Eight thoughts on TfL’s “new” walking tube map

Wow, this will definitely be useful! Image: TfL.

Oh joy! Oh rapture! For here in the late summer doldrums, when significant news stories are about as easy to come by as offices with decent air conditioning, Transport for London (TfL) has released a new tube map.

Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s repackaged an old tube map by scrawling some numbers over it. Anyway: we’re never one to look a tube map in the mouth, so let’s do this.

The new tube map is meant to discourage you from getting on the tube

No, really. From the press release:

Transport for London (TfL) has launched a new version of the iconic Tube map, which shows how many steps it takes to walk between stations in zones 1 and 2.

The new map is the first official version in the world to show the number of steps between stations.

[London mayor] Sadiq Khan says the map will be a fun and practical way to help busy Londoners who want to make walking a part of their everyday lives.

In other words, if this tube map does its job right, you won’t set foot on a tube train at all. You’ll glance at the map, realise it’s only five minutes to your destination at ground level, and, pausing only to throw a smug glance at the poor saps going into the tube, start walking.

The new tube map only shows central London

To be specific, zones 1 and 2. There’s a reason for this: things are much closer together in central London, making walking a plausible option. Nobody in their right might is going to swap a Metropolitan line train from Rickmansworth to the City for a brisk seven hour stroll.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re just scrolling past this bumpf to get to the actual map bit, so here it is:

 

Click to expand, if you must. Image: TfL.

The new tube map is not actually new

If all this sounds a teensy bit familiar, that’s because it is. Last November TfL release its first official walking tube map. It’s, well, look:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The new one is exactly the same map only with all the figures multiplied by a factor of 100. That’s because:

Approximate steps are based on a moderate walking speed of 100 steps per minute

It’s exactly the same. It’s not “new” at all, it’s the same bloody map.


The new map isn’t necessarily that useful

For the vast majority of us, who don’t go around with Fitbits on our wrists, minutes are surely a far more intuitive measure of distance than steps. I don’t care that somewhere is 2,000 steps away; I just want to know how long it’ll take me to walk it.

More than that, this map is only useful if you’re trying to get between two places on directly connected by a single tube line. If you want to go from Oxford Circus to Holborn, then brilliant: you can see its 1,900 steps or about 19 minutes, and think to yourself, well, I might as well walk.

But what if you’re going from the middle of Mayfair to somewhere in Bloomsbury? You have no idea how long it’ll take you to get to and from the tube stations, and anyway, the quickest route is probably not the one that involves changing at Holborn. This map is effectively useless to you.

The charitable reading of this is that it’s about persuading the very small number of Londoners who do count their steps to get off the tube a stop early, or to do the last stretch above ground rather than changing lines.

The less charitable reading is that TfL have worked out there’s a flurry of press coverage (Hi, TfL!) every time they publish a new map, and they’ve decided that this is the best way to promote their campaign to get everyone walking.

The new map doesn’t tell you anything about how many steps you have to walk inside a tube station

Changing trains between the Bakerloo and Victoria lines at Oxford Circus is incredibly easy. The platforms are right next to each other. Get off at the right door, and it’s probably less than 50 paces.

Changing trains between the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines at Green Park, though, is not incredibly easy, because the platforms are nowhere bloody near each other. Scientists say the average Londoner spends approximately 5 per cent of their life changing at Green Park.

On this, the map is weirdly silent.

To be fair...

The new map shows that some journeys are really better done on foot

Look at this:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

Remembering our conversation rate of 100 steps per minute, you can see that it’s less than 10 minutes between Bank and St Paul’s. Really not worth bothering with the tube, is it?

Cannon Street to Mansion House, meanwhile is just four minutes, while Cannon Street to Monument is around five. Cannon Street very obviously only got a tube stop because there’s a mainline terminus there. If it weren’t for that, no one would have bothered to build the thing in the first place.

Covent Garden to Leicester Square has no such excuse: 400 paces. No wonder they can get away with making Covent Garden exit only for extended periods of time without anything breaking.

Many of the shortest journeys of all are on the DLR. Which makes sense what with it being a tram with ideas above its station and all:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

From Poplar to West India Quay it’s just 400 steps. Between Canary Wharf and Heron Quays, meanwhile, it’s just 200. That’s nothing.

