The DLR has a new map – with line colours on it!

A test ride at South Quay in July 1987. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

The Docklands Light Railway may well be worrying that its youth is behind it, and debating whether it’s time to leave London – for this month, the DLR turns 30.

The first passenger trains ran on the network ran on 31 August 1987, and at the time the system was much smaller than it is now: just two branches, from Island Gardens up to Stratford and Tower Gateway respectively. Even those lines had fewer stops than they have now: Pudding Mill Lane (1996), Langdon Park (2006) and, most important, Canary Wharf (1991) didn’t come until later.

Thirty years on, the network has tripled in size, in terms of both route length (from 13km up to 38km), and stations (from 15 to 45). Its tentacles now stretch to Bank and Lewisham, Woolwich and Beckton. There’s even a second route to Stratford, because you can never have too many. (That, at least, seems to be the core principle of London transport planning over the last few decades.)

All this has made for a more complex and confusing network than the 1987 version. So to celebrate the DLR’s birthday, Transport for London has produced a new map. Here you go:

You probably want to click to expand this. Image: TfL.

Two things about the map jump out at me. The smaller one is that hatched chunk of line at the very bottom, which shows that southbound trains from Bank to Lewisham skip West India Quay.

This has been happening for some time: a new section of track opened as part of network capacity upgrades completed in 2009 bypasses the station altogether. But most maps have tended to ignore the fact because, well, it’s difficult to illustrate and West India Quay is a five minute walk from both Poplar to Canary Wharf, so it doesn’t matter very much. This is – correct me if I’m wrong – the first network map that illustrates the bypass graphically, rather than with a footnote.

The bigger change is the introduction of line colours. I have very vague memories of this being a thing on some maps in the early 90s – Beckton was blue, Stratford was red and Bank was green, I think – but this is the first time it’s happened this century.

The line colours are helpful in communicating whether you can get a direct train between two specific stations. And while I instinctively dislike the way they’ve done it, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that the designers are a lot cleverer than me.

Look at all that lovely green. Image: TfL.

My instinct, you see, stems from my long-standing belief that the Northern line of the tube should be broken up into two separate lines, one running via Charing Cross and the other via Bank. Knowing which bit of central London your train is going to seems to me to be more important than knowing which suburb it ends up in.

The DLR designers took a different approach, colouring the lines based on which bit of suburbia they end up in to the south or east. That, in this case, actually makes more sense. Partly that’s because there isn’t really a DLR equivalent of the “oops, I wanted a Bank train” trap for tourists: the destination station alone should give you enough information, without any of that ‘via’ nonsense.


And partly it’s because the DLR doesn’t really serve central London: you’re more likely to want to know if your train will go to Canary Wharf, City Airport or Excel, three stations which are, helpfully, served by three different colours.

Or partly – I’m not ruling this out – I’m wrong about the northern line.

My only other complaint about this map is that the shades of green inescapably bring to mind three slightly different flavour mints.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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A warped mirror: on gentrification and deprivation on London’s Caledonian Road

The London Overground crosses Caledonian Road. Image: Claude Lynch.

Capital cities are, more often than not, a focal point for the stark divide between rich and poor – places where the most economically deprived meet the most economically empowered. In London, these divides can be more than stark: they can be close, even intimate, and there are districts where crossing the street can be like entering a different world. One such street is the Caledonian Road.

Known local as “the Cally”, Caledonian Road runs for about a mile and a half, from Kings Cross to the Nags Head junction in Holloway, and was built in 1826 to provide a new arterial route to the north from the West End. At first, developments on the road were sparse; among the first notable buildings were the Royal Caledonian Asylum, which gave the road its name, and H.M. Prison Pentonville.

For some time, the northern half of the road was seen as far removed from central London, which stymied development. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century residential development really got going. By the time Caledonian Road station opened on the Piccadilly line in 1906, the area was flush with Victorian terraces.

These, though, mainly lay on the eastern side. To the west, the proximity of King’s Cross prompted the development of heavy industry, particularly the clay kilns that were helping to build Victorian London proper. The divide had begun:  the east side of the street, the area known as Barnsbury, was notably quieter and calmer than the west side. Ever since the 19th century, the ‘V’ formed by Caledonian Road and York Way has been known for a high incidence of gang violence and social problems.

As in many parts of London, the end of the Second World War brought a chance to start from scratch. Many of the slums to the west of the Cally had been bombed to smithereens, and those that remained still lacked gas and hot water.

But this was the era of municipal dreams: Islington council cleared the slums and constructed the Bemerton Estate. Instead of reflecting the industrial history of the area, the estate reflected Barnsbury back at itself, treating Caledonian Road as some sort of warped modernist mirror. The square gardens of Barnsbury were reimagined as the spaces between the highrises of Bemerton, and this time, they were actually square.

The estate was immediately popular, its open design prompting a renewed sense of community in the west. But it didn’t last.

Square gardens on one side, not-so-square on the other. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric

As far back as the 1950s, Islington had already become synonymous with gentrification. Forty years later, before moving to Downing Street, Tony Blair’s London residence was Barnsbury’s leafy Richmond Crescent. House prices in the area have gone through the roof and now Barnsbury is mainly home to a the professional elite.


At the same time, though, Caledonian Road’s warped mirror has given Bemerton the exact opposite: in spite of attempts to rejuvenate it, downward spiral of deprivation and antisocial behaviour have blighted the estate for some time The promise of inviting square gardens and communal living has been inhibited by crime and poverty; the gardens lie empty, while those in Barnsbury thrive.

The disparity of wealth across Caledonian Road is regrettable. That’s not just because it speaks to a wider segregation of London’s rich and poor – a phenomenon exemplified last year by the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington & Chelsea, the richest borough in Britain. It’s also because, in the Bemerton Estate, planners had thought they saw an opportunity to offer more Londoners the idyll of square gardens and leafy streets, often reserved for the richest.

It might be too much to claim the estate as a failure; events such as the Cally Festival aim to bring together both sides of the road, while other council programmes such as Islington Reads help to foster a greater sense of neighbourhood.

Road should never divide us; rather, they should unite those who live on either side. The spirit of Caledonian Road should cross the gap – just like the railway bridge that bears its name.