Yet more ways TfL should change London’s tube and rail maps to make them less irritating to me, personally

A London Overground train, thinking. Image: Getty.

First, I whined about interchanges. Then, I banged on about zones. And now, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, here are even more things that Transport for London should change about London’s tube and rail maps to make them marginally less irritating to me, personally.

Split the Northern line

Let’s start with lines. How many lines there are on the London Underground is a source of some contention – by which I mean that there are definitely, officially 11 and there’s not really any space to argue about that, but that I’m, nonetheless, not having any of it and last summer managed to get about half a dozen different pieces of content and a YouGov poll out of arguing that this number was wrong.

Anyway. One of the reasons that figure is obviously wrong is because of the obvious stupidity of the Northern line.

I mean, it’s just not a line, is it? Look, this is a line:

This is one line.

And this is the Northern... thing:

This is not one line. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The upside of pretending that this network of different routes is a single line is that watching tourists aiming for Borough Market wandering, baffled, round Euston is quite funny.

The downside is literally everything else.

So, the obvious solution is to split it: make the bit via Charing Cross one line and the bit via Bank another. These two lines would still share trains and be managed together on a sort of Hammersmith & City / Circle line basis – but the map would be less confusing and less in contradiction of the basic premises of geometry, and it’d mean we get an extra line for basically nothing. What’s not to love?

The case for this will get even stronger once the Battersea extension opens, and the Charing Cross route stops running to Morden. To maintain London Underground’s proud history of utterly absurdity, this route could be named the Southern line.

Though I’ll believe the Clapham Junction bit when I see it. (Also, what on earth has happened to Clapham South? No idea.) Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Then I could probably get a ranty piece out of how stupid that is.

Again: what’s not to love?

While we’re on this:

Split the District line

Though it’s less obvious, there are two different routes that make up the District line, too: one running along the south side of the Circle line through Victoria, Embankment and Tower Hill, and the other running up its west side through Kensington to Edgware Road.

It’s hard to see how this would ruin anyone’s day, exactly – departure boards on the only branch regularly served by both types of trains, the Wimbledon one, tend to be pretty clear about where their trains are ending up, and it’s much harder to miss a destination station than a “via”.

This is not one line either. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Nonetheless, this too presents an opportunity for London to add a tube line for literally nothing, and why would we not do that? We should definitely do that. London is a big city, the more lines the better. Call it the Wimbleware, make it a different shade of green – sorted.


Give London Overground specific line identities

Another reason I managed to keep that “how many lines are there on the tube are there” row going on for about seventeen and a half years is because of a surprisingly involved debate about whether the London Overground, DLR and so on count as tube lines. Which, to be clear, they obviously don’t.

But London Overground lines do count as London Overground lines – and there are, these days, rather a lot of them. When the network first opened, back in 2007, the Overground network consisted of three or possibly four lines (Euston-Watford, Barking-Gospel Oak, and the North and West London lines, which sort of come as a package). But then the East London line extension opened. And the network swallowed the Liverpool Street suburban lines through Hackney. And that little stub between Romford and Upminster. And at some point, if transport secretary Chris Grayling ever does the decent thing and fucks off, vast swathes of the south London rail network are likely to get thrown into the mix as well.

And so, as things stand, the London Overground serves 112 stations, which is nearly half as many as the 270 served by the London Overground – yet the official rail maps have maintained that there is one London Overground with one colour, orange.

 

This is really not one line. Image: Briantist/Sameboat/Wikimedia Commons.

This is stupid and goddammit it needs to change. Give them names! Give them numbers! Give them anything to make it clearer that you can’t get a direct train from Highbury & Islington to Wembley Central! Just, in the name of all that is holy, do something!

Acknowledge the existence of the interchange at Camden

Over the last few years, a number of previously secret connections between Underground and Overground have begun finding their way onto the maps. There are now interchanges visible in Hackney, Walthamstow, Forest Gate/Wanstead Park, Archway/Upper Holloway...

