Random metro map of the week: Variable life expectancy in Greater Manchester

Trams! Image: Getty.

Oh, hey, this is cool. Researchers at the University of Manchester have made their own map of the city's tram network.

It doesn't address any of our concerns about the readability of the network (boo). But it does do something else.

Click to expand. Slightly. Ful size version here.

The purple blobs are female life expectancy at selected stops; the light blue ones are (lower) male life expectancy. In between there's a tiny dark blue number, showing how deprived the area is: basically, high numbers are rich, low numbers are poor.

And would you believe it, there seems to be a correlation. In well to do areas, like Didsbury and Timperley, people tend to live longer. As lead researcher Kingsley Purdam noted in a blog about the research:

The journey from Timperley to Rochdale (one of the most economically deprived areas of Greater Manchester, where life expectancy is 69.4 years) can take around 75 minutes for a journey of 26 kilometres, but the difference in life expectancy between the areas is more than a decade – around a year for every 7 minutes.

He goes on to note:

The life expectancy gap between men and women is striking at the local level. For example, in Timperley life expectancy for men is estimated to be 78.3 years compared to 81.3 years for women – a difference of 3 years. However in Rochdale life expectancy for men is estimated to be 65.7 years compared to 74.3 years for women – a difference of 8.6 years.

It's a pretty striking illustration of how deprivation can vary within a single city. It reminds me of this piece of work, by James Cheshire and Oliver O'Brien – two researchers at UCL's Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis – which plots life expectancy by tube station. The shading shows reflects deprivation in individual areas:

(Full, interactive version available here.)

The similarities are not a coincidence. The two projects both have variants of the name "Lives on the line", and Purdam's blog links back to the London version, suggesting it was an inspiration.


What both projects show, I think, is metro maps can be a really useful device for helping to communicate aspects of a city that have nothing to do with transport. The geography it represents may be distorted, but it's also more recognisable through familiarity. That makes the difference in life expectancy between Rochdale and Timperley hit home.

Just one more way in which cities without decent transport are losing out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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London Overground is experimenting with telling passengers which bits of the next train is busiest

There must be a better way than this: Tokyo during a 1972 rail strike. Image: Getty.

One of the most fun things to do, for those who enjoy claustrophobia and other people’s body odour, is to attempt to use a mass transit system at rush hour.

Travelling on the Central line at 6pm, for example, gives you all sorts of exciting opportunities to share a single square inch of floor space with a fellow passenger, all the while becoming intimately familiar with any personal hygiene problems they may happen to have. On some, particularly lovely days you might find you don’t even get to do this for ages, but first have to spend some exciting time enjoying it as a spectator sport, before actually being able to pack yourself into one unoccupied cranny of a train.

But fear not! Transport for London has come up with a plan: telling passengers which bits of the train have the most space on them.

Here’s the science part. Many trains include automatic train weighing systems, which do exactly what the name suggests: monitoring the downward force on any individual wheel axis in real time. The data thus gathered is used mostly to optimise the braking.

But it also serves as a good proxy for how crowded a particular carriage is. All TfL are doing here is translating that into real time information visible to passengers. It’s using the standard, traffic light colour system: green means go, yellow means “hmm, maybe not”, red means “oh dear god, no, no, no”. 

All this will, hopefully, encourage some to move down the platform to where the train is less crowded, spreading the load and reducing the number of passengers who find themselves becoming overly familiar with a total stranger’s armpit.

The system is not unique, even in London: trains on the Thameslink route, a heavy-rail line which runs north/south across town (past CityMetric towers!) has a similar system visible to passengers on board. And so far it’s only a trial, at a single station, Shoreditch High Street.

But you can, if you’re so minded, watch the information update every few seconds or so here.

Can’t see why you would, but I can’t see why I would either, and that hasn’t stopped me spending much of the day watching it, so, knock yourselves out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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