diamond geezer

 Monday, April 26, 2010

The East London Line is finally scheduled to open to the public from noon tomorrow (probably) (unless someone changes their mind or something else goes wrong). Trains will be running for 'preview' services no further than New Cross/New Cross Gate, and the very first departure should be the 1205 from Dalston Junction. Initially ELL services will be weekdays only (7am-8pm), extending to weekends from 15th May and all the way down to West Croydon from 23rd May. And a new Overground line also means a new tube map. And you know how much this blog loves a new tube map...

A new Overground line means a new tube map. It's not an especially widely-distributed tube map, because apparently it'll only be visible at stations on the East London Line. But it is now the only version on the TfL website [gif] [pdf], where it can be seen by folk from Hoxton to Hong Kong, so we'd better get used to it.

tube map April 2010The biggest change on the new tube map is, of course, the appearance of the new East London line. This runs rigidly north-south throughout, which is a nice touch on an otherwise wobbly diagram. Dalston gets a new interchange - which may look tempting but is in fact a 250m trek across two main roads. Shoreditch High Street is confirmed to be inside revenue-raising Zone 1, with Hoxton on the border between one and two. There are restored interchanges with the DLR at Shadwell and the Jubilee at Canada Water. And there's not a replacement bus service in sight.

It's clear that this is a very temporary tube map with a limited shelf life. No stations south of New Cross Gate are shown, even though they're scheduled to be part of the Overground network in four weeks time. "Only show them what they need to know for now" - this would seem to be TfL's mapwork mantra. So it's baffling to see that they've not taken the same approach with another bit of the Overground - the lengthy stretch between Gospel Oak and Stratford. This is completely closed for the next four weeks, and yet it's marked on this short-term tube map as being very much open. Why? That new Dalston interchange turns out to be a sham until the end of May, and anyone hoping to change trains here will find themselves waiting for an infrequent/slow replacement bus service.

Clutter spotters should note that the new tube map boasts six additional wheelchair blobs - five on the East London Line and one more out at Hainault. This makes more than 60 big blue blobs on the right-hand third of the tube map, marking out East London as the ideal home for any independent wheelchair-enabled traveller. But the ugly blue blobs have increasing competition from a new disfiguring nemesis - the little red dagger.

There are little red daggers everywhere. They're being used at stations to indicate something unusual about their train service, but you have to look across to the map's key to discover precisely what that is. At Cannon Street, for example, the dagger means closed after 9pm and at weekends, whereas at Hounslow East it means step-free access for wheelchair users only. Daggerisation saves writing extra messages on the map itself, on which absolutely no words other than station names now appear. You might therefore imagine that this decluttering would be a great improvement - but I have my doubts.

Bank station has a new dagger, although it's not immediately obvious why. All of the notes about stations are listed line by line - so there are five of these to check through before it's revealed that the dagger refers to early closure on the Waterloo & City. Meanwhile Blackfriars now has a new dagger to show that the station is closed, even though the station name has already been crossed out to show exactly the same thing. There may be a rationale as to why some stations have daggerworthy issues and others don't, but this remains somewhat baffling.

If red crosses were only being used to show problems with individual stations this might not be so bad. But a bigger problem with the daggers, and to blame for 28 of the damned things, is that they're also being used to annotate entire sections of line. No service after midnight between Woodford and Hainault (one issue, three daggers). No early morning Piccadilly line between Rayners Lane and Uxbridge (one issue, six daggers). Diddums might have to change trains on the Northern line at Kennington (one utterly minor issue, seven bloody daggers). And the new East London Line is only open weekday daytimes (one issue, twelve stabby red things).

Tube map daggers are nothing new - they've been on the ascent since last September. But the additional ELL cluster, plus freshly-positioned extras at Embankment, Blackfriars, Bank and West India Quay, give this symbol an increasing visual dominance. There are nasty red crosses positioned all over the place, scattered as if the map depicted some random cemetery. This is partly because no dagger actually appears alongside the station it refers to, only adjacent to its name (which in some cases is next to a completely different station). It's great that TfL have replaced all that previous squinty text, but red daggers really aren't the ideal solution. So if you're out enjoying the lovely new East London Line tomorrow, try not to look too closely at the new tube maps. They'll all be in the shredder within a month anyway.

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