diamond geezer

 Tuesday, March 01, 2011

So look, I could talk about how the final section of the East London Line opened yesterday. How you can now take a train all the way round from Highbury and Islington down to Shoreditch and beyond. How this used to be possible 25 years ago, so all that's basically happened is that a mothballed mile-long curve has been reopened. How Boris opened the latest stage of this "rail version of the M25" with a volley of hyperbole yesterday morning. How it's now possible to ride from Clapham Junction to West Croydon via two Overground trains in 1 hour 50 minutes (even though you'd be insane to do so). How the new platforms at Highbury and Islington are numbered 1 and 2, even though the latter is adjacent to platform 7. How the trains start out 7/8 minutes apart but then run 5/10 minutes apart from Dalston Junction, which is a masterpiece of delay-tactic timetabling. How everything was working jolly smoothly last night, even if the curve didn't look especially thrilling after dark. I could talk about that. But no, something much more exciting's happened as a result. There's a new tube map out.
As I write, the new map's here, and the old map's here. Won't last.

I could talk about the colossal blunder in the bottom right hand corner of the tube map. How somebody at the design company accidentally swapped around the names of the Waterloo & City line and the DLR, meaning that the DLR now supposedly goes to Waterloo and the Waterloo & City supposedly goes to Woolwich. How nobody at TfL proof-read the colours of the lines properly, and launched the new map on their website yesterday in blissful ignorance. How difficult it is to retract a published map once keen-eyed Londoners have spotted your error. How I hope nobody's already printed vast quantities of the incorrectly-keyed map, which would now all need to be withdrawn and pulped. I could talk about that. But no, that's just a hideously embarrassing error which will no doubt be entirely forgotten by the end of the week (except by avid tube geeks who'll continue to recount this tale of woe until the end of time). I'm much more excited by another change in the key to the map, one that's apparently deliberate and seemingly long-term.

I want to talk about daggers. The previous version of the tube map was littered with them. Daggers here, daggers there, and especially daggers across the bit in the middle. It looked like London had been beset by huge amounts of randomly-scattered knife crime. Here's the centre of the previous map showing complete dagger overload. Travellers were expected to spot the dagger at a particular station, notice which lines it was on, then cross-check over in the key to discover some allegedly essential information. Often this was of questionable use. Did travellers on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line really need to know they'd probably have to change at Kennington to travel south, for example. Or did Chigwell commuters really need to know that their local trains stopped running after midnight? I'd argue almost certainly not.

And now, suddenly, there's been a major dagger rationalisation. Every previous dagger on the map has been scrutinised to see whether the public really needs to know something special about that station or not. All those unnecessary daggers on the Charing Cross branch have disappeared, which pleases me greatly. Even the dagger at Covent Garden has gone, the one which plaintively requested that people try walking there rather than take the tube to prevent overcrowding. TfL wouldn't have taken the decision to remove Covent Garden's dagger lightly, but they have, which is how serious this latest dagger cull is. In total twenty-two former daggers have been found wanting and have been erased from the map (Chesham, Uxbridge, Hillingdon, Ickenham, Ruislip, Ruislip Manor, Eastcote, Heathrow Terminal 4, Kensington Olympia, Mill Hill East, Mornington Crescent, Warren Street, Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Charing Cross, Embankment, Waterloo, Roding Valley, Chigwell, Grange Hill). This leaves a hardcore of just eleven - a full two-thirds cut. Four of these daggers reflect shorter opening hours, either on the line (Bank, Waterloo) or at the station (Cannon Street, Camden Town). Two are because trains don't stop at certain times of day (Turnham Green, West India Quay). One's a full station closure (Blackfriars), another temporary major disruption to escalators (Victoria). Three have step-free issues (Canary Wharf, Heron Quays, Hounslow West), which I'd argue remain questionable to highlight. But that's the lot. Only serious problems get daggers now, and I'm well chuffed.

But not completely chuffed. This new stretch of East London Line brings even greater encroachment by the big blue blobs, and sheesh do they look ugly. Highbury & Islington and Canonbury stations both need blobs because they have step-free access to the Overground, which wasn't the case before. But this has to be shown twice at each station, because design rules say it's important to keep the old and new Overground lines separate. Highbury & Islington has suddenly become a three-blob station, rather than one-blob as on the previous map. Up the line you have to look carefully to confirm that Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland stations are no longer linked, even though they were definitely a pair until yesterday. With blue circles functioning both as interchange blobs and as step-free indicators, the resulting mess makes journey planning far less clear, not better.

There's one more new tube map imminent, which'll appear networkwide whenever TfL finally get round to opening the DLR extension to Stratford International. This new line's not even shown as "under construction", but there's been a subtle rejigging of Stratford's blobs to make room for it. Other than that, unless you know better, not much on the map has changed. One battle at a time, eh?

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