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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Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.


The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.