diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 08, 2022

A new Crossrail connection means a new tube map. It's already available at some stations, posted up on some platforms and updated in some trains. You can also download it as a pdf here, any time between now and next May when they release the next one.

People don't like it. They don't like the mess it's become and the way the information's displayed and the inadequacies of the design and the art on the cover and how it'd have Harry Beck spinning in his grave and how they could do better. They told me on Saturday when I tweeted a snapshot and it all kicked off. But many of the complaints weren't specifically related to the new map, just opinions engrained over time.

So is the new tube map genuinely worse than the last one? Let's apply some scientific analysis by measuring three variables - clump, squish and kink.

 clump: a measure of blobbiness 

Look at some of the big blobby clusters in zone 1.

clump(King's Cross)=3
clump(Liverpool Street)=5 

King's Cross's clump isn't actually too bad. To combine seven lines into just three blobs is very good going. But Euston is an unruly mess, technically four blobs for three lines (plus an extra finger pointing out to Euston Square). But it's the abomination at Liverpool Street that has the highest clump, a total of five, because this cluster now embraces two stations. Crossrail's platforms link Moorgate and Liverpool Street so we now have two blobs for the former and three for the latter, in a ridiculous spidery mess that's additionally ambiguous as to which station is which.

It doesn't help that there are three different kinds of blob - blue, white and non-step-free. TfL's insistence on distinguishing between three types of accessibility often makes clumpiness greater than it needs to be. Moorgate could easily be one blob otherwise and Liverpool Street two, but instead of three blobs we've ended up with five. Holborn and Warren Street, both with clump=1, are examples of how much simpler things can be when nothing's step-free. Even Bank/Monument (through a bit of judicious juggling) has managed to keep the clump for six lines down to 3.

Clump is also a function of time. Look what they've done to Paddington over the years.

At the turn of the century Paddington had 2 blobs. Ten years ago it had 3 blobs. Last week it had 5 blobs. Today it has 4 blobs.


Trying to depict a complex split-site station like Paddington is never easy. It got harder in 2009 when the Circle line was unlooped and it got harder still in 2018 when TfL Rail arrived on the upper platforms. Peak clump came in May this year with the opening of Crossrail, and clump has in fact decreased this week from 5 to 4 with the dawn of through-running. Again it doesn't help that all three kinds of blob are present, restricting possible combinations. But see how Paddington's long sprawl means the station's only named at one end, indeed anyone tracing along the Bakerloo line could very easily miss it.

And therein lies another problem.

 squish: a measure of ambiguity 

Looking along the Circle line at the bottom of this snippet, can you instantly say which station Westminster is?

If you know your tube stations you can, but the name 'Westminster' is also positioned immediately above St James's Park so it takes a bit of deduction to decide. Two clues - the bobble at St James's Park is pointing down, not up, and the station on the right only has one name next to it so must be Westminster. It's similar with Embankment and Temple, a moment of decoding is required.

[St James's Park ≈ Westminster]
[Embankment ≈ Temple]

But that was the poster version of the map where the designers have more space. The problem of squish is significantly worse on the smaller pocket version.

On the printed map the font size has to be larger compared to the thickness of the lines, so names often nudge even closer to a neighbouring station. Here Embankment and Temple are just as vague as before, but Victoria has now joined the St James's Park/Westminster squish combo.

[Victoria ≈ St James's Park ≈ Westminster]
[Embankment ≈ Temple]

The lack of space has also created a triple problem at Piccadilly Circus where Green Park and Leicester Square both squish in. Far worse is the Goodge Street/Tottenham Court Road dilemma. Both names are written equally close to the Crossrail blob, and only the tiny black notch on the left confirms that Goodge Street must be the station above.

[Green Park ≈ Leicester Square ≈ Piccadilly Circus]
[Goodge Street ≈ Tottenham Court Road]

Long station names can be particularly hard to locate unambiguously within a web of lines, especially when one of the words has a lot of letters. But even short names can suffer from squish if the designers have overreached themselves.

It's quite something when something as short as 'Bow Road' causes problems, but on the new pocket map it's very easily confused with an unnecessarily clumpy Mile End. The new Crossrail tunnel caused this graphical atrocity, plus slavish adherence to a rigid set of design rules.

[Stepney Green ≈ Mile End ≈ Bow Road ≈ Bow Church]

Trying to name a station on a map should never rely on solving a logic problem, but as more and more information is squeezed onto the tube map so the squish gets inexorably worse.

And there's more.

 kink: a measure of unstraightness 

On early Beck tube maps one aim was to keep lines as straight as practically possible. Edgware to Morden - straight line. Hounslow to Leicester Square - straight line. Watford Junction to Paddington - straight line. But as more and more has been shoehorned onto the tube map so keeping lines straight has become more problematic and the latest incarnation is the kinkiest yet. Look at the wiggly contortions of the Elizabeth line as it threads across London.

The purple line on the real map isn't as obvious as that, I've thickened it up to make the bendiness more obvious. But on the way from Reading and Heathrow to Abbey Wood and Shenfield the line bends an incredible 22 times!


It's particularly bad on the stretch through central London where the designers have threaded it through the existing network like drunken embroidery. But the eastern branches also get to meander wildly because the DLR, the Thames and the cablecar keep getting in the way. You wouldn't think this was TfL's flagship railway, not with a kink of 22.

Kink also evolves over time, as here on the central section of the Central line.

The top strip shows the tube map 35 years ago with no bends anywhere from Ealing Broadway to Mile End. The second strip is the map from five years ago with an indentation at Bank. The third strip is from earlier this year with Crossrail forcing another bend at Marble Arch. And the final strip is from the current map with an additional mini-bump at Mile End. That's a lot of gratuitous changes of direction.


It's important to be objective, so I've calculated the kink for all the lines on the current tube map and for all the lines on the map 20 years ago.

2002  2022
kink(East London)=1

The Bakerloo, Metropolitan and Victoria lines still have the same kink as 20 years ago, so that's a win. The Circle line's only kinkier because it's got longer. The Central, District, Jubilee and Waterloo & City lines have only got marginally kinkier. The Hammersmith & City line's kink has actually halved because the designers have made it the baseline of the current map. The two whose kink has significantly increased are the Northern and Piccadilly lines, thanks especially to overmeandering round Hounslow and the chaotic intrusion of Battersea.

But the real change comes from non-tube additions to the tube map. They're really bendy because the designers had to work round what was already here, indeed the Overground and Thameslink contribute over 100 new kinks between them. This is why the tube map looks so messy, not just more stuff crammed on but more ugly distracting bends all over.


So clump has increased, squidge has multiplied and kink has more than doubled, and that's why the tube map's less functional than it used to be. It's not just a subjective opinion, we have the maths to prove it.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan24  Feb24  Mar24  Apr24  May24
Jan23  Feb23  Mar23  Apr23  May23  Jun23  Jul23  Aug23  Sep23  Oct23  Nov23  Dec23
Jan22  Feb22  Mar22  Apr22  May22  Jun22  Jul22  Aug22  Sep22  Oct22  Nov22  Dec22
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
broken tv
blue witch
on london
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
the greenwich wire
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
round the rails we go
london reconnections
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
London's waymarked walks
Inner London toilet map
20 years of blog series
The DG Tour of Britain
London's most...

read the archive
Apr24  Mar24  Feb24  Jan24
Dec23  Nov23  Oct23  Sep23
Aug23  Jul23  Jun23  May23
Apr23  Mar23  Feb23  Jan23
Dec22  Nov22  Oct22  Sep22
Aug22  Jul22  Jun22  May22
Apr22  Mar22  Feb22  Jan22
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2023 2022
2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards