diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 07, 2011

Three years ago I wrote a post entitled "109 journeys between Central London Tube stations that are quicker by foot than Tube". I'd found a map in a TfL publication which purported to show these 109 journeys, and thought it would be interesting to turn the map into a list. You know the drill... Mansion House to Bank takes several minutes by train, but is only a few hundred yards on foot. There are lots more journeys like that. I know, I made a list.

Yesterday the Elves at QI noticed my list, and they tweeted it.

There are 109 journeys between London’s Tube stations that are quicker to walk.
posted by qikipedia [02:00 PM Jul 6th, 2011]

For those who asked, here's the list of Tube journeys that are quicker to walk tinyurl.com/49jpn3
posted by qikipedia [02:11 PM Jul 6th, 2011]
Which was very kind of them. Indeed, this blog had 50% more visitors yesterday than it has ever had on any day ever, purely as a result of that second tweet. The only problem being that the first tweet wasn't quite the truth.

My list was blogged with a whole bunch of caveats attached. It was derivative, not definitive. It wasn't based on my research, it came from a TfL publication. Page 30 of Legible London's Yellow Book, to be precise, where there was a map subtitled "109 journeys between Tube Stations in central London are quicker to walk above-ground than to travel by tube". The official statistic covered only central London, not the whole of London, so the list was incomplete. The map only covered part of central London, more City than West End, so the list was incomplete. And even within the confines of the map, some blatantly walk-better journeys had been omitted. Where was Bayswater to Queensway, where was Park Royal to Hanger Lane, where was Chancery Lane to Farringdon? Not on the map, so not on my list. I even finished off my post by saying I hadn't counted the number of journeys on my list, but I bet it didn't make the requisite 109. And I was right, it didn't.

My list of "journeys where it was quicker to walk" was deficient because I'd only used one source. I should also have noticed this map from page 21 of Legible London's Wayfinding Study and used it to generate a more comprehensive selection. I missed out Latimer Road to White City, and Marylebone to Baker Street, and Paddington to Lancaster Gate, amongst many others. I should have included Edgware Road to Edgware Road, and Hammersmith to Hammersmith, because obviously it's quicker to walk and taking the tube's silly. And I never thought to include several outer London station pairs, like High Barnet to Cockfosters or Wimbledon to Morden, where the walk is really long but the journey via Zone 1 is even longer. I listed only 88 journeys, not 109, but it turns out there were dozens more.

Never mind, the 109 sounded convincing, so the folks at QI gave it credence by tweeting it. 109 is a very believable number, far more genuine-sounding than 108, far more trivia-tastic than 110. People will be sharing this 109 statistic with their friends, bunging it into pub quizzes, maybe even announcing it as fact on TV, purely because QI said it was true. Nobody bothered counting or checking, they simply believed something they'd seen on the internet and misquoted it.

And that's how lies begin. Something somebody said, which wasn't wholly accurate in the first place, taken as gospel elsewhere. It's so easy to believe without questioning, but so important not to.

9pm update: Ooh, the QI elves have responded. They point out that they spotted "There are 109 journeys between London’s Tube stations that are quicker to walk" elsewhere, already with the key word "Central" missing. They say that they selected my blog as a back-up reference for their Twitter followers, which was terribly kind of them. And they point out (quite correctly) that if there are more than 109 journeys where it's quicker to walk, then there are also 109. That's not a lie, that's merely a subset of the truth. But by the same token I can assert that there are seven planets in the solar system, that there are two colours in the rainbow, and that there are 109 people living in London. Let's be honest, it's nigh impossible to assign a numerical value to this tube journey statistic. People walk at different speeds, trains run at different frequencies, so the whole thing's a subjective minefield. Let's simply agree that "There are more than 109 journeys between London’s Tube stations that are quicker to walk". And that's Quite Interesting, hell yes.


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