First sight of the new January 2008 tube map, at Langdon Park DLR station, has made me shudder. From a simple and elegant 1930s design, the tube map appears to have evolved fairly recently into a rampant visual monster, jam-packed with unnecessary information. The emphasis has shifted very much from lines to stations, with every square inch of the map increasingly crammed with "local" detail. It's about close-up complexity, rather than zoomed-out ease of use. It's a mess. And it can only get worse.
Here are a few photo snapshots of some of the latest abominations on the new map...
Here's the reason the updated January tube map is needed. The East London Line closes next weekend, and will eventually reopen as part of the new London Overground. There'll be no more tubing from Whitechapel to New Cross, just four replacement bus services for the next 2½ years. Two of those bus services meet here, at Canada Water. Previously this was a very simple-looking single-blob interchange, but not any more. Now it appears as a triple-blobbed mega-interchange, as does Whitechapel on the opposite side of the river. This over-complex rearrangement ensures that nobody thinks they can travel from Rotherhithe to Surrey Quays on one bus, because that would be a terrible mistake to make. Incidentally the replacement bus service will be wheelchair accessible, but the wheelchair symbol is only used to show step-free access to a platform. Brilliant, eh?
Here's the first appearance of the new stations being built on the East London Line extension. It's good news for residents of central Hackney, but perhaps not for tube map users. These stations don't open until summer 2010, but they'll still be clogging up the map and confusing tourists for the next 30 months. Even more uselessly, the "under construction" connection from Dalston Junction to Canonbury is also shown, and that won't be opening until 2011. Meanwhile the southern section of the extended ELL (from New Cross Gate to West Croydon) also appears on the new map. It's already open, but still being run by Southern trains so Oyster pay-as-you-go isn't yet valid. As a lot of very small orange print tells you.
Here's a ghastly redesign of one major interchange, attempting (but failing) to better represent reality. As anyone who's ever changed trains in Docklands will know, there are two Canary Wharf stations, a five minute slog apart. The new map makes this a lot more explicit, replacing a single interchange blob with this triangular mess. Linkage is now via the walking distances between Canary Wharf Jubilee line station and its two DLR neighbours. If your eyesight is good enough you may be able to spot that Heron Quays DLR is 50m nearer than Canary Wharf DLR. If the map designer had been good enough he/she might have spotted that the DLR stations are to the west of the Jubilee line, not to the east. And above it, not below it. Come on TfL, if you're attempting to better depict reality, at least do it consistently.
Here's an even grimmer interchange revamp. There are three stations at West Hampstead, all along the same busy road - one on the Jubilee line, one on the London Overground and one served by First Capital Connect. As this graphic attempts to make clear, it's a 100m walk from the Jubilee to the Overground. The third station, West Hampstead Thameslink, is apparently 200m away - but from which of the other two? Real life evidence suggests it's 200m from the Jubilee, but you can't tell this from the map. Would a single blob really be so bad?
Here's the northwest corner of the new map. The big difference here is the appearance of ticket zones 7, 8 and 9 (replacing A, B, C and D). This isn't too messy - it actually makes more sense that the previous zoning. Except in nearby Watford. Watford Metropolitan line station is in Zone 7, but nearby Watford High Street station is in Zone 8 and even nearer Watford Junction isn't in a zone at all, not even zone 9. Oh, and doesn't Chalfont and Latimer station look complicated? The perfect example of how the designers think they've added clarity, but have actually taken it away.
And finally, here's the new map layout for "Heathrow Airport". There are three stations named after terminals, one of which doesn't open until Easter. I hope you can understand how the loopy one-way system works. Travellers can't get directly from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5, nor directly from Terminals 1, 2, 3 or 5 to Terminal 4. I'm sure that tourists just arrived by plane will find this crystal clear to understand and to follow. Oh, and see that big red dagger next to Terminal 4? There are more than 30 of these littered across the tube map, and they all refer to additional text in the station index beneath. In this case TfL want to warn you that Terminal 4 station closes at quarter to midnight (whereas most stations close nearer half past). Somebody presumably cares. One day, maybe, all this "crucial" red dagger information will be plastered across the map itself. Like I said, the way tube map design is going, information pollution can only escalate.