(A side note: Canary Wharf’s DLR and tube stations are actually quite a long way from each other – the latter is much closer to Heron Quays DLR – but the map doesn’t bother to inform you of this, instead insisting on the fiction that there’s a nice easy change between Canary Wharf DLR and Jubilee line stations. Great work, guys. Fantastic map.)

The new map shows that some journeys are hilariously impossible on foot

Look again at that extract from the map above. It shows that, from Canary Wharf to North Greenwich, it’s 7,600 steps – or about an hour and a quarter to walk. From Canary Wharf to Canada Water, it’s 14,400 – heading for an hour and a half.

Why? Because the only to cross the river on foot around there is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which means going a very long way out of your way.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a less extreme version of this phenomenon out west, where getting from Imperial Wharf to Clapham Junction, the next stop down the line, will take you about 36 minutes. Might be time to build some more bridges.

The new tube map shows that the tube map is still hideous

I know I have form for banging on about this, but seriously, all the old flaws are there in all their hideous glory. The awkward new shade of grey for the zone 2/3 bit in east London; the massively over cramped bit around Hackney. All of those were bad enough before someone started trying to add little numbers to them.

Come on TfL. Instead of mucking around with new variants on the existing map, how about you get too it and design a new one? Enquiring minds want to know.

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

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Owning public space is expensive. So why do developers want to do it?

Granary Yard, London. Image: Getty.

A great deal has been written about privately owned public space, or POPS. A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed the proliferation of “pseudo-public spaces”. Tales of people being watched, removed from or told off in POPS have spread online. Activists have taken to monitoring POPS, and politicians on both sides of the pond are calling for reforms in how they are run.

Local authorities’ motives for selling off public spaces are normally simple: getting companies to buy and maintain public space saves precious public pounds. Less straightforward and often overlooked in this debate is why – given the maintenance costs, public safety concerns and increasingly unflattering media attention – developers would actually want to own public space in the first place.

To answer that question it’s important to note that POPS can’t be viewed as isolated places, like parks or other public spaces might be. For the companies that own them, public spaces are bound up in the business that takes place inside their private buildings; POPS are tools that allow them, in one way or another, to boost profits.

Trade-offs

In some cities, such as Hong Kong and New York, ownership of public space is a trade-off for the right to bend the rules in planning and zoning. In 1961 New York introduced a policy that came to be known as ‘incentive zoning’. Developers who took on the provision of some public space could build wider, taller buildings, ignoring restrictions that had previously required staggered vertical growth to let sunlight and air into streets.

Since then, the city has allowed developers to build 20m square feet of private space in exchange for 80 acres of POPS, or 525 individual spaces, according to watchdog Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS).

Several of those spaces lie in Trump Tower. Before the King of the Deal began construction on his new headquarters in 1979, he secured a pretty good deal with the city: Trump Tower would provide two atriums, two gardens, some restrooms and some benches for public use; in exchange 20 floors could be added to the top of the skyscraper. That’s quite a lot of condos.

Shockingly, the current president has not always kept up his end of the bargain and has been fined multiple times for dissuading members of the public from using POPS by doing things like placing flower pots on top of benches – violating a 1975 rule which said that companies had to provide amenities that actually make public spaces useable. The incident might suggest the failure of the ‘honour system’ under which POPS operate day-to-day. Once developers have secured their extra square footage, they might be tempted to undermine, subtly, the ‘public’ nature of their public spaces.

But what about where there aren’t necessarily planning benefits to providing public space? Why would companies go to the trouble of managing spaces that the council would otherwise take care of?


Attracting the ‘right sort’

Granary Square, part of the £5bn redevelopment of London’s Kings Cross, has been open since 2012. It is one of Europe’s largest privately-owned public spaces and has become a focal point for concerns over corporate control of public space. Yet developers of the neighbouring Coal Drop Yards site, due to open in October 2018, are also making their “dynamic new public space” a key point in marketing.

