diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Before Christmas, with much fanfare, TfL launched a new version of the tube map with Thameslink included. Officially it was the December 2020 tube map, despite not appearing in stations or being released online.

But it's taken until this week for a digital version to appear on the TfL website, fanfare-free, so you can now download it and see what all the fuss was about.

Except it's not the same map they showed us three weeks ago. And had they released this latest version to the press I doubt it would have received as positive a reception.

For example, in the previous version Thameslink's descent through central London was a straight line with a single kink around King's Cross. You can reacquaint yourself with that central section here, if you so wish. But in the latest version the number of kinks has increased to three, somewhat inelegantly, like so.

The pink line now keeps a greater distance from Farringdon, then bends right to hit City Thameslink, then curves left and right to reach Blackfriars. It's not pretty. And it all comes down to where the station names have been placed.

• On the previous map Farringdon was written to the right of the station. Here it's to the left, which has forced the addition of a giant interchange connection.
• On the previous map Chancery Lane was written above the Central line. Here it's below, because Russell Square occupies all the available space, and this has prevented Thameslink from continuing straight down.
• On the previous map Mansion House was written to the right of the District line. Here it's to the left, and Cannon Street has been written on one line, which means Thameslink has to bend round both.

The map's designer won't have taken these decisions lightly, they'd have made the line straighter if they could. But there is a genuine underlying reason for the differences in design, namely that the two versions of the map are subtly different sizes.

The map we were shown in December is the poster version, the one that'll be displayed on station platforms and in ticket halls. Tube map posters are always Quad Royal size, that's 50 inches by 40 inches. The latest map is a bit smaller to make room for a strip above and below, so actually measures 50 by 32½. In terms of ratio, the width is 54% longer than the height.

The map that's just appeared on the website is the pocket version, the one that'll be available to pick up in ticket halls. This map has to be narrower because a folded sheet of paper has different proportions to a poster frame. In terms of ratio, the width is 42% longer than the height.

And that 12% difference in width means the poster can afford to be more spread out than the pocket map.

I've tried to overlay the two maps, proportionally speaking, by matching the Circle line on each. The map in the background is the poster. The map on top is the digital version just released. As you can see the poster is proportionally broader than the pocket map and, if keeping central London to scale, also offers a tad more room top and bottom.

All of which has resulted in Thameslink getting really twisty.

The northwest branch through Kentish Town bends through 45° nine times and 90° once. The northeast branch through Finsbury Park bends through 45° three times and 90° once. The southeast branch through Woolwich bends through 45° four times and the branch through Bromley six. The line to Gatwick bends through 45° six times and 90° twice in order to manoeuvre around Croydon's trams.

Throw in the Sutton Loop and the wiggle through central London and I make that 48 bends altogether. But the previous larger map had only 35. If the digital map is less aesthetically pleasing, it's because a 12% decrease in width has led to a 37% increase in twists.

The change in dimensions has also introduced several unsightly extended interchanges. I've got my ruler out and measured them, and can confirm that the five longest interchange connectors on the new tube map are all thanks to adding Thameslink.

1) The longest of all is the aberration at Finsbury Park where twin black lines extend to reach a distorted Thameslink bend.
2) We discussed Farringdon earlier. Its connector is almost long as the word Farringdon itself.
3) At London Bridge Thameslink slingshots underneath the tube station (and the extra link to a river pier only makes things worse).
4) Mitcham Junction's connector is longer than strictly necessary because the station and tram stop are in different zones. In better news, at least they've fixed the Hackbridge problem.
5) Blackfriars could have been a single blue blob but no, the designer wanted a connector stretching (diagonally) across the river.

A dishonorary mention should go to Denmark Hill in sixth place, where Thameslink and the Overground have been kept really far apart so that Peckham Rye and Queens Road Peckham can be squished horribly close together. This is what happens when the tube map's long-standing rule about only using 45° angles forces a lot of empty space to be filled wholly inefficiently.

In summary, Thameslink fits less well onto the pocket tube map than onto the poster. It may be a useful extra to have but blimey it's a mess.

And if you learned nothing else from today's post, remember there isn't just one tube map, there are two.

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