One, however, remains forbidden. Despite the fact that the two stations are separated by a walk that’ll take you about four minutes, and that walking from one to the other makes often getting from north London to east vastly easier, the maps still pretend that Camden Town and Camden Road are completely different places. Rather than, say, two stations 300m apart.

New phone, who dis? Image: Google Maps.

 

 

This is, one suspects, a traffic management thing: Camden Town gets more overcrowded than just about any station on the network outside zone one – so while CityMapper and the like may suggest you change between the two, TfL would rather not encourage you. From a network management point of view, keeping this one secret probably makes sense.

But dammit it irritates me and where’s that on TfL’s list of priorities, eh?


The station names

Holloway Road is an infuriating name for one of four (4) different stations on the Holloway Road. Ditto Caledonian Road, although this time it’s only three. Tottenham Court Road is worse, because it’s three again, but this time it’s right at one end and for most of Tottenham Court Road definitely not the station you want. 

I could bang on about this for hours – I have, more times than the mind can comfortably contain. I even once attempted to create an entire taxonomy of metro station names, though quickly felt disheartened and stopped in the hope nobody would actually notice.

So on this occasion I’m not going to do any of that. Instead, I’m going to boil my critique of London’s station-name conventions down to a single, punchy sentence.

Here it is:

City Thameslink is a bloody terrible name and for the love of good, London, change it.

Okay, I’m done.

Don’t have nightmares, now.

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

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What it's been like living in one of the few places that never locked down

People enjoy sunny weather in Tantolunden park in Stockholm on May 30, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)

While most of the Western world was confined to their homes for the better part of two months this spring, my friends and I in Stockholm continued hanging out. In stark contrast to most other places, we went to restaurants (occasionally, outside when possible), to one another’s houses (in our yards when possible), and even sent our kids to school. As the rest of the world opens up again, not much will change in Stockholm.

As an American expat living in the Swedish capital, I was initially angry at Sweden’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In my home country, early outbreaks in locations such as Seattle, New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area led to strict rules that were soon mirrored in many other states and cities. The Swedish strategy, meanwhile, boiled down mostly to recommendations: If possible, work from home; avoid unnecessary travel within the country; engage in social distancing; and if you’re above 70, stay home. I felt that, in the face of a global pandemic, a country known for its generous welfare policies – that took such good care of its citizens – wasn’t doing its part to protect us.

My friends and I are mostly expats with young families who, early on, pulled our children out of school against official policy. (Schools here only closed for those 16 and over.) We eagerly waited to hear what further action our current country would take. Surely a country known for its progressive social policies would take fast, decisive action to protect its citizens?

The regulations that were put into place in Sweden amounted to restricting public gatherings to no more than 50 people (reduced from 500, which concert halls skirted by restricting entry to 499), limiting restaurants to table service only, and no visiting retirement homes. People here did take the work-from-home guidelines to heart – no one I knew was going in to work. But bars and restaurants were full. My Instagram feed was a highlight reel of acquaintances clinking champagne flutes at the city’s major clubs and restaurants.

After the first few weeks, I slowly started meeting up with friends again. I sent my kids back to school, where they intentionally spent most of the day outdoors and drop-offs were restricted to outside only (parents weren’t allowed to enter the building). I was careful to take precautions like bringing hand sanitizer to playgrounds and wiping my hands after opening and closing the gate to school. Hardly anyone wore masks to the grocery shop or inside stores – the few times I’ve seen people wearing them I’ve done a double take. One busy Friday night in late April at the local supermarket there was a line out the door and someone regulating the number of customers allowed inside at the same time. I took a photo and sent it to my family in the US saying “Sweden finally catching up with the rest of the world!” (I haven’t seen entry to that store being regulated since.)