Cushman Wakefield, the real estate company in charge of Coal Drops Yard, says that the vision of the developers, Argent, has been to “retain the historical architecture to create a dramatic environment that will attract visitors to the 100,000 square feet of boutiques”. The key word here is “attract”. By designing and managing POPS, developers can attract the consumers who are essential to the success of their sites and who might be put off by a grubby council-managed square – or by a sterile shopping mall door.

A 2011 London Assembly Report found that the expansion of Canary Wharf in the 1990s was a turning point for developers who now “assume that they themselves will take ownership of an open space, with absolute control, in order to protect the value of the development as a whole”. In many ways this is a win-win situation; who doesn’t appreciate a nice water feature or shrub or whatever else big developer money can buy?

The caveat is, as academic Tridib Banerjee pointed out back in 2001: “The public is welcome as long as they are patrons of shops and restaurants, office workers, or clients of businesses located on the premises. But access to and use of the space is only a privilege and not a right” – hence the stories of security guards removing protesters or homeless people who threaten the aspirational appeal of places like Granary Square.

In the US, developers have taken this kind of space-curation even further, using public spaces as part of their formula for attracting the right kind of worker, as well as consumer, for nearby businesses. In Cincinnati, developer 3CDC transformed the notoriously crime-ridden Over-The-Rhine (OTR) neighbourhood into a young professional paradise. Pouring $47m into an initial make-over in 2010, 3CDC beautified parks and public space as well as private buildings.

To do so, the firm received $50 million  in funding from corporations like Procter and Gamble, whose Cincinnati headquarters sits to the South-West of OTR. This kind of hyper-gentrification has profoundly change the demographics of the neighbourhood – to the anger of many long-term residents – attracting, essentially, the kind of people who work at Procter and Gamble.

Elsewhere, in cities like Alpharetta, Georgia, 3CDC have taken their public space management even further, running events and entertainment designed to attract productive young people to otherwise dull neighbourhoods.

Data pools

The proposed partnership between the city of Toronto and Sidewalk Labs (owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet) has highlighted another motive for companies to own public space: the most modern of all resources, data.

Data collection is at the heart of the ‘smart city’ utopia: the idea that by turning public spaces and the people into them into a vast data pool, tech companies can find ways to improve transport, the environment and urban quality of life. If approved next year, Sidewalk would take over the mostly derelict east waterfront area, developing public and private space filled with sensors.

 Of course, this isn’t altruism. The Globe and Mail describe Sidewalk’s desired role as “the private garbage collectors of data”. It’s an apt phrase that reflects the merging of public service and private opportunity in Toronto’s future public space.

The data that Sidewalk could collect in Toronto would be used by Google in its commercial projects. Indeed, they’ve already done so in New York’s LinkNYC and London’s LinkUK. Kiosks installed around the cities provide the public with wifi and charging points, whilst monitoring traffic and pedestrians and generating data to feed into Google Maps.

The subway station at Hudson Yards, New York City. Image: Getty.

This is all pretty anodyne stuff. Data on how we move around public spaces is probably a small price to pay for more efficient transport information, and of course Sidewalk don’t own the areas around their Link Kiosks. But elsewhere companies’ plans to collect data in their POPS have sparked controversy. In New York’s Hudson Yards development – which Sidewalk also has a stake in – ambiguity over how visitors and residents can opt out of sharing their data when in its public square, have raised concerns over privacy.

In Toronto, Sidewalk have already offered to share their data with the city. However, Martin Kenney, researcher at the University of California at Davis and co-author of 2016’s ‘The Rise of the Platform Economy’, has warned that the potential value of a tech company collecting a community’s data should not be underestimated. “What’s really important is the deals Toronto cuts with Sidewalk may set terms and conditions for the rest of the world," he said after the announcement in October.

The project could crystallise all three motives behind the ownership of POPS. Alongside data collection, Sidewalk will likely have some leeway over planning regulations and will certainly tailor its public spaces to its ideal workers and consumers – Google have already announced that it would move its Canadian headquarters, from their current location in Downton Toronto, into the first pilot phase of the development.

Even if the Sidewalks Lab project never happens, the motives behind companies’ ownership of POPS tell us that cities’ public realms are of increasing interest to private hands.

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