diamond geezer

 Friday, May 20, 2022

A new railway means a new tube map. And as you might expect from a map that now contains the tube, DLR, Overground, trams, cablecar, river piers, Thameslink, fare zones, step-free blobs and Swedish furniture stores, the new addition doesn't exactly leap out.

Crossrail's light purple is a lovely shade but fails to stand out on a multi-coloured diagram in the way you'd hope a flagship megaproject would. It's not even solid purple, it's hollow with a white stripe down the middle, which makes it unexpectedly hard to follow the line across the map.

It's also very much not a straight line, bending a total of twelve times on its journey from Paddington to Abbey Wood. Clearly it hasn't been easy to thread a new line through the maelstrom of the existing network, so the sheer volume of content on the tube map has forced some rather inelegant twists. Time was when the Central line was the horizontal baseline on the map but even that now has eight bends between Notting Hill Gate and Mile End. The new horizontal baseline, somewhat inexplicably, is the Hammersmith & City line which now runs straight all the way from Moorgate to Barking.

One purple bend that probably ought to exist but doesn't is at the far end of the line. Abbey Wood is shown as being due south of Woolwich whereas in fact it's due east, with Plumstead similarly badly placed. Meanwhile across the river the east-west DLR lines through the Royal Docks have had to be rotated to run north-south to accommodate the purple line squeezing through. The tube map is of course famous for not needing to reflect geographical truth, but adding Crossrail is distorting reality far more than before.

The competition for 'The tube map's worst interchange' is now a battle between Paddington and Liverpool Street.

Paddington's always been complicated because it includes two tube stations, only one of which is step-free, but it also now has to depict a split-level Crossrail disconnect. The five connected blobs bear no relation to interchange reality (although to be fair this is exactly the same mess as on the previous map, just with an extra Crossrail connection added). So sprawling is this spidery interchange that passengers on the Bakerloo line may now be hard pushed to spot the name of the station between Warwick Avenue and Edgware Road.

But Liverpool Street is much worse. This five-blob seesaw is a consequence of Liverpool Street's Crossrail station connecting to two different tube stations, a complicated scenario which the map entirely fails to simplify. The two blobs on the left are supposed to represent Moorgate and the three on the right Liverpool Street (and include two consecutive stops on the Circle/H&C/Metropolitan lines). Good luck to anyone unfamiliar with London trying to work out which name applies to the top right blob. Also pity any mug who assumes from the map that you can alight at Moorgate and interchange through to the Overground, because technically you can but it'll involve a mighty hike down to the Crossrail platforms, along their full length, then back up and out across the concourse of the mainline station.

Note that Barbican does not appear on the map as a Crossrail interchange, as was the initial intention. This may be to help keep things simple or it may be because the Barbican connection ended up being reduced to a single lift at the far end of just one platform so TfL are hoping most people forget about it.

By contrast the interchange at Farringdon is now almost elegant, certainly in contrast to the extended trainwreck it looked before. The map's designers do have a habit of making a mess the first time they introduce something on the tube map, them modifying and enhancing it in later editions so it's not quite so ghastly. See also the former drooping Battersea Power Station extension, the massive connectors at Finsbury Park and Blackfriars, the unnecessarily large gap between the Jubilee and Metropolitan lines, the City Thameslink kink and the spaghetti tangle around Peckham Rye.

Yes, Thameslink is still here. It was initially introduced during the pandemic and retained during the closure of the Bank branch of the Northern line to help showcase alternative routes, but the initial intention was for this to be temporary. Instead a decision has been made to keep it on, not least because taking it off again would be politically awkward, so its pink lines continue to thread across the map (filling in gaps that could otherwise be used to enable TfL-operated lines to be spaced out better).

A few other changes. Bond Street doesn't have a Crossrail blob (yet) because it isn't ready. Canary Wharf is now a four blob interchange incorporating West India Quay (which is the nearest DLR station to Crossrail). Euston used to be a three blob station but now has four, whereas King's Cross St Pancras slims the other way from four to three. The Jubilee line used to be straight between London Bridge and North Greenwich but now has five bends because there's more to dodge.

A surprising (and unwelcome) addition to the map is the appearance of commercial logos beside certain stations. IKEA are the map's new sponsor, as they were in 2008 and 2009, but this time they've swung a deal whereby little blue and yellow IKEAs are tacked on alongside five stations close to store locations. They're not always optimal connections. Walking from Neasden to IKEA is a miserable trek along and over the North Circular, best not attempted while lugging furniture, while the IKEA at North Greenwich is a bus ride away from the highlighted tube station. As for the IKEA in Tottenham that's actually 1½ miles from Tottenham Hale, indeed it's immediately adjacent to Meridian Water but that's not a TfL station so isn't on the map... and what's more the store is closing permanently on 31st August (which is during the lifetime of the tube map).

It's by no means the first time advertisers have wheedled themselves onto the tube map, but the appearance of extra symbols does feel like the thin end of the wedge, especially on a map that already has hardly enough room to fit everything in. At least the cablecar has finally lost its Emirates branding and is now depicted as the brand-free London Cable Car with its two terminals 'properly' named as Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks.

Another unexpected first appearance is the Barking Riverside Overground extension. This isn't opening until the autumn and will be triggering its own new tube map, but TfL have added it here as a dotted orange line to help raise awareness of its arrival. And whilst you might think that's fair enough, its appearance has created ripples that've distorted the entire northeast corner of the map. The problem is that Barking never used to be anywhere near the river whereas Barking Riverside obviously has to be, not least because it connects to a brand new river pier which also needs to be shown. This has resulted in the Thames being yanked significantly northwards and this has left much less room for the DLR in the Royal Docks (hence its vertical shift) as well as forcing a new bend in the District line at Barking and a new bend in Crossrail at Seven Kings. One tweak, multiple fallouts.

The new tube map is full of "well I wouldn't have done it like that" moments, because as a subjective piece of design of course it is. Indeed it's almost certain that if you'd been tasked with drawing it from scratch you'd have made an even bigger mess of things. But most of the problems with how it looks whittle down to the sheer number of different things the map is now expected to contain, and if a few of those were filtered out it might only look as messy as it did ten years ago. You might even be able to spot the £19bn magnificence of Crossrail threading across the centre of the map, rather than having to look carefully to see where on earth it goes.

n.b. you will eventually be able to see a copy of the new tube map here but it's not appeared yet, despite all TfL's "woohoo we've just unveiled the new tube map" malarkey yesterday.

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