7 ways they should change London’s tube & rail map to make it less annoying to me personally

Charing Cross. This station has the WRONG NAME. Image: Sunil060902/Wikimedia Commons.

You see, something people get wrong about me is that they think I’m a train nerd. I’m not, not really – I hardly know anything about how trains actually work, as should have been obvious from that embarrassing incident in which I accidentally published some pictures of model trains under the impression they were the real thing, and found myself being mocked on four continents. 

What I actually am is a map nerd, and metro maps most especially. I spend more of my time thinking about the Tube Map and the myriad ways in which the powers that be have been gradually ruining the thing than is probably entire healthy. 

But that’s not the only map of London’s trains. The Rail & Tube Services Map, which includes the assorted heavy rail services in the capital not run by Transport for London, shows nearly twice as many stations as the Tube Map. That just gives me twice as many things to get annoyed by.

So here, with no particular justification, are seven things I really wish they’d change, on one or both of those maps – things the authorities could change and which would, without spending a penny on new rolling stock, stations or track, make London’s railway network ever so slightly better.

We shall begin with some aggravating station names. 

The two Edgware Roads

An easy one to start off with.

There are two stations on the London Underground called Edgware Road. Unlike the two Hammersmiths (across a road) or the three West Hampsteads (across a couple of roads, but still basically adjacent), they’re not even slightly convenient for each other. Look:

Image: TfL.

Okay, that’s only about 200m apart – but there’s a bloody great urban motorway in the way. You are never, in a million years, going to change from one of these to the other, when you can make the same change much more easily one stop up the line at Baker Street.

Image: Google.

So why not give them different names? After all, the map has always shown them as separate, and other ridiculously close pairs of stations (Bayswater/Queensway, Cannon St/Monumnt, large chunks of the DLR) get different names. So why not here? Why not, eh?

The two Bethnal Greens

Okay, this one is the same and yet, somehow, worse. 

Partly that’s because they’re much further apart: this time, the walk is more like 500m. Partly it’s because the map.

Look at how the two Bethnal Greens are positioned here:

[

Image: TfL.

In the unlikely event you’d want to change from the Overground to the Underground, you’d head south, right? Ha, wrong. Look:

[

Image: Google.

For the love of god, rename one of those stations. 

There’s even the perfect alternative, just waiting: Bethnal Green Overground could be Weaver’s Fields. Isn’t that nice? It’s lovely. Don’t @ me.

Paddington

Okay, this one’s more complicated, so bear with me. (Bear with me? Paddington? Bear? Pah, I’m wasted on you people.)

So anyway, Paddington London Underground station is really two stations. There’s the bigger one, at the southern end of the mainline station, which is served by the Bakerloo line and by Circle and District line trains heading between Edgware Road and Bayswater. Then there’s a smaller one at the northern end of the station, which is served by Hammersmith & City or Circle line trains on the Hammersmith branch, and which looks more like a pair of mainline through-platforms, for the very good reason that it is. They even get numbered: lying beyond platform 14 as they do, they’re platforms 15 & 16.

The upshot of this is that while both are perfectly adequate changes for the mainline station, they’re of no use forever if you want to change from one to the other (if you were travelling from Westbourne Park to Bayswater, say). There’s no attempt to communicate this on either the Tube Map…

Image: TfL.

…or on the Rail & Tube map:

Image: TfL.

Once again – would some kind of way of distinguishing between them be so much to ask? You may think this is a minor issue, but I had a great aunt who announced her intentions to change trains at Paddington once, and we never saw her again. Goes to show.

Blackfriars

What’s this?

Image: Network Rail.

It’s an artist’s impression of the South Bank entrance to Blackfriars station. (It’s actually been open since 2011, but I was in a hurry and I couldn’t find a contemporary image. So sue me. Yes, I know it’s not the real thing, I’m not making that mistake again, no fear.)

The existence of this entrance is not currently communicated by the rail map, which acts like Blackfriars – which is unique in crossing the Thames – is still entirely on the north bank of the river. This, to me, feels silly.

The tube station is, admittedly, confined to the north side of the river, so perhaps the two need to be distinguished in some way. Blackfriars Bridge station has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?


Sorting out Charing Cross

The tube stations at Charing Cross and Embankment are such a mess that Jack May, late of this parish, once got about 2,000 words out of it.

The key thing for our purposes, though, is that the tube station now known as Charing Cross used to be two tube stations: Trafalgar Square (on the Bakerloo) and Strand (on the Northern). These were merged when the Jubilee arrived in 1979, but since it un-arrived 20 years later Charing Cross tube has just been an incredibly stupid place to change trains.

So, why not undo the merger? Go back to Trafalgar Square and Strand again, and put an end to the fiction that Embankment isn’t just as worthy a tube station for Charing Cross.

We can make a better world, guys. You just have to believe.

The Cannon Street link

Everyone knows about the escalator link between Monument and Bank stations, even if the trip I forced my granddad to make to show me it at some point in the late 1980s proved ultimately disappointing for all-concerned.

What you may not realise, though, is quite how close Cannon Street station is to Bank. Look:

Image: Google.

Since 2011, that’s even been an OSI – an out of station interchange, meaning that you can change from the national rail station to the tube at Bank and the ticketing system will treat it as a single journey. For commuters on the lines into Cannon Street, that’s often the best way to reach Docklands or the West End.

So why the big secret, TfL? What are you afraid of, hmm?

The horror of Canary Wharf

Okay, last one, for now. Canary Wharf tube station is separate from but sited between Canary Wharf DLR station and Heron Quays DLR station. Despite being called Canary Wharf, it is slightly more convenient for Heron Quays.

In four months’ time, Canary Wharf Elizabeth line station will open. This will be situated between Canary Wharf DLR station and West India Quay DLR station, but despite being called Canary Wharf will slightly more convenient for West India Quay.

Image: Google.

I haven’t seen the map yet, but... you can see the problem, right? Please tell me you can see the problem. Please tell me that it’s not just me. 

Please.

I realised halfway through writing this that it’s the first part of a series. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 


Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first


On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them


A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.