For the love of god, TfL, it’s time to redesign the tube map

My eyes! My beautiful eyes! Image: TfL.

It's just terrible, isn't it? Everything is just bloody terrible.

It's not enough that it's not Christmas any more, and we're all back at work, and it's cold and it's dark and we're all on a diet.

No, Transport for London had to release another update of the tube map, and somehow make it even worse than the last one.

I mean honestly:

Click to enlarge. You can see the full version on TfL's website here.

Okay, we're being a bit unfair there. The new map, as one might expect, is extremely similar to the old map. It contains a couple of minor updates (the Central Line is now stopping at Tottenham Court Road once again; it’s stopped stopping at Holland Park, while they sort out the lift). But something like 90 per cent of it is unchanged.

There are, however, two bigger changes. One is a bit better. Another is a lot worse.

Here's the good one. On the left is how the old map showed the southern reaches of the London Overground; on the right is how the new map shows the same area.

Click to enlarge.

That’s better, isn't it? When a line splits into three, it’s obviously going to look prettier if you make it symmetrical, rather than shoving the whole thing off to one side. So, yay.

Okay, that's the good news. Here's the bad. A whole swathe of stations in and around the Lower Lea Valley – from North Greenwich, right up to the hilariously misnamed Stratford International – have been moved to "zone 2/3". Here's the result.

Click to enlarge.

Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow.

The idea of putting stations on the zonal boundary isn't new. And it's generally a good money saver, for anyone who uses the relevant station. It means that people from Stratford, for example, can now travel into town on a cheaper zone 1 & 2 Travelcard, without raising fares for those who want to travel to elsewhere in zone 3.

Generally, though, it's individual stations that sit on the boundary, which means the cartographer can just do this:

Here, though, it's a huge chunk of east London. And the result, on the map, is horrible. So horrible that TfL's draftsman have had to invent an entirely new shade of grey just to show what's going on:


Click to enlarge.

There is some controversy at the moment as to whether the zonal system is fair way of structuring TfL's fares system (the Green party say that it doesn't; almost everyone else disagrees). But what is not controversial at all is that this system is utterly wrecking the tube map, turning a design classic into an unwieldly mess, with more shades of grey than a badly written piece of mummy porn.

If this were the only problem with the map it might be forgivable, but it isn't. It still retains all the flaws of the last version. A profusion of different lines are shown in Overground orange; routes that run every two minutes are made no more prominent than those that run twice an hour; that sodding cable car is still there; and the area around Hackney looks like this:

Click to enlarge.

It would not be impossible to design a new map that addresses some or all of these problems – and the reason that we know this is because people have done it. Remember this, from designer Rick Cousins?

Click to enlarge.

Or this from some guy in Hong Kong?

Click to enlarge.

Or this from Paris-based designer Jug Cerović?

Don't click to enlarge this one, it won't do anything.

None of these efforts are perfect; but they do show that it’s still possible to come up with a version of the tube map that contains vast quantities of information without collapsing into an incoherent mess. And none of them need four different shades of grey to do it.

So please, TfL, we beg of you. You can fix this. We know you can fix this. January is hard enough. Give us a little light in the darkness. Please, redesign the tube map from scratch.

Yes, we’re obsessed, shut up you clicked it didn’t you?

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Uncredited maps courtesy of Transport for London.


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.