The new tube map has finally hit the fan. The electronic version dribbled out last week, but yesterday saw the first appearance of the folded paper version in a handful of select stations. They may not appear in your local station immediately, indeed many stations are likely to be stuffed full of the old version for several weeks. But this is your first chance to pick up a copy of the new map with the clock on the front cover, open it up and go "oh good grief what did they do there?"
It's now seven years since the London Overground first arrived on the tube map, embracing the centre of town with its tangerine tentacles, and later extending south to additional destinations. But this weekend the Overground explodes further across northeast London, creating a tangled wedge of orange in what used to be an empty gap. It's not especially legible. TfL's insistence at cramming every line they operate into a small rectangle measuring twenty-one centimetres by fourteen means that hundreds of stations are now jostling for space, and northeast London has lost out. Attempting to plan a route is suddenly a complex topological task, and I'd say a tipping point has been reached whereby the tiny text and contorted lines are now beyond the immediate comprehension of the casual observer.
Still, it's good news for commuters up the Lea Valley who'll now see their most-used routes on the ubiquitous tube map, and who'll be getting cheaper fares into the bargain. The newly-squeezed-in orange includes the former West Anglia lines out of Liverpool Street to Chingford, Cheshunt and Enfield Town, and the runty Emerson Park shuttle between Upminster and Romford. This is also the weekend that Crossrail arrives on the tube map, temporarily branded TfLRail, along the existing slow stopping service from Shenfield. If you can correctly follow this blue-edged line along its final stretch as it threads from Stratford to Liverpool Street, then congratulations, your eyesight is in pretty good shape.
Much has already been written about the new tube map. I wrote a prescient post almost two years ago where I guessed what the new map might look like, and how much of a mess it might be (the reality is worse). I then revisited the situation last December when it was clear Crossrail was coming too. Ian Visits and Geoff and Londonist and the good folk at District Dave's tube forum have also mused on the changes seen in the online version. So forgive me if I repeat/copy/steal what they said, as I take a look at some of the changes on the freshly-released paper map.
• The new tube map says May 2015 on the front cover, because it refers to changes being made on 31st May. But TfL aren't going to announce to the general public that the new map exists until June, specifically Monday morning, when they'll point at the pretty new cover design and Boris will cut an orange ribbon.
• The front cover features a grand clock, After Eight style, in gilt bronze with a pendulum dangling in front of a tunnel. It's rather lovely, and you can see and read more about it here.
• The Night Tube now gets a mention to the right of the map, including a Night Owl logo you can expect to see a lot more of before September.
• The map index is now really really squashed. A year ago the list filled three panels two columns at a time, but now it covers two panels three columns at a time. Part of the squeeze is fitting in two dozen new stations, but the real issue is the credit card advert on the back, because someone's got to help pay for 12 million free copies. I don't think the font is any smaller, but I do think the letters in the station names are closer together.
• So yes, there's this extra Overground line meandering out of Liverpool Street, which then splits apart like a three-headed hydra as it heads north. Along the way it shares precisely zero stations with any existing part of the London Overground, even though it crosses three, intersecting only with the Victoria line.
• Two new Overground-Overground interchanges have been depicted. One of these is the by-pavement route (opened last year) between Walthamstow Central and Walthamstow Queen's Road, and the other is a brand new overhead walkway between Hackney Downs and Hackney Central. This isn't open yet, but it might be by tomorrow when the Overground handover takes place. Neither of these interchanges could be described as short, and Hackney Downs northbound to Hackney Central westbound is going to be a heck of a long trek.
• There are two Bethnal Greens. They're shown as completely separate stations, with no hint of interchange. Geographically, the wrong station is to the north of the other.
• Only Overground trains via Seven Sisters stop at Cambridge Heath and London Fields, while trains to Chingford sail straight through. There is no mention of this on the tube map, even though West India Quay on the DLR gets a dagger for a similar issue. Indeed there are no daggers anywhere on the Overground. Perhaps there should be.
• The Emerson Park shuttle service doesn't run on Sundays, but there's no mention of this on the tube map. Practically, the line is so lightly used that almost no travellers will be inconvenienced by this oversight. In terms of information consistency, however, it's the new tube map's most unforgiveable omission.
• Not only does the Emerson Park branch not run on Sundays, it also shuts down at 8pm every other night of the week, but that's a secret. Meanwhile on Sundays no trains stop at any of the three stations between Liverpool Street and Hackney Downs before 9.15am, but nobody's planning on telling you. A few years ago these service curtailments would have merited a dagger and an explanation down the side of the map, today none of them do.
• You thought Crossrail was going to be glamorous? You thought wrong. The northeastern arm will be a slow stopping train inching through Ilford and Romford and various stations inbetween. The new tube map thus has to cram in twelve fresh stations to the east of Stratford, just as it already fits in twelve District line stations to the east of West Ham.
• None of TfL Rail's fourteen stations are fully step-free. But come 2018 when Crossrail opens they're all going to be, thanks to an injection of cash associated with London's premier rail line. That's magnificent news for the mobility challenged, and another eyesore string of blue blobs for the rest of us.
• To squeeze in the new Overground, a lot of other lines and stations have shifted slightly and subtly out of the way. Edgware is now a couple of millimetres left of where it used to be, High Barnet almost four, and Cockfosters at least five. Seven Sisters used to be to the right of the second fold, but now it's to the left. Beckton and Upminster used to be almost up against the right hand edge of the map - now that honour falls to Shenfield. If you ever wanted convincing proof that London's centre of gravity is shifting east, here it is.
• One casualty of the emerging Overground is the poor old Central line loop at the eastern end of the line. On the previous map it was 15mm tall but now it's only 13mm tall, making station names from Redbridge round to Grange Hill much more tightly packed.
• When the online tube map appeared last week, one shock was that the Central line was no longer straight on its run through the West End. Good news, it's still straight on the printed map. Bad news, it won't be when Crossrail proper arrives.
• The previous tube map only stretched beyond Zone 6 in the top left corner, specifically to the tips of the Metropolitan line and at stations to Watford Junction. The new tube map nudges zones 7 and 8 approaching Cheshunt, jumps straight from 6 to 9 to get to Brentwood, and resorts to "special fares apply" at far flung Shenfield.
• Because it's on a single track line, the Emerson Park shuttle runs only every 30 minutes. I wonder how many people are going to be tempted out this way by the new tube map, only to end up waiting unexpectedly long for an infrequent train.
• West Ham remains the ugliest interchange on the tube map, rendered unnecessarily complex by the imperative to show the distinction between two different kinds of step-free access. But the two Walthamstows are catching up fast, with a diagonal linkage you'll need to do a doubletake to understand. Meanwhile Stratford has been prized apart by the appearance of TfL Rail, forcing various lines to twist and bend in response. Once again physical accessibility trumps visual accessibility.
• Whatever this new map is, it's no longer solely a tube map.
• Whatever this new map was, it's no longer a design classic.
• Whatever this new map has become, it can't carry on this way.