CityMapper is offering Londoners journeys involving Crossrail, which doesn’t exist yet

That's some pretty heavy disruption on this line. Image: screenshot from CityMapper.

Unless you live in a rural area, or your phone battery ran down in 2012, or you're still relying on a Nokia with a copy of Snake on it, there's a fairly good chance you've used CityMapper. The urban transport planning app has proved so popular that, at time of writing, it's available in 27 different cities.

One reason the app has been so successful, we'd warrant, is that it's pretty reliable, flagging up where routes are disrupted rather than simply letting you find out the hard way.

Another is that it's agnostic about which mode of transport you take. It doesn't assume you'd rather take a quick trip on a crowded tube train than a longer walk through a park. Just tell it where you want to go, and it'll lay out all the options for you.

Including, as it turns out, ones that don't actually exist. Check out this screengrab from a journey I took yesterday:

This will be a pretty good route for anyone trying to get from King's Cross to Gidea Park in about 41 months’ time. Right now, though, thanks to the whole Crossrail-not-existing thing, it’s not.

At the moment, in fact, CityMapper is reminding you of the future existence of Crossrail whenever it can find a reason to justify it. It shows up on the list of lines on offer on the app's front page:

And it pops up on the list of options for almost any east-west journey across London (albeit, at the very bottom, beneath more viable routes involving walking, cycling, and tunnels that have actual trains in them). This is what the app suggested when we asked it the quickest way from our offices out to Southall, in west London.

It's the "every 6 minutes" that really hurts.

This service is, best we can tell, specific to London. We asked CityMapper for routes in a few other cities with major transport schemes under construction, but in none of them did it offer any routes that involved travelling forwards in time first. (The first phase of New York's Second Avenue Subway line is due to open next year, a good two years before Crossrail; yet CityMapper remains oddly silent on that one.)

This service does highlight quite how much the new line will speed up certain journeys. At the moment, getting from Canary Wharf to Heathrow will take you a minimum of 71 minutes; with Crossrail it'll be 63. Abbey Wood to Ealing Broadway? 86 minutes at the moment, 44 minutes after 2018. It does highlight that Crossrail will be useful.

In the mean time though, it kind of feels dangling the future in front of us, then snatching it away and cackling. The app is playing Lucy to our Charlie Brown.

Thanks, CityMapper. Thanks a lot.


To beat rising temperatures, Vienna launches a network of 'Cool Streets'

A Vienna resident cools off at one of the city's new Cool Streets installations. (Courtesy Christian Fürthner/Mobilitätsagentur Wien)

Over the past several months, Austria has recorded its highest unemployment rate since World War II, thanks to the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no job or a suddenly smaller income – not to mention the continued threat of the virus – many Viennese will opt for a staycation this summer.  

At the same time, last year, Austria’s capital experienced 39 days with temperatures of over 30°C (86°F), one of its hottest summers in history according to the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

Climate experts expect a similarly sizzling 2020 season, and city officials are now doubling down on efforts to combat the heat by launching a “Cool Streets” initiative as well as a new, state-of-the-art cooling park.

“As the city councilwoman in charge of climate, it is my job to ensure local cooling,” Vienna’s deputy mayor Birgit Hebein proclaimed at the opening of one of 22 new “Cool Streets” on 22 June.

“In Austria, there are already more heat deaths than traffic fatalities,” she added.

Hebein was referring to the 766 people the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security included in its 2018 heat-associated mortality statistics. The number was up by 31% compared to 2017, and in contrast to the 409 people who died in traffic collisions the same year.

The project includes 18 temporary Cool Streets located across the city, plus four roads that will be redesigned permanently and designated as “Cool Streets Plus”.

“The Plus version includes the planting of trees. Brighter surfaces, which reflect less heat, replace asphalt in addition to the installation of shadow or water elements,” said Kathrin Ivancsits, spokeswoman for the city-owned bureau Mobilitätsagentur, which is coordinating the project.

Vienna's seasonal Cool Streets provide shady places to rest and are closed to cars. (Petra Loho for CityMetric)

In addition to mobile shade dispensers and seating possibilities amid more greenery provided by potted plants, each street features a steel column offering drinking water and spray cooling. The temporary Cool Streets will also remain car-free until 20 September.

A sensor in the granite base releases drinking water and pushes it through 34 nozzles whenever the outside temperature reaches 25°C (77°F) . As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 23°C (73°F), the sensor, which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turns off the water supply.

The sensors were included in part to allay concerns about legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can reproduce in water.  

“When the spray stops, the system drains, and therefore no microbial contamination can develop,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health at Medical University Vienna, in a televised interview.

Hutter also assured the public that there is no increased risk of a Covid-19 infection from the spray as long as people adhere to the one-meter social distance requirement.

But Samer Bagaeen of the University of Kent's School of Architecture and Planning notes that air cooling systems, like the ones used in Germany at abattoirs, have been found recently to be a risk factor for Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The same could be said for spay devices,” he warned.

Vienna’s district councils selected the 22 Cool Street locations with the help of the city’s Urban Heat Vulnerability Index. The map shows where most people suffer from heat by evaluating temperature data, green and water-related infrastructure, and demographic data.

“Urban heat islands can occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat,” as the US Environmental Protection Agency states.

A rendering of Vienna's planned park featuring a Coolspot, which is scheduled to open in August. Click to expand.
(Courtesy Carla Lo Landscape Architecture)

Vienna’s sixth district, Mariahilf, is such an area. The construction of the capital’s first “Cooling Park”, a €1 million project covering the 10,600 square-metre Esterházypark, is designed to provide relief. 

Green4Cities, a centre of excellence for green infrastructure in urban areas, designed the park’s main attraction, the “Coolspot”. The nearly 3.40-metre high steel trellis holds three rings equipped with spray nozzles. Textile shading slats, tensioned with steel cables, cover them.

The effects of evaporation and evapotranspiration create a cooler microclimate around the 30 square-metre seating area, alongside other spray spots selectively scattered across the park.

The high-pressure spray also deposits tiny droplets on plant and tree leaves, which stimulates them to sweat even more. All together, these collective measures help to cool their surroundings by up to six degrees.

The landscape architect Carla Lo and her team planned what she calls the “low-tech” park components. “Plants are an essential design element of the Cooling Park,” Lo says. “By unsealing the [soil], we can add new grass, herbaceous beds, and more climate-resistant trees to the existing cultivation”.

Light-coloured, natural stone punctuated by grass seams replaces the old concrete surfaces, and wooden benches meander throughout the park.

Living near the park and yearning for an urban escape close by, Lo says she’s motivated to ensure the park is completed by mid-August.

“If we don't do anything, Vienna will be another eight degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it already is,” Hebein said.

Vienna recently came in first in the World's 10 Greenest Cities Index by the consulting agency Resonance.

“There is no one size fits all on how cities respond to urban heat,” says the University of Kent’s Bagaeen, who points out that Vienna was one of the first European cities to set up an Urban Heat Islands Strategic Plan in 2015.

In the short term, prognoses on the city’s future development may be more difficult: Vienna votes this autumn.

Petra Loho is a journalist and photographer based in Austria.