The amateur map designer who remade London's tube map takes on the "night tube"

A detail from the redesigned version of London's night tube map. Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had “Deep Throat”. Here at CityMetric, we have “SameBoat” – the anonymous Wikipedia user whose redesign of London’s tube map was, we felt, so much better than the official version.

Deep Throat kept his identity secret for over 30 years, before finally coming clean as FBI agent Mark Felt in 2005. SameBoat, though, has come forward after barely more than a month. He's the Hong Kong-based graphic designer and sound engineer by the name of Thomas Lee, who designs metro maps in his spare time.

Obviously we're too modest to say that the whole affair shows we’re better reporters than Woodward and Bernstein. That's for you to decide.

Anyway – the reason we can bring you this exclusive information is that, this morning, SameBoat got in contact to let us know that he'd done a “night tube” version of his map, too.

Transport for London's own night tube map is a fairly significant redesign of its (increasingly, eye-gougingly awful) day tube map. SameBoat's isn't – it's a version of his day tube map, but with most of the lines faded out. The goal, he told us in an email, was to keep the sense of how the lines interrelated.

Here's the result:

Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

And here, since you were wondering, is the official TfL version.

 

As to which of the two maps we prefer, we can't quite decide. TfL's night tube map is undeniably stylish. It shows the network with undeniable clarity, too. (Those are two qualities that have been singularly absent from the main tube map of late.) SameBoat's amateur version is less polished.


And yet – there probably is some benefit in showing the lines that aren't open at night. Regular traveller's eyes will be instantly drawn to the part of the map where they'd expect to see their station. Showing lines as faded may actually communicate the idea of "no service" more quickly than not showing them at all.

Here's what SameBoat (or "Lee", as we should probably call him now) says about his latest map:

There is an ongoing debate [about whether] TfL should redraw the Night Tube map from scratch instead of basing it on the daytime version with all the seemingly unnecessary kinks for ducking the non-existent daytime elements.

I think making the map from scratch is much easier for the cartographers because there are only five main lines. But that would increase the travellers's burden of knowledge about the newly twisted geography of the night time topological map.

I chose to preserve the daytime routes but make them much paler. [They] serve as geographic indicators without distracting readers from the night time routes.

Incidentally, Lee also noted that he was quite happy for us to describe him as an "amateur map designer":

Harry Beck wasn't a professional graphic designer to begin with, so I don't feel any shame at all.

Fair point.

Here's a clip of Sameboat's new tube map. You can see the full thing here.

Want more tube maps? Really? Are you sure? Oh well, if you insist.

 
 
 
 

It’s time to rethink how the British railway network works

Nothing doing: commuters await a long-delayed train. Image: Getty.

The recent meltdowns on Northern and Thameslink not only left many passengers besides themselves with frustration about not being able to get to work on time, if at all. It also led to a firestorm of criticism and condemnation from politicians and media alike.

With the immediate shock of that first Monday morning of the meltdown passed, there’s a now a bigger debate about whether the way that rail services are provided for cities needs some far reaching reform. But before coming to that, the first thing to say – and as we set out in our Rail Cities UK report, launched today – is that the fundamentals for urban rail remain very strong.

Here’s why. All cities want to become denser, more dynamic places which attract the best people to the growth sectors of the economy (including the ‘flat white economy’ of media, communications and information). In order to achieve this, as well as to improve air quality, cities are also reducing space for motorised traffic in favour of space for people.

It’s very difficult to see how this can be achieved without expanding rail networks and their capacity. What’s more, if housing need is to be met without creating more sprawl and traffic congestion, then again its rail that will be key – because it opens up former rail-connected brownfield industrial sites, it extends commuting range, plus housing can be built above or around new or existing rail stations and interchanges.

In some ways there’s nothing new here. From Metroland to Docklands, successful cities have always grown with their rail networks. And to be fair, there is significant investment going into urban rail at present. Northern will get a lot better (the pacers are doomed) and both Merseyside and Tyne & Wear are getting a whole new fleet of trains for their urban rail networks.

However, much (but not all) of this investment is incremental, or replacing rolling stock on its last legs. It stops short of the wider vision for the rail cities that we need.


What would that look like in practice? There comes a point when the biggest cities need more cross-city routes, because running trains in and out of edge-of-centre termini can’t cope with the numbers. That explains the push for Crossrail 2 in London, but also the need for more cross-city capacity in cities like Birmingham (on the Snow Hill route) as well as in Manchester (on the Oxford Road to Manchester Piccadilly corridor, as well as a potential new underground route).

Tram-train technology can also help – allowing the lucky commuter that benefits to get on board at their local station and get off right outside their city centre office on main street in the city centre, rather than piling out at a Victorian railway terminal on the edge of that city centre.

Tram-trains aren’t the only tech fix available. Battery packs can extend the range of existing electric trains deeper into the “look ma, no wires” hinterlands, as well as allow trams to glide through city centres without the expensive clutter of overhead wires.

More mundane but equally useful work to increase capacity through signalling, station, track and junction work offers the opportunity to move to turn-up-and-go frequency networks with greater capacity and more reliability – networks that start to emulate the best of what comparable German rail cities already enjoy. Interlocking networks of long distance, regional express, regional, S-bahn, U-bahn, trams and buses, all under common ticketing.

But in talking about Germany and common ticketing I am now getting back to where I started around the debate on whether some fundamental change is needed on how urban rail networks are provided. Obviously there is a bigger national discussion going on about whether the current structure is just too layered, with too many costly interfaces and too fractured a chain of command. And in addition another, on whether the railway should be publicly or privately owned and operated.

But it’s been heartening to see the growing recognition that – regardless of how these debates are resolved – more devolution for urban and regional services should be part of any solution. That’s not only because fully devolved services have been out-performing comparators both operationally and in passenger satisfaction; it’s because local control rather than remote control from Whitehall will mean that the dots can be joined between rail and housing, between rail and the wider re-fashioning of city centres, and between rail and local communities (for example through repurposing stations as wider hubs for local community use, enterprises and housing). It will also allow for rail and the rest of local urban public transport networks to be part of one system, rather than be just on nodding terms as is all too often the case at present.

The crisis on Northern and Thameslink has been a miserable experience for rail users, affected cities and the rail industry. If any good has come out of it, it is that it shows how important rail is to cities, and opens up a space for some bigger thinking about what kind of rail cities we will need for the future – and how best we can make that happen.

Jonathan Bray is the Director of the Urban Transport Group which represents the transport authorities for the largest city regions. You can read the group’s full report here.