diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 21, 2012

I hope you like pink.

Magenta, to be precise, which is the colour popping up on signs all over the London underground network. Magenta signs are the chosen method for directing spectators to Olympic venues all over the capital, and beyond, and over the summer you won't be able to miss them. They first appeared back in May in Stratford as part of a weekend of test events, all over the station, pointing their way relentlessly towards the Olympic Park. You couldn't possibly have got lost, not unless you were visually impaired or magenta-phobic. Then they starting appearing on the line maps aboard tube trains, small rectangles indicating which stations were the best places to alight. And now they're appearing all over London, at any station where you might conceivably change trains to get to a Games venue. Pink stickers - some large, others slightly more subtle - attached to almost any wall, surface, map or sign. And five weeks early.

Say you're at Whitechapel, for example, hoping to get to the Olympic Park. If you're on the Overground you're in the wrong place, so pink stickers on the platform walls direct you up to the eastbound District and Hammersmith & City lines. Very simple, very effective. Further pink stickers around the station point the way towards Wimbledon, Hyde Park and Horse Guards Parade via the District line westbound, because you might be going there instead. No matter how minor your Olympic event, someone's thought about directing you repeatedly towards the venue.

You can see the fine level detail on the enamelled line maps, here at Whitechapel and elsewhere. There must somewhere be an endless supply of transparent stickers, and someone's gone round adding pink text next to all the stations close to Olympic venues. On the westbound at Whitechapel that's six different stations, marked by six different stickers, and usually it's possibly to work out which is next to where. Southfields for Wimbledon, Earl's Court for Earl's Court, Victoria for Hyde Park. Or Edgware Road for Hyde Park, the choice is yours - they're both equally far away. Nobody would normally choose to go to Hyde Park via either Victoria or Edgware Road, but TfL would rather you went this way to avoid far busier stations close by.

And blimey, there are now pink wheelchair blobs! We've had blue, we've had white, and now for the Olympics we get pink. There's a pink wheelchair blob sticker at Westminster, from which there is "step free access to Horse Guards Parade". The words appear on a sticker so big it's impossible to know which station it refers to, but the pink blob identifies the target. There's another pink blob at King's Cross, which apparently offers "step free access to Lord's Cricket Ground". That may sound daft, given it's a two mile push across Regent's Park, but during the Games an accessible shuttle service for spectators will run between Pancras Road and the venue. The pink blobs appear to be highly inconsistent, however. Southfields and Earl's Court are step-free, but blobless, likewise West Ham which has step-free access all the way to the Olympic Park, but no pink circle. Perhaps some vandal has peeled them off.

I'm not sure why the pink signs are up five weeks early. Nobody needs directions to the Royal Artillery Barracks or the Lee Valley White Water Centre until the end of July, but instead the signs are already there in June. Better early than late, obviously, to allow for any gaps or inconsistencies to be ironed out. But these signs are so early they'll be up for longer than they'll be used, which does seem either over-earnest or over-cautious. Still, if nothing else it gives us a chance to applaud TfL for their thoroughness, which will be enormously helpful to Games spectators unfamiliar with London. But also to hold TfL to account for their deviousness, because some of these signs deliberately fail to point along the most direct route.

Say you're at Mile End, for example, hoping to get to the Olympic Park. You could take the Central line to Stratford, one stop, and arrive in minutes right next to the main entrance. But the signs stuck to the pillars on the eastbound platform point instead towards the District and Hammersmith & City line. TfL want gullible travellers to ride three stops to West Ham, then get out and walk for an estimated 25 minutes up the Greenway. They're really worried that the Central line will be extremely busy during the Games, and are performing all kinds of misdirections to encourage ignorant spectators to travel an alternative way.

It's the same at Liverpool Street. If you're on the eastbound Central line, three stops from Stratford, the pink signs on the wall don't point their way onto the train. Instead they encourage you to leave the platform and rise to the surface to travel a different, longer way. If the congestion's as bad as some fear and Central line trains are rammed, then any alternative route will be a lifesaver. Indeed it may turn out that Westfield gets so clogged you'll be glad you went to West Ham instead. But be aware that the pink Olympic signs aren't always optimised with your best interests at heart. You've got five weeks to try them out.

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