube network. Maybe one day Croydon's trams will be afforded the same honour, and south London will gain an even more visible presence on the tube map. Or maybe that would look unacceptably messy.
The newly-added line has been tweaked and squished to fit appropriately onto the map. In real life it's not a perfect straight line down from Dalston to New Cross, nor from New Cross Gate to West Croydon, whatever the route looks like on the diagram. The gaps between the stations are wildly unrealistic too. New Cross Gate to Brockley may look like it's a far longer journey than Anerley to Norwood Junction, whereas in fact the reverse is geographically true. Meanwhile Crystal Palace station actually lies about halfway between Penge West and Anerley, rather than stuck out quite as far as the tube map shows. This unnecessary ugliness is due to the need to depict travelcard zones, and an unwritten rule that their boundaries shouldn't bend too much. There are a heck of a lot of Zone 2 stations on the southern DLR, so the new Overground extension has to be squashed down right to the bottom of the map to compensate. Shoukd you want to see a better-proportioned version, check out TfL's black and white large print tube map instead [pdf]. Here are echoes of last September's revolutionary (and therefore unacceptable) tube map, showing what an aesthetic difference zonelessness can make. The new southern Overground isn't unique in being irregularly spaced, of course. There are plenty of similar examples elsewhere on the diagram. But given that it crosses an otherwise empty part of the map, with no interchanges whatsoever, it's only blinkered design rules that are creating this deformation.
Elsewhere on the May 2010 map, as I mentioned last month, little has changed. But there are six additional wheelchair blobs and also several extra red daggers - whose overuse continues to disfigure the map in an entirely impractical way. TfL's map designers have decreed that no text other than station names may appear on the map, which is great. But they've also continued to ban "rush hour only" services from being shown by a broken line, which is why the central Northern line remains a blade-splattered mess. The design team could have added a short section of dashed line at Kennington to show that off-peak services on the Charing Cross branch terminate here, just like they do on the strip maps in tube carriages. But no, instead we're lumbered with a total of seven ill-aligned daggers through the heart of central London, which readers are supposed to cross-reference to a long list of tiny writing down the side of the map, to discover a line break that's of trivially little consequence. Why? Of course dashed lines wouldn't look good everywhere on the map. They'd be fine at Mill Hill East and Chesham, but they'd turn Rayners Lane to Uxbridge and the Chigwell Loop into nasty visual distractions. See, that's what happens when you pick one rule for "tube service irregularities" and stick to it slavishly - it doesn't look good everywhere.
Expect one more tube map before the year is out, showing the new DLR extension from Canning Town up to Stratford International. One more next year when the two Overground lines at Dalston are joined together, and one more in 2012 when the orbital railway is finally completed round to Clapham Junction. But expect publication to slow down after that, because there's no more money in the kitty for fresh tube-mappable stations until probably-Crossrail in maybe-2017. In the meantime just rejoice that, from Sunday, you'll be able to get from Penge to Haggerston without changing trains. It's what London has been crying out for. On the map at last.
There's also a new tube map cover, by Barbara Kruger. I could have done that, and so could you, if they'd asked. Ten thousand free tickets are up for grabs along the line on Sunday, if you're quick. Ian reminds us that the rest of the Overground network is seriously decimated on Sunday. If you want to view the complete East London line timetable, it's a bit complicated but it's here [pdf]