What does the Tube map look like if you're in a wheelchair?

Nothing like this. Image: TfL.

London's public transport is great. It lets you go pretty much anywhere via a seamless combination of buses, trains and even the occasional ferry.

It's less great, though, if you aren't able to get on any of it in the first place. Much of London's Underground system is old, and deep under the ground; this, if you're a wheelchair user or are otherwise restricted in your movement, is not good news.

Buses are a lot better: most can crank down to the level of the pavement, and there are designated spots where you can park your chair on board. But in a city the size of London, buses aren't really enough.

TfL released its latest "step-free guide" to the London Underground in 2015, and it basically does what it says on the tin: it shows those stations without big flights of non-escalator staircases, which would pose a problem for anyone in a wheelchair or others with mobility issues.TfL greys out the unusable stations, but we've erased them in the map below to make things  a bit clearer:

Click on image to see a larger size. Image: TfL, modified by CityMetric.

If you squint, it all looks prety straighforward: loads of stations have disappeared, but you can still take a fair few on the District and Circle lines, plus a good chunk fo the Overground and the whole DLR. Most of central London is off the cards, unless you happen to be travelling from Ealing Broadway to Oxford Circus (lucky you!).

But all those coloured symbols on the map mean different things for your ability to access trains at that station. Just because a station doesn't have a flight of stairs, doesn't mean there aren't other things standing in your way. 

  • An "R" in a green box means you need to call ahead to get a ramp set up.
  • The green and red circles indicate the gap between train and platform (more on that later).
  • Little red notes and exclamation points indicate stations where certain interchanges do involve stairs, or where you have to access the station through a certain entrance to avoid them.

The map actually comes with all this supplementary material, explaining certain stations' quirks: mini flights of stairs, say, or stairlifts which will carry your manual wheelchair, but not a motorised one:

Essentially: planning Tube journey when you have reduced mobility is a bit like running a small military operation.You need to research every leg of the journey beforehand, and probably need to call ahead, especially as TfL advises that you check the lifts are running if you need them. (To its credit, TfL does provide taxis if lifts are out of order.)

If you're in a wheelchair and can't do escalators, the map gets even simpler – and your journey gets even more complicated.

This map shows all the stations which have lift service (they're marked by a blue ring around a green circle), or stations where the platform is level with the street (green ring around a green circle). It's taken from TfL's "Avoiding Stairs" guide, but we've removed the stations which only have escalator service:

More caveats:

  • Notes in red indicate where this only applies to one direction.
  • Stations still on the map but with an open circle mean you can interchange, but not exit or enter the station.
  • Little numbers inside the circle mean there are that there are a handful of steps along your route in the station.
  • An exclamation mark means you need to check the supplementary material for more information.

I thought about redrawing the map with just the stations which have straightforwad, full access for wheelchair users, but I'm not sure it'd look like much of a map.

One last one: those letters on stations indicate the gap you need to bridge between the platform and train. A green "A" means TfL reckons wheelchair users shouldn't have any trouble getting across it: the gap is less than 50mm high and less than 85mm wide.

This map shows only those station with this designation, or where station staff can set up a ramp:

If you were a wheelchair user who needed to use a lift, and wasn't confident of bridging larger gaps to board trains, you'd need to cross-reference the above two maps (whose information is provided separately by TfL) to figure out if your journey is plausible. Spoiler alert: for most journeys on the Underground, it probably isn't.

We're much better off than Paris – we wrote last June about the fact that the map for wheelchair users there is basically a single line but accesibility in newer networks around the world, like those in many Asian cities, leave ours in their dust. Our network may be old and difficult to upgrade, but what use is public transport if a chunk of the public can't actually get on it?


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Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

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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