What if London's tube map was just, well, better?

A detail from Cameron Booth's new version of the tube map. Image: Cameron Booth.

London’s Underground Diagram (or “Tube Map”) has long been regarded as an icon of informational design, pioneering the way for just about every other schematic transportation map in the world since its inception way back in 1931. But how much of that reputation is actually deserved these days?

Good question. And one which a lot of people – well, a lot of the sort of people with the sort of blogs that nerds like me read – have been asking recently.

Over the last few years, the tube map has added a whole flock of national rail lines, wheelchair symbols to highlight accessibility (or lack thereof), shading to show transport zones... And as a result has ended up looking a bit of a mess.

The most recent version of the tube map. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

Eugh.

So, a succession of graphic designers, wanting to show off their skills, have  taken on the project of redrawing it. (Strangely enough, hardly any of them seem to live in London.)

One of the latest is Cameron Booth, the Sydney-born, Portland-based designer whose blog we quoted at the beginning. His approach is less radical than those from Jug Cerovic (Paris), Thomas Lee (Hong Kong) or Rich Cousins (okay, he does live in London): rather than starting the map from scratch, Booth just tinkers with the existing version to make it a bit better.

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

But what it lacks in radicalism it makes up in realism. These are the sort of incremental changes it's possible to imagine Transport for London actually making one day.

So, what does Booth do?

The zones are gone

Good. They're hideous, and only actually relevant to a small number of users.

Stations are neatly aligned wherever possible

...something that the zone map made harder. Sometimes that means keeping lines as straight as possible; at other times it's a matter of lining terminal stations up (those from Watford to Chingford, for example).

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

He's tidied up the currently wonky north western section of the Piccadilly line too:

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

So are interchange markers

Removing the odd thing where diagonal ones currently drop lower than vertical ones.

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

More geographic accuracy where possible

In a few places the tube map is actively misleading (showing South Tottenham as north of Seven Sisters, for example). Booth has corrected a few of these.

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

White strokes separating lines where they cross without interchange

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

Just because it's prettier.

Removing interchange circles at stations that have National Rail services

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

The old British Rail symbol does the job fine.

In his initial version of the map, Booth replaced the current clunky wheelchair symbols with little blue dots, which has the advantage of being clean, but would force users to look at the key to work out what they mean. So in another version he's replaced them with wheelchair symbols next to station names, or in interchange bubbles where they exist.

As a special bonus, in this version of the map he even includes the potential extension to the Bakerloo line (although it's difficult to imagine the station names “Old Kent Road 1” and “Old Kent Road 2” catching on). He's tinkered with out of station interchanges those where you have to walk a bit at street level – too.

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

The map still gets a bit confusing in the north east quadrant, thanks to a profusion of orange Overground lines. And Booth himself acknowledges there are a few problems he hasn't managed to solve (how to show those Crossrail stations that interchange with two tube stations, for example).

But as with so many of these unofficial takes on the map, the result are cleaner, prettier and easier to read than the official version.


Which leads me to wonder: why have London's transport authorities not fixed any of this? Come on TfL, what are you waiting for?

You can read more about Booth’s map on his blog. Or you can follow his excellent Transit Maps tumblr.

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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: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

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.