diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sorry, I'm running a bit behind schedule here. But the arrival of the Night Tube also means the launch of a brand new tube map. Hurrah?

Most of the first media outlets to report this news on Monday had in fact got excited by the old night tube map, originally released in 2013, which had been attached to their press release by mistake. They'd then cut and pasted a selection of TfL's spoonfed sentences into their news articles and pressed publish, because that's modern journalism, before swiftly updating their articles with the new Night Tube map later in the morning. It's the official Night Tube map, as seen below, and I wonder what you think.

It's certainly pretty. The two-tone blue background looks rather swish, and provides a recognisably different design to the ordinary daytime map. It's easy to imagine this map in poster form adding a bit of class to a nightclub wall or a student's bedroom. There are far fewer lines than on the ordinary tube map, so the whole thing looks more like a transport network and less like a bowl of spaghetti. It doesn't have an advert for a credit card slapped across the bottom of it, at least not yet, or for some other big name brand that fancies buying nocturnal streetcred. And who wouldn't love the cute owl logo that's been created to give the Night Tube its own identity? I fear that at some point it may be given a name, but this is surely an image destined for stacked shelves of mugs, t-shirts and sofa cushions.

And yet the key test of a tube map isn't how well it sells, but how well it works, and the Night Tube map doesn't appear to have been designed with usability at the top of the agenda. In particular, consider the choice of colours for the background. Two not very different shades of blue make it anything but easy to distinguish the boundary between, say, zones 2 and 3. More importantly, two not very different shades of blue make it bloody difficult to distinguish the lines themselves. The Piccadilly is a dark blue line on a dark blue background, and virtually invisible. The Northern is a black line on a dark blue background, and almost as unseen. The Jubilee and Victoria lines are brighter, although are from the same colour palette as the background so not as contrasty as they could be. Of the five Night Tube lines only the Central truly stands out, indeed even the River Thames is markedly more obvious than the other four.

But then I've been looking at the map on my laptop, where it's quite small. View the map instead at its largest resolution and each line is edged by a strip of white, which makes everything much easier to see. When this map is printed at full poster size and stuck up in a frame at a station, it should be relatively straight-forward to follow the lines and trace a route. Indeed there's a hint here that the map has been designed by someone with a big screen, to whom everything would always have looked fine and dandy. But below a certain resolution the white borders shrink away to insignificance, and the darker lines almost merge with the dark background. One can only hope that there aren't millions of excessively-blue Night Tube maps printed and ready to go at the same scale as the existing folded tube map, because at that size they'll likely be unnecessarily difficult to read.

And then there's the font. On a normal tube map the font size has to be small, otherwise you couldn't squeeze in the station names between the tangle of lines. On the Night Tube map there's a lot more space, because more than half of TfL's lines don't appear, but still the same tiny font size has been used. I'm sure there's room for larger and more legible station names, which for anyone long-sighted would be enormously helpful, but instead the designers have matched the same size font as the daytime map and so the visually-deficient will have to squint. They've also insisted on keeping the same kinks as the daytime map, even when there's nothing in the way. The Central line for example bends unnecessarily towards Bank, and then incorporates another twist west of Bond Street that's only existed on the actual tube map for a month. This in particular could have been straightened out, providing a useful stylistic straight line across the centre of the map. But instead the Night Tube map merely mimics the daytime layout, incorporating its less than ideal features in an attempt to be consistent.

Another feature that's been copied, this time for entirely understandable reasons, is the presence of accessibility blobs to show stations with step-free access. There aren't many of these on the Night Tube, indeed on the Central line only two step-free journeys will be possible, namely from Stratford to Woodford or Hainault. What blobs there are appear in two colours, with white blobs for step-free access from street to platform and blue blobs for step-free access from street to train. The white blobs appear most clearly on the blue background, but alas it's the blue blobs that represent gold standard access, and they're by far the harder to distinguish. On the brighter side, non-step-free interchanges stand out rather better, and they make up three-quarters of the dozen interchanges on the Night Tube.

I thought I'd finish by presenting a Night Tube map of my own. I don't claim it'd be any use for navigation, but it does depict the network's topological information in a much more geographical way. What I've done is to count up the number of Night Tube stations in every London borough, and hopefully got the totals approximately right, then shaded the map accordingly. Now at last you can see where the Night Tube actually goes, and where it actually doesn't.

The three most fortunate nocturnal boroughs are Westminster and Camden, as you might expect, and Redbridge, which you might not. TfL have been very kind to Redbridge and agreed to service both sides of the Hainault Loop, admittedly only every 20 minutes, but lucky them. Ealing and Lambeth also do well, in each case because two Night Tube lines pass through the borough giving fairly decent coverage. East London does less well than west, this because the District line and DLR aren't yet on board, and North London does better than south, but then 'twas always thus. Hackney and Greenwich do particularly badly, each with only one overnight station tucked away on the very edge of the borough, which means night buses for the majority. And an entire arc of Outer London from Richmond round to Romford gets nothing at all. To be fair, most of these zero-scoring boroughs have no Underground during the day either, but something's certainly awry when Essex gets two Night Tube stations and Lewisham gets none. I should at this point also mention Thameslink, which already runs early hours trains every morning except Sundays, so technically Croydon's not as disconnected as it looks.

Things will eventually change. If the London Overground comes on board in 2017 as planned then cross-capital coverage will greatly improve. The eventual addition of the DLR will help to fill in some obvious gaps in east and southeast London, although this can't happen before 2021 when the current franchise expires. The sub-surface lines may follow after that, although if you live in Pinner or Upminster don't hold your breath. And the Bakerloo line probably won't join the overnight party until twenty thirty something, but if you look at my map of existing geographical coverage you'll see that's not necessarily a critical loss. At least when it does finally arrive the brown should show up properly on the official Night Tube map... assuming they haven't ditched the over-dark-blue background by then.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream