London's Crossrail needs to rename almost all its stations

Canary Wharf: one of the many Crossrail stations that will have the wrong name. Image: Crossrail.

Crossrail. It’ll be great, right? A massive new railway, ferrying people from one side of London to the other in mere nanoseconds? It's gonna be brilliant, yeah?

Well, yeah, it'll be alright, probably. I mean it'll be pretty useful if you're trying to get from, say, Heathrow Airport to Docklands. Or Reading to the City. Or (this one for the connoisseurs) Romford to Slough.

But what about the station names, eh? What about the awful, awful, station names?

Okay, this might take some explaining. And I'm not going to lie to you: this piece goes on for far longer than you're expecting it to. So to whet your appetite, here’s a map of what the new Crossrail stations obviously should be called.

Image: Crossrail/CityMetric.

Appetite whetted? Ready to go?

Good. Buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Acton Main Line

Let's start in the west.

Originally named simply Acton, this west London station has been called Acton Main Line since 1949. Unofficially, one suspects, it's been known as that for even longer: the phrase “main line” has the air of the authorities finally bowing to the inevitable.

The reason the station ended up with this ugly label is presumably that all the other possibilities were taken. Acton is unique in London in that other station names have already hoovered up all four points of the compass. There's an Acton Central, too, and an Acton Town. Once upon a time there was even an Acton Green, though that's called Chiswick Park these days.

Anyway. Acton Main Line will be silly, once the station is served only by Crossrail, and Acton Crossrail is just as ugly as the current name. Acton Horn Lane is probably the obvious alternative, but the station is also at one end of Friary Road, and Acton Friary is much prettier. So Acton Friary it is.

Paddington

The next stop you come to is Paddington, which is basically fine. I mean, it serves Paddington station, doesn't it? What else would you call it?

Of course, there is an argument that Paddington station is already a bit messed up. The Circle line serves it twice, at two different platforms – you can literally get a tube from one bit of Paddington to another bit of Paddington, should you have an hour to spare – but that's hardly Crossrail's fault, is it? So, yes, it's basically fine.

But then things start getting tricky.


Bond Street

There are a number of problems here. One is that naming stations after streets annoys me, for reasons I'll come to below.

Another is that there is no London Street called Bond Street. Honestly, there's a New Bond Street, off Oxford Street, which turns into Old Bond Street if you keep heading south; and there are two stations vaguely near them, only one of which is called Bond Street. And being the sort of OCD weirdo who writes stuff like this, that annoys me.

But the big problem with having a Crossrail station called Bond Street is that the new station will be much bigger than the old. Its eastern ticket hall will be in Hanover Square, which is basically next to Oxford Circus tube. Although it won't connect with that station, it'll still mean there'll be an entrance to Bond Street station next to Oxford Circus and that's really, really irritating.

The stations on Paris' RER network, which is one of the models for Crossrail, often connect more than one metro station. Some of them (like Châtelet–Les Halles) combine the names; others (Auber, for example) take an entirely different one.

The latter seems the obvious course, and Hanover is a nice name, so let's call it that.

Tottenham Court Road

Remember how I said naming stations after streets annoys me? Well, this is why.

A station is a point; a street is a line. By naming the former after the latter you end up with lunacy like Tottenham Court Road, a street 1km long with three stations on it, and where the eponymous tube station is right at one end of the road. There will almost certainly be people who've got off the tube at Tottenham Court Road station, convinced that they're nearly at their destination, only to find they're the better part of a mile away and they really should have stayed on until Warren Street.

Honestly. It's a miracle civilisation hasn't completely broken down, isn’t it?

Anyway. Crossrail seems as good an excuse as any to finally address this madness and rename Tottenham Court Road to something less misleading. St Giles, the archaic name for this area, is the obvious name to go with. Much prettier.

Farringdon

Bond Street Crossrail will come painfully close to connecting two tube stations, and then wuss out to prevent over-crowding. Farringdon Crossrail will actually do it, linking Farringdon in the west with Barbican in the east.

Being able to change trains at Barbican onto a station called Farringdon seems silly, and will look bloody horrible on the map:

Image: Crossrail/TfL.

