But a new London rail line also means something else of cultural significance - a newtube map is imminent. I've seen it. And blimey, you'll never guess what, the big blue blobs are disappearing! These over-dominant symbols of step-free access have hijacked the original simplicity of Beck's diagram for far too long. Well, good news, they're now in full retreat. Hurrah, and about time too! Except the big blue blobs aren't vanishing completely, sorry, and those that fade away are being replaced by something else. Welcome to the tube map, the big white blob.
Because, it seems, telling us whether there was step-free access from the street to the platform simply wasn't enough. Just because you can manoeuvre your wheelchair or pushchair to the platform doesn't necessarily mean you can get on board the train, does it? Carriages and platforms are all different heights, usually completely at odds, so a supposedly step-free journey can be thwarted at the last second by an inaccessible vertical mismatch. That's what the new tube map symbol is designed to alert us to. A white blob is used if there's merely step free access from the street to the platform. A blue blob highlights the golden scenario of step-free access from the street to the train. If you're a self-powered wheelchair user, blue blobs are now the only way to go.
So what does this look like on the map?
It means a sprinkling of blue and white blobs everywhere. Most of the blobs that used to be blue are now white, because not many stations have platforms the same height as their trains. Indeed the blue blobs survive in only four locations, all related to stations recently built. Every station on the DLR has a blue blob, because the DLR was carefully planned to be accessible throughout. Every station on the Jubilee line extension (Westminster to Stratford) has a blue blob, as do the new stations on the East London line (Dalston Junction to Shoreditch High Street). And that's it, apart from three stations on the Victoria line which have recently had platform humps installed (Brixton, King's Cross, Tottenham Hale). There are no blue blobs at all in west London, because there isn't a single station in that half of the capital with step-free access from street to the train. Wheelchair users are best off living and working on the eastern side of town, or finding someone who can push them onto and off of every train they ride.
Here's the section of the new map (fare zone version) relating to the Stratford International extension. Every station along this stretch of line is fully accessible, or will be once it opens, even dead-end Stratford International. Stratford itself is a bit of a mixture, with two lines wheel-on-able and two lines not. I don't know about you but I reckon these different colour blobs are over-complicating things. Previously there were two blues at Stratford - that was mucky enough. Now there are contrasting circles, one white one blue, but with a deeper meaning that 99.9% of tube travellers don't need to know. Most of us merely want to get in and out of Stratford station, or change trains, so a much simpler design would better aid our transfer. West Ham's new incarnation is even worse. Formerly it had one blob, now it has three. One of these is due to the newly-opening DLR, but the other two are there to distinguish between the flat Jubilee and the high-up District. Seriously, does anyone think this is a simple and helpful way to depict an interchange? And this is an Olympic-critical transport node, for heaven's sake. Look how straight-forward Mile End is by comparison - that's the symbolic notation the great majority of the population would prefer to see everywhere else. Over-blobbing, alas, just makes a mess of the map.
Yes, it's important that those with limited accessibility get every opportunity to use our capital's transport network. But is the mainstream London tube map the best place to get this information across? Why complicate an already massively complex diagram with not one but two different symbols that most travellers will never use? If you need a step-free map, use TfL's step-free map - that's what it's there for. Admittedly the introduction of big white blobs reduces the overall visual impact of the blue, so that's almost good. But they're still a totally unnecessary and confusing extra that will surely discriminate against spatially challenged passengers. Appearing now on tube maps at Stratford station and on the Beckton branch of the DLR. Appearing soon all over London. One step-free forward, two step-frees back.