This amateur London Tube map someone posted on Wikipedia is far better than the real thing

Well, this is much better. Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last couple of weeks we have spent extensive time whinging about quite how bad the new version of London's tube map is. (Yes, we're obsessed, but let's not pretend, dear reader, that you are otherwise.) It's cramped, it’s unclear, and it just isn't very pretty.

Well. Over the weekend it came to our attention that someone else out there felt similarly. But they, unlike us, had decided to actually do something about it. 

This anonymous hero, a Hong Kong resident who goes by the name of "SameBoat", has been posting their own re-jigged tube map to Wikipedia since last August. Unlike Transport for London's version, this one basically abandons the 80-year old template we're all so familiar with and starts again. It retains the map's straight lines and 45 angles where appropriate; but isn't afraid to abandon them where necessary.

You can see the full version, at the correct scale, here. But to give you a flavour, here's central London on the official map:

 

And here’s SameBoat’s new version:

 

Here are some other things we like about the map:

It actually bothers to show different Overground lines in different colours

One of our biggest complaints about the new Tube map is that it shows TfL's increasingly cumbersome Overground empire in a single shade of orange, thus making it hard to tell which line you're looking at at any one time.

SameBoat's version corrects that, showing new fewer than seven different Overground routes:

We're not convinced by the names. (The old East London line is now the South Chord? Really?) But at least this version has names – and more importantly, colours, to make it clearer where there are direct trains on offer.

It shows out of station interchanges

There are a pairs of stations that are close enough to each other to make useful interchanges, and where the ticketing system will allow you to change trains – yet which the official map has kept secret. This new map makes those changes visible:

Some of these are more useful than others. It's not hard to think of journeys that could make use of the short hop from Camden Town to Camden Road, for example; whereas the long walk from Ickenham to West Ruislip is far less likely to come in handy. Ideally the map would communicate the length of the walk required, too.

But, you can’t have everything, and since those are official interchanges, it seems better to show them than not.

It shows the correct geographical relationship between the two Bethnal Green stations

No more pretending that Bethnal Green Overground is north of Bethnal Green Underground, which was always lunacy.

Now, if we could just get TfL to rename one of them.

It shows all the new lines and extensions currently in progress

That includes the new Watford branch on the Metropolitan...

...the new Battersea branch on the Northern...

...the Overground extension to Barking Riverside...

...and of course, Crossrail.

That means that, unlike TfL's designers, the people behind this map are unlikely to be wrong-footed by the arrival of a new line that's only been planned for the past 30 years.

It doesn't show that sodding cable car

Nuff said.


There are inevitably aspects of this map we're less keen on too. It’s simplified the design in part by abandoning attempts to show wheelchair accessibility, which – were it to happen on the real map – would be seen as a backward step. And in places this new map sends outer branches through weird 90 degree turns – so the Central line heads east from Loughton to Epping, that sort of thing. It's a clever way of keeping the map compact, but still looks weird to our eyes. 

The fact that the Chingford line trains don't serve London Fields or Cambridge Heath is shown, but doesn't make much sense if you're not already aware of this fact. Similarly, while it's great to see Tramlink on a tube map at last, it's a bit of a shame it doesn't have any stations on. But that said, there are numerous versions of this map available on Wikipedia, suggesting that it's a work in progress. Perhaps these things will be fixed in a future version.

On the whole, sacrilege though it may be to say it, we much prefer this version of the Tube map to the proper one. SameBoat, if you're reading this: we salute you.

PS We've just noticed that, on the proper version of this map, you can click on a line in the key and it'll flash cheerfully at you from the map. So that's pretty cool, too.

PPS This is a representation of the interchanges that'll be available at Canary Wharf once the new Crossrail station opens. We think it's accurate. It's also bloody horrible.

Can someone please do some renaming or something to sort this mess out? Okay thanks bye.

All images courtesy of SameBoat, under Wikimedia Commons.

 
 
 
 

So why is Peterborough growing so quickly?

Peterborough Cathedral. Image: Jules & Jenny/Flickr/creative commons.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.  

The 2001 census put the population of Peterborough at 156,000. Some time before next spring, it’s projected to pass 200,000. That, for those keeping score, is an increase of about 28 per cent. Whether this makes it the fastest growing city in Britain or merely the second or the fourth – the vagueness of Britain’s boundaries means that different reports reach different conclusions – doesn’t really matter. This is a staggering rate of growth.

Oh, and since austerity kicked in, the city council has had its grant from central government cut by 80 percent.

Expansion on this scale and at this rate is the sort of thing that’d have a lot of councils in our NIMBY-ish political culture breaking out in hives; that seems to go double for Tory-run ones in Leave-voting areas. This lot, though, seem to be thriving on it. “I think the opportunity in Peterborough is fantastic,” says Dave Anderson, the city’s interim planning director. “We’re looking at growing to 235,000 by the mid-2030s.”

More striking still is that the Conservative council leader John Holdich agrees. “I’m a believer in ‘WIMBY’: what in my back yard?” he says. He’s responsible, he says, not just to his electorate, but “to our future kids, and grandkids” too – plus, at that rate of growth, a lot of incomers, too.

All this raises two questions. Why is Peterborough growing so quickly? And what can it do to prepare itself?

