diamond geezer

 Friday, April 12, 2024

We're not due another tube map until August when the Overground lines get their own names. There's no point replacing paper maps and posters on platforms until then. But the online map on the TfL website is another matter and is often updated between print runs to reflect the latest changes. Indeed a new tube map pdf slipped out unheralded at the end of March and something marvellous has happened. Two daggers have been culled.

This is how the tangle of orange spaghetti in the Hackney area looked before.

It's been like this since the lines out of Liverpool Street joined the Overground in 2015, splitting into two branches north of Hackney Downs. The red daggers first appeared a year later to point out the important fact that half the trains don't stop at Cambridge Heath or London Fields. If you want to board/alight at these stations you need a train via Seven Sisters, not a train on the Chingford branch. And rather than explaining this, TfL stuck two unlabelled daggers on the map and invited users to work this out for themselves.

A better solution would have been to display the two lines separately, splitting north of Bethnal Green rather than north of London Fields. It would then have been patently obvious, even to someone with no grasp of English, that Cambridge Heath and London Fields were served by only some of the trains. I mentioned this way back in 2016, citing the sudden tangle of orange as the reason it probably hadn't been done ("We could show this on the map by splitting the lines, but it's so squished now there isn't room.") Now finally, just before the lines get new colours, the designers have decided to make the split. It means an extra blob and longer lines but hurrah, the intention is so much clearer.

Red daggers were introduced to the tube map in June 2016 to depict issues TfL thought were important but didn't have space to tell you. Blue daggers still got a full explanation in the key ('Holland Park - Station closed until early August 2016') but red daggers weren't similarly listed. Instead the legend said 'services for these stations are subject to variation' and invited you to search "TfL stations" for further information. This was plainly a ridiculous idea, directing customers off on a digital goose chase with no guarantee of success, so has obviously continued in every iteration of the tube map since.

More recently the instructions for red daggers changed from search "TfL stations" to visit tfl.com/plan-a-journey. This is increasingly TfL's answer to everything - when in doubt, plan a journey and follow the solution we serve up. But it doesn't explain what the underlying issue is, nor encourage independent travel, merely expects people to use a digital crutch every time. And given that one of the red daggers is at Liverpool Street, the busiest railway station in the country, this ambiguous approach isn't exactly helpful.

Here's a list of the red daggers on the latest paper tube map and what I think they stand for.

Turnham Green: Piccadilly line trains sometimes stop
Paddington: Elizabeth line trains sometimes serve the mainline platforms
Liverpool Street: Elizabeth line trains sometimes serve the mainline platforms
Cambridge Heath: Trains to/from Chingford don't stop
London Fields: Trains to/from Chingford don't stop
West India Quay: Trains from Bank don't stop
Emerson Park: (not sure, maybe no trains after 10pm)

But the red daggers at Cambridge Heath and London Fields have now been removed, hurrah, reducing the total to just five. And I'd like to argue that the target should be zero - all daggers should be blue and fully explained or not on the map at all.

One problem with Target Zero is the limited amount of space alongside the tube map to explain what the daggers mean. This used to be easier when the key was on the map itself, but the sequential introduction of trams and Thameslink has scuppered that and now takes up most of the available space. It's going to get even more cramped in August when the key needs to include six Overground lines instead of one, so really the only way to deal with the red daggers is to explain them more concisely or not to include them at all.

Turnham Green's red dagger wouldn't be needed if the Piccadilly/District interchange blobs were removed, because these only apply before 7am and after 10.30pm, not when the vast majority of most people travel. Paddington and Liverpool Street's daggers should either be tied to the Elizabeth line and clarified or removed altogether. West India Quay's dagger issue could be solved by drawing the Poplar junction differently, but this would be such a mess (see on-train maps) that it should never be inflicted on the tube map. And Emerson Park is TfL's least used station so its relatively minor timetabling issue could, indeed should, be easily ignored.

There is precedent for deleting red daggers. Camden Town used to have one because it was exit only on Sunday afternoons, then this was no longer deemed important enough to mention and the dagger disappeared. We should get rid of the rest, or take the time to explain them properly, because expecting punters to search online is a pointless distraction and an utter waste of effort. Solving the Cambridge Heath/London Fields problem graphically shows how well this can be done.

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