diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Yesterday, as part of a Crossrail-related media blitz, TfL released a draft of next December's tube map.

It's not the tube map we'll be getting, because all the bits that are actually the tube have been faded out, and a new line which isn't the tube has been given prominence instead. But it does give a very good idea of the final version, and how Crossrail will help to make umpteen additional connections, and how complicated it'll all be. If you'd like to see a hi-res version, click here.

Squeezing a new line onto a crowded map isn't easy, and there are certain places where the uninitiated might soon find it very hard to work out what's going on. So I thought I'd test out the complexity of the new map by considering the 'blobbiness' of its updated interchanges. Specifically, how many extra blobs does the map have compared to the minimum necessary. Let's take a look.

Well, Paddington's a mess, isn't it? But then it always has been because, as we ascertained earlier this month, Paddington is two tube stations masquerading as one. The additional mess is because Crossrail trains won't initially be passing through Paddington, they'll be terminating, so journeys from Heathrow and journeys from Abbey Wood have to be shown separately. That's why it's 4 blobs in 2018, arranged in a rather strange dog-leg, but expect the design to drop back to an optimal 3 blobs in 2019 when the full connection is made.

Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road both have 2 blobs, which is the minimum that could be used when both Crossrail and the Central line run east/west. In this situation the map's designers have therefore faced a choice at each station on how best to pair up two of the lines. Both stations are step-free, but at Bond Street the Central line is the odd one out because it's only "step free from street to platform", and at Tottenham Court Road Crossrail is the odd one out because it's "step free from street to train".

Sheesh, Farringdon. Its Crossrail platforms are long enough to stretch to Barbican, which is why two consecutive Circle line stations are shown connecting to one Crossrail station. Only one of these Circle line stations will have step-free access, however, because London's not made of money. Hopefully able-bodied Crossrail passengers will understand from the map that it'll be possible to exit to street level via a choice of two stations. At first glance this all looks a bit peculiar, but it's hard to see how the map could have been drawn using fewer than three blobs for two stations.

And omigod, Liverpool Street. Two blobs have been used to show that Crossrail trains will depart from both Low Level and High Level stations, and another to show that all tube services all depart from someplace else. Then there's a fourth blob because one end of the Crossrail platforms will connect to Moorgate, the map correctly showing which branch of Crossrail does this and which doesn't. But you can imagine the excessive walks some passengers are going to undertake if they don't know the system very well. Consider for example getting off the Circle line at Moorgate and then walking nearly half a mile to the Overground platforms at Liverpool Street, a rookie error no traveller would make today.

Whitechapel's interesting. Technically its interchange could have been drawn with only 1 blob, because all the lines cross at a convenient angle. But apparently only Crossrail will have step-free access when the line opens in 2018, so the other lines require a blob of their own. Lift access will eventually be provided to every platform, however, so it remains to be seen whether Whitechapel will morph to one blue blob, or whether a pair of blobs, one blue, one white, will be required.

Stratford is the best example of blobby efficiency along the new line. The station could be a helluva mess, what with two tube lines, two separate DLR branches, the Overground and Crossrail all meeting here, but some judicious alignment has ensured that only 3 blobs need to be used. So that's a win.

Canary Wharf, on the other hand, reveals itself as a truly untidy trio of disparate stations. All three lines serving Canary Wharf have step-free access from street to train, so technically the designers could have got away with just one blob. Instead they've been using two blobs for the Jubilee line and DLR for years, as a heavy hint that the two stations are some distance apart, and Crossrail is now adding an arguably unnecessary third. You can see the designers' point, that separate station = separate blob, but is this level of complexity really required? Meanwhile, West India Quay and Poplar DLR stations may prove to have the easiest interchange with the new Crossrail station, so I wonder if anyone'll ever add those links to the map.

Finally, let's fly out to Heathrow Airport and see what's happening there. The design's quite smart, with a single blob at each terminal, and Crossrail shown running through to Terminal 4. But this isn't a true tube map, remember, because all the tube lines are faded out, so when the real map appears it'll have a dark blue line as well as a purple line, and these may be harder to distinguish. It helps that Crossrail uses tramlines rather than solid shading but, with one-way arrows also included, a heck of a lot of information is being conveyed solely in shades of blue and white. And make the most of the simplicity, because in December 2019 Crossrail will also be heading to Terminal 5, at which point these airport connections can't avoid becoming a whole lot blobbier.

December 2018's tube map will only add 7 more stations compared to today, but blimey the additional line carving its way across the centre will make a serious impact. Have we yet reached the point where the iconic tube map, at least in its tiny printed format, is no longer fit for purpose? And worthy though blobs may be for revealing step-free access, does including them, in two different colours, only make things worse?

Also, given that Crossrail is yet another railway that isn't part of the tube, should we still be calling this a tube map? And when Thameslink gets up to speed with 24 trains per hour between St Pancras and Blackfriars, also at the end of 2018, should we perhaps be including that too? The tube map is a political document as well as being an aid to navigation, and we should always remember this every time TfL wave yet another one in front of us.

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