If you’re a little uncertain exactly where Peterborough is, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Until 1889, the “Soke of Peterborough” was an unlikely east-ward extrusion from Northamptonshire, far to its south west. Then it was a county in its own right; then part of the now-defunct Huntingdonshire. Today it’s in Cambridgeshire, with which it shares a metro mayor, the Conservative James Palmer. When I ask Holdich, who’s giving me a whistlestop tour of the city’s cathedral quarter, to explain all this, he just shrugs. “They keep moving us about.”

Sitting on the edge of the Fens, Peterborough is, officially, a part of the East of England region; but it’s just up the road from East Midlands cities including Leicester and Nottingham. I’d mentally pigeonholed it as a London-commuter town, albeit a far flung one; but when I actually looked it up, I was surprised to discover it was closer to Birmingham (70 miles) than London (75), and halfway up to Hull (81).


The more flattering interpretation of all this is that it’s on a bit of a crossroads: between capital and north, East Anglia and the Midlands. On the road network, that’s literally true – it’s where the A1 meets the A47, the main east-west road at this latitude – and railway lines extend in all directions, too.

All of which makes Peterborough a pretty nifty place to be if you’re, say, a large logistics firm.

This has clearly contributed to the city’s growth. “It has access to lots of land and cheaper labour than anywhere else in the Greater South East,” says Paul Swinney, director of policy at the Centre for Cities. “Those attributes appeal to land hungry, low-skilled business as opposed to higher-skilled more knowledge-based ones.”

That alone would point to a similar economy to a lot of northern cities – but there’s another thing driving Peterborough’s development. Despite being 70 miles from the capital, the East Coast Main Line means it’s well under an hour away by train.

In 1967, what’s more, the ancient cathedral city was designated a new town, to house London’s overspill population. The development corporation which owned the land and built the new town upon it, evolved into a development agency; today the same role is played by bodies like Opportunity Peterborough and the Peterborough Investment Partnership.

The city also offers relatively cheap housing: you can get a four-bed family home for not much over £200,000. That’s fuelled growth further as London-based workers scratch around for the increasingly tiny pool of places that are both commutable and affordable.

The housing affordability ratio shows average house prices as a multiple of average incomes. Peterborough is notably more affordable than Cambridge, London and the national average. Image: Centre for Cities data tool.

It’s made it attractive to service businesses, too. “London has probably played quite a big role in the city’s development,” says Swinney. “If you don’t want to move too far out, it’s probably one of the cheapest places to move to.”

The result of all this is that it has an unusually mixed economy. There’s light industry and logistics, in the office and warehouse parks that line the dual-carriageways (“parkways”) of the city. But there are also financial services and digital media companies moving in, bringing better paying jobs. In a country where most city economies are built on either high value services or land-hungry warehousing businesses, Peterborough has somehow managed to create a mixed economy.

Peterborough’s industrial profile: more services and less manufacturing, and more private and fewer public sector jobs, than the national average. Image: Centre for Cities.

At the moment, if people think of Peterborough at all, they’re likely to imagine a large town, rather than the fair-size regional city it’s on course to become. Its glorious 12th century cathedral – the hallmark of an ancient city, and at 44m still by far the highest spot on the horizon for miles around – is stunning. But it’s barely known to outsiders, and at least twice on my tour, the council’s communications officer proudly announces that the Telegraph named her patch as one of the best towns to live in within an hour of London, before adding, “even though we’re a city”. 

So part of the council’s current mission is to ensure that Peterborough has all the amenities people would expect from a settlement on this scale. “What the city needs to do is to adopt the mind-set of a slightly larger city,” says Anderson. Slightly smaller Swansea is developing a new music arena, of the sort Peterborough doesn’t have and needs. He frets, too, about retail spend “leaking” to Cambridge or Leicester. “Retail is now seen as a leisure activity: in the core of the city it’s important that offer is there.”

To that end, the early 1980s Queensgate shopping centre is being redeveloped, with John Lewis giving up a chunk of space to provide a new city centre cinema. (At present, the area only has road-side suburban multiplexes.) There’s major office, retail and housing development underway at North Westgate, as well as work to improve the walking route between the station and the commercial centre, in a similar manner to Coventry.

Fletton Quays. Image: Peterborough Investment Partnership.

Then there’s the city’s underused riverside. The council recently moved to new digs, in Fletton Quays, on the far bank of the River Nene from the centre. Across the river from the Embankment, the city centre’s largest green space, it’s a pretty lovely spot, of the sort where one might expect riverside pubs or restaurants with outdoor seating – but at the moment the space is largely empty. The Fletton Quays development will change all that, bringing more retail space and yes, new homes, too.

Jobs in Peterborough are unusually distributed around town: in many cities, most jobs are in the central business district. Image: Centre for Cities.

The big thing everyone agrees is missing, though, is a university. It already has the University Centre Peterborough, where degrees are provided by Anglia Ruskin University. The plan is for the site – a joint venture between ARU and Peterborough Regional College – to go its own way as an independent institution, the University of Peterborough, in autumn 2022. That should help provide the skills that the city needs to grow. A growing student population should also bring life and cash to the city centre. 

How big could Peterborough get? Could its enviable combination of good location and cheap housing and grand ambitions combine to make it the modern equivalent of Manchester or Liverpool – one of the great cities of the 21st century?

Well, probably not: “I think the optimum size for a city is probably about 250,000,” says Holdich. But that’s still a whole quarter bigger than now, and the council leader even discusses the possibility of refitting his dual-carriageway-based-city with some kind of light rail network to service that growing population. Peterborough’s not done growing yet.

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

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