So, on the Paris principle, why not call the new station something else? Let's go with Smithfield, after the neighbouring meat market which sort of sits between the two tube stations.

Liverpool Street

Same problem as Farringdon, only this one feels slightly worse because the two stations it connects, Liverpool Street and Moorgate, have completely different connecting lines.

The new platforms will sit under the site of the old Broad Street station, which is now the Broadgate office development. So might as well call it that, really. Broadgate it is.

Whitechapel

Whitechapel is fine. We have no complaints about Whitechapel.

Although since we're here it seems a good moment to note the mildly ridiculous fact that, at Whitechapel, the London Underground runs overground, and you have to walk down some stairs to reach the London Overground. Which runs underground.

It's like they're doing it deliberately.

Canary Wharf

Last stop, but this one's a doozy.

Canary Wharf is already a mess. There's a DLR station called Canary Wharf; but that's separate from the tube station which is also called Canary Wharf, and which is actually closer to Heron Quays on the DLR.

Image: Google.

The new Crossrail station is going to be where we've put that red circle. Which is miles away from both existing stations but quite close to West India Quay and Poplar.

The opening of Crossrail seems like the perfect moment to untangle this mess. And while the people who own the Canary Wharf Estate are probably not going to accept not getting their name on the rather expensive new station they've just had built in one of their docks, TfL could at least force them to accept a subheading: the Crossrail station would become Canary Wharf North Quay, the Jubilee one would become Canary Wharf Jubilee Park, and the DLR one in the middle becomes plain old Canada Square.

Otherwise you'll get people trying to change from Crossrail to the Jubilee line only to find there's a whole complex of skyscrapers in the way, and just wandering aimlessly around the underground shopping malls in a daze until they're thrown out by security guards because the whole area is actually a private estate. And then where will be we? Where will it end, eh? Eh? I ask you.

Anyway I'm going for a lie down.


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“This is a civic pride for the digital age”: why we should why we should willingly let City Hall have our data

He was the future once: David Cameron discusses smart cities with Angela Merkel and a German technology executive. Image: Getty.

Victorian England. From the shadows of wealth grew poverty. Slums slumped against symbols of civic pride, cowering next to towering town halls funded through rich merchant princes, whose elitist rule was insufficient to deal with too many people in too few houses with too little infrastructure.

Enter municipality. With darkness came electric light; with disease came tunnels to disperse their cause; with time came reform, regulation and the rise of town planning.

It’s over a century since those places which first industrialised became those first urbanised; yet even the wealthiest cities in the world continue to struggle with the complexities of urbanisation. In London, ten thousand die each year from pollution; in New York, six times this amount reside in homeless shelters.On the rush-hour roads of Sydney, cars stand still, and in the ‘burbs or banlieues of Paris slums still stand.

An umbrella bought during a downpour costs more than one bough under blue sky – and the truth is that, for too, long city halls have failed to forecast and so incurred greater costs. It’s a reactive culture summed up by words first head in Jimmy Carter’s budget office: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Disease before sewer, gridlock before investment, collapse before rebuild – visible fix over unseen prevention

But with the world’s urban population growing by 65m every year, this has to change: there is not enough resource to manage cities reactively. Enter technology and the move to smart cities.

From Barcelona to New YorkOxford to Amsterdam, Singapore to Seoul: billions of low-cost devices are being installed into everyday objects to send and receive data: street lights recording pollution, and bridges reporting performance; traffic lights that count, and whose analysis will be counted upon, to ease traffic congestion; health wristbands understanding our heart’s needs, shop ceilings noting our heart’s desires. A web of information woven into the very fabric of cities which, when added to data from sources like mobile phones, is providing a living-breathing picture of how we and our cities operate.

This data is no longer retrospective or historic but live and dynamic. It is of such quantity, and can be analysed at such granular detail, that it can provide certainty where once there was only supposition. It is build-up before the gridlock, illness before epidemic; the crack of an ageing bridge, the first signs of smog. It is diagnostic to preventative. Umbrella under blue sky.

