diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 11, 2022

It's well known that TfL sometimes install signs which deliberately direct passengers the long way round. The labyrinthine tunnels of King's Cross St Pancras are particularly egregious in this respect. But what's not yet commonly known is the sheer meandering cruelty they've imposed at one of central London's new Crossrail stations. Allow me to shine a spotlight on...

The Evil Arrows of Tottenham Court Road

When stepping off a train at an unfamiliar station, one of the first things people do is look for an arrow pointing towards the way out. They trust, not unreasonably, that this arrow will be pointing in the correct direction. But at Tottenham Court Road several of the arrows on the wall are deliberately pointing in the wrong direction and send you off on a walk much longer than it needs to be. And this isn't just on one platform it's on both, as well as misleading passengers entering down the Dean Street escalators. The bastards.

» Arrive at the rear of a westbound train and a passageway off the platform opens up immediately in front of you. This dogleg is indeed the fastest way out, but only the Northern line is signposted this way. The Central line and the Tottenham Court Road exit are both arrowed off to the left, and if you believe this white lie then you're adding over a minute to your journey.

The evil arrows direct you along the platform towards another, wider, passageway but brazenly send you straight past that as well. If you squint down that passageway you'll see a Way Out sign on a more direct route, but if you only believe the arrows on the platform you'll be walking further.

Not until the third passageway do the evil arrows finally deign you direct you towards the central passageway. And then they direct you back past the end of passageway two and eventually to the end of passageway one at the foot of the main escalators. This roundabout hike takes well over two minutes, and that's without kids or luggage, whereas you could have reached those escalators in just one minute. The bastards.

Anyone alighting from the rear three carriages of the train is embroiled in this deception. And those who alight from the front two carriages are embroiled in another.

» If you step off the front of a westbound train what you should do is head for the passageway at the head of the platform. But it's not signed, other than for those wanting the lift, despite the fact it leads directly to the central passageway for easy exit.

Instead the evil arrows point back down the platform, in entirely the wrong direction, before eventually pointing inwards and admitting entry to the return route between the platforms. None of this dubious kerfuffle is actually necessary.

If you watch a freshly-arrived train disgorging passengers, a few who know what they're doing take the quick route, 20 seconds tops. The proportion is higher than it used to be in the first week because familiarity breeds contempt. But the majority of passengers meekly do what they're told, sweeping round an unnecessary loop and reaching the foot of the Dean Street escalators a full minute later than necessary. The bastards.

» Meanwhile on the eastbound platform, the evil arrows trick those in the front two carriages into leaving via a roundabout route. It's particularly evil for those alighting from the very front of the train who are directed straight past the first connecting passageway and sent instead down the second, a diversion that adds at least another minute.

Both side-passages are enormous so congestion isn't the issue, just a perceived need to manipulate passenger flow. Again if you look down these passageways you'll see Way Out signs at the end of them. But a dutiful tourist in London for the first time isn't going to risk that, they're relying on the platform-based arrows to help them thread through the labyrinth, except the arrows are lying. The bastards.

» At the rear of the eastbound platform the trickery isn't aimed at people leaving the platform, it's for those arriving from outside. When you reach the foot of the Dean Street escalators the closest entrance to the westbound platform is actually immediately behind you. But the signs don't point this out, instead they direct everyone straight ahead along the central passageway...

...and only there do the arrows split into westbound and eastbound versions. Had you been awake and looked backwards you could have slipped through to the back of the train in 30 seconds, but this deliberate subterfuge instead delivers you two carriages further up the train one minute later. The bastards.

So that's four sets of evil arrows altogether, one set at each end of each platform, like so...

In each case passengers are being directed past one connecting passageway so they can use another instead. In each case the unluckiest passengers are being sent at least a minute out of their way, and in the case of the rear of the westbound platform it's a minute and a half. I reckon that's at least an hour collectively wasted every time a busy train arrives at the station.

And there's more.

» The Northern line connection at Tottenham Court Road should be brilliantly quick because this is the only station in Central London where Crossrail and the tube lie really close. But if you emerge up the stairs fresh from the Northern line, no sign directs you straight ahead down the shortcut to the westbound platform.

Instead the only signs for the Elizabeth line point to the right towards the foot of the main escalator and then along the central passageway. And only then, after you've walked the traditional 'unnecessary minute', do the signs finally split into westbound and eastbound to direct you to the platforms. The bastards.

I think I've worked out what's going on with Tottenham Court Road's misleading signage, and it's that each of the nine passageways connecting to the platforms is notionally one way.

On the eastbound platform there are two designated ways in and two designated ways out, and on the westbound platform two ways in and three ways out. In real life you can walk any which way you like, but all the arrows on all the signs assume the connecting passageways are one way and direct you accordingly. That's why they'll often direct you straight past the quickest exit and, if you believe them, delay your progress.

It's hard to fool passengers arriving at the station because as soon as they see a passageway leading to a platform they make a beeline down it. It's much easier to fool passengers looking for a way out, which is why most of the one-way arrows prioritise arrivals over departures.

In a small congested station with narrow corridors a one-way system can make perfect sense. But Tottenham Court Road is a futureproofed station with massive passageways, so all this one-way thinking feels totally unnecessary. I could imagine these arrows being helpful if a busy train was emptying at the height of some future rush hour, when yes it might be a good idea to keep opposing flows apart. But right now, and for the vast majority of the time, the task they perform is overly-pessimistic misdirection.

The evil arrows exist to cope with worst-case passenger flow. At all other times, which is the vast majority of the time, they cruelly send unfamiliar passengers unnecessarily out of their way.

The Evil Arrows send the following journeys the wrong way...
• Westbound Crossrail → Way Out (TCR) [rear 3 carriages]
• Westbound Crossrail → Central line [rear 3 carriages]
• Westbound Crossrail → Way Out (Dean St) [front 2 carriages]
• Eastbound Crossrail → Way Out (TCR) [front 2 carriages]
• Eastbound Crossrail → Central line [front 2 carriages]
• Eastbound Crossrail → Northern line [front 2 carriages]
Entrance (Dean St) → Eastbound Crossrail [everyone]
Northern line → Westbound Crossrail [everyone]

The bastards.

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