When I spoke to Swedish friends about the strategy many agreed with the relaxed approach, mentioning that other countries’ draconian measures would be unnecessary in Sweden. A recent poll showed that just 11% of people in Sweden felt they did not trust state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who is leading the strategy. In this country, the onus was placed on citizens themselves to follow recommendations. It's about personal judgement and individual responsibility within a framework that rested on mutual trust, rather than top-down control. Swedes’ high level of interpersonal trust and trust in authority was often cited in the press as the characteristic enabling the relaxed Swedish strategy in tackling the virus, as opposed to social distancing becoming a matter of surveillance and policing like in Spain or Italy, where any nonessential socializing was forbidden.

In early May, Sweden's ambassador to the US Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter said in an interview with the Washington Post that some media outlets made it look “like everyone in Sweden is out drinking and partying,” she said. “That is not the case.” But that was certainly how it felt to me. According to research by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser in 2016, in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, more than 60% of respondents in the World Value Survey think that people can be trusted. And in the other extreme, in countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, less than 10% think that this is the case.


Of course, many places in the US also took a similarly relaxed approach to tackling the pandemic, with conservative lawmakers and anti-lockdown activists citing Sweden as taking the right approach. Sweden, rarely finding cheerleaders among conservative US circles, suddenly stood as an example to follow. But since then, places such as Arizona, Texas and Florida have all seen significant spikes in cases following reopenings and are being deemed the new epicentres of the virus – while Sweden’s numbers have stabilised. According to some reports, the death toll in Sweden is one of the highest in the world per capita, but the total number of Swedish deaths remains at just above 5,000, compared to over 120,000 in the US, over 43,000 in the UK, over 28,000 in Spain and over 34,000 in Italy. The mortality rate in Sweden and the number of new intensive care cases in the country declined in the last week and contagion rates here are now “stable” according to the WHO.

Although it didn’t always feel like it at the time, Sweden issued clear guidance from the beginning, with the expectation that people would choose to follow it. It certainly was my experience that everyone I knew stopped going into the office and started working from home. William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, attributed Sweden’s slowing of the virus to implementing guidance early on. “Sweden’s policy is unusual in that it took a much less stringent approach to preventing transmission," he says, "but interestingly it implemented those measures at a very early stage in the pandemic, before large amounts of community spread had occurred.”

Now I go outside and all too often realise I’ve left my hand sanitiser at home. I even met a friend for lunch outdoors at a busy cafe one particularly sunny day, and another indoors one Friday night for dinner. In May I had a birthday bash in my garden with a dozen or so friends and we ended up at the local bar. I always felt guilty after, as if I’d done something wrong that I couldn’t tell my family in Baltimore about. When I watched international news or spoke to family back home I would feel a certain cognitive dissonance between my own seemingly low-risk reality and what I knew to be happening in the rest of the world. My family in the US calls me skeptically questioning why I’ve had people over in my garden, or been out to eat. I can’t explain the lack of logic that permits an entire city’s citizens to operate life as normal in the midst of a global pandemic. But Stockholm has become a bubble of exactly this.

Being relatively young and healthy, I’m not so worried about getting sick. Even though young and healthy people have gotten seriously ill, there haven’t been any reported cases at my kids’ or any of my friends’ kids’ schools. Nobody I know in Stockholm knows has gotten sick, allowing me to feel a certain distance from it. But my husband’s parents are in their mid-70s and weren’t able to see their grandchildren for two months save for a few visits to their hallway, where we wave and blow kisses to them standing at the door.

I’ve been grateful – but also felt a sense of guilt for – my freedom here. When there are no hard and fast rules about how to act, it’s easy to constantly question yourself: Is it really okay to be outside, sitting at this full cafe? Is it okay to invite a few friends over for a birthday? Is it okay to send my kids to school? These questions have surely gone through minds around the world in the past several weeks, and now it’s clear that that behaviour had dire consequences in some cities and not others.

While Swedish social media at times suggests an endless friend-filled party at summer homes and popular hangouts, the reality here is a balancing act between personal judgement and the freedom to continue life as normal. Self-regulation is what it comes down to in Sweden, anyway.

Elysha Krupp is a writer and editor currently living in Stockholm.