Those promoting the “internet of things”, estimated to be worth $11.1trn a year by 2025, will declare it a panacea – but it is not, at least not entirely. Sure, challenges regarding data quality, privacy, standardisation, and security will be overcome; 4G will become 5G will become 6G. Devices will communicate intelligently with each other – autonomous vehicle to autonomous vehicle, autonomous vehicle to bridge, drone to home. Data will become as fundamental to cities as infrastructure, and will be referred to as such.

Yet city halls in democracies, whilst infinitely better informed, will continue to make their decisions which are restricted by commercialism, framed by political ideology, and driven by short-term electoral or media pressures.


People first

From the mid-sixties to the start of this century a UK television programme called Tomorrow’s World showcased future living. For every correct prediction (mobile phones) came countless incorrect ones: the floating-bicycle, say, or paper underwear. My point is that only a small part of understanding the future of cities is about understanding technology. The majority is about understanding people and society, the people from whom the very word “city” is derived: civitas, the collective of citizens.

Gutenberg did not change the world by inventing the printing press in the 13th century – but he did enable the world to change. The technology was the printing press, the outputs were books filled with knowledge, the outcomes were the actions of the many who used that knowledge. Technology is a tool, a process towards an outcome. 

In much the same way, the Internet of Things will not change the world – but it will enable the world to change. Sensors are the technology, data the outputs, the analysis of this data and subsequent decisions, the outcome.

It is crucial to avoid the Tomorrow’s World approach. That is, racing to implement technology first without consideration of identified social, economic or environmental needs; introducing more complexity when most citizens seek simplicity. As the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs once said:“First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.”

Start with people. Form the image. Think of technology through the Greek origins of the word, techne and logos – a discourse about the way things are gained – and capitalise on collective intelligence to move towards that image.

Since cities first started to appear some millennia ago, they’ve provided incontrovertible evidence that the wisdom of crowds is far greater than the individual; that collective intelligence gained from that trinity of city institutions – citizen, government, industry – surpasses what can be achieved by any one in isolation. Where would Apple, Uber, or Google be without the government-backed inventions like the world-wide-web, touchscreen technology, WiFi or global positioning systems?

A new civic pride

Of course, an app on a smart phone that can ask a thousand questions is meaningless if nobody feels motivated to answer. Increasing urbanisation brings increasing interdependency: lives intrinsically linked, services shared. The challenge for city halls is to turn the increase in what people have in common, into an increase in common purpose, through understanding the three benefits that motivate and lead to action.

Extrinsic benefits, of status and reward, caused merchant princes to fund city halls in Victorian England: such benefits today see the ambitious putting in extra hours. Intrinsic benefits, like competitiveness or fun, that once caused business tycoons to compete to build the tallest skyscrapers, now explain why “hackathons” and “city challenges” are such a success. Then there are the pro-social benefits of altruism or benevolence, that cause millions to volunteer their time to give back and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

These motivations are of greater significance, because there are no longer people with clipboards standing on street corners asking permission to collate our views on services: it is happening automatically through the Internet of Things. Our choices online, movements offline; the travel we take, the pollution we make; our actions and interactions. We are data.

City halls can take a click-box-small-print approach to this, like so many apps. But there is opportunity to do the opposite. They can promote the fact that citizens can knowingly provide their data towards making lives better; visualise and enable citizens to see and understand their input, alongside data provided by others.

They can incentivise interaction with data, so that entrepreneurs can work back from outcomes, solve challenges, and re-localise where appropriate (we should not need a multinational to get a taxi). They can be proudly open, enabling citizens, industry and government to receive pro-social benefit by contributing to something bigger than themselves: their life and the lives of others.

This is a civic pride for the digital age. Not just localism or patriotism based on geography but the strength of connection between people and their ability to direct and determine change through data. Not just pride in the buildings and infrastructure that form our physical world, but in the quality of data that will shape our future world and move us from a diagnostic to preventative society – umbrellas under blue sky.

We should take pride in technology, yes; but that should come second to the pride in those who, enabled by that technology, drive progress. Who, through the wisdom of crowds, form an image of the future and strengthen democracy by motivating society to move towards it. Who embrace openness and help overcome the challenges of urbanisation.

Kevin Keith is a writer, researcher, urbanist, and director of the southern hemisphere’s largest open data competition, GovHack. He tweets as@KevKeith.

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