Eight thoughts on TfL’s “new” walking tube map

Wow, this will definitely be useful! Image: TfL.

Oh joy! Oh rapture! For here in the late summer doldrums, when significant news stories are about as easy to come by as offices with decent air conditioning, Transport for London (TfL) has released a new tube map.

Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s repackaged an old tube map by scrawling some numbers over it. Anyway: we’re never one to look a tube map in the mouth, so let’s do this.

The new tube map is meant to discourage you from getting on the tube

No, really. From the press release:

Transport for London (TfL) has launched a new version of the iconic Tube map, which shows how many steps it takes to walk between stations in zones 1 and 2.

The new map is the first official version in the world to show the number of steps between stations.

[London mayor] Sadiq Khan says the map will be a fun and practical way to help busy Londoners who want to make walking a part of their everyday lives.

In other words, if this tube map does its job right, you won’t set foot on a tube train at all. You’ll glance at the map, realise it’s only five minutes to your destination at ground level, and, pausing only to throw a smug glance at the poor saps going into the tube, start walking.

The new tube map only shows central London

To be specific, zones 1 and 2. There’s a reason for this: things are much closer together in central London, making walking a plausible option. Nobody in their right might is going to swap a Metropolitan line train from Rickmansworth to the City for a brisk seven hour stroll.

Anyway, I’m sure you’re just scrolling past this bumpf to get to the actual map bit, so here it is:

 

Click to expand, if you must. Image: TfL.

The new tube map is not actually new

If all this sounds a teensy bit familiar, that’s because it is. Last November TfL release its first official walking tube map. It’s, well, look:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The new one is exactly the same map only with all the figures multiplied by a factor of 100. That’s because:

Approximate steps are based on a moderate walking speed of 100 steps per minute

It’s exactly the same. It’s not “new” at all, it’s the same bloody map.


The new map isn’t necessarily that useful

For the vast majority of us, who don’t go around with Fitbits on our wrists, minutes are surely a far more intuitive measure of distance than steps. I don’t care that somewhere is 2,000 steps away; I just want to know how long it’ll take me to walk it.

More than that, this map is only useful if you’re trying to get between two places on directly connected by a single tube line. If you want to go from Oxford Circus to Holborn, then brilliant: you can see its 1,900 steps or about 19 minutes, and think to yourself, well, I might as well walk.

But what if you’re going from the middle of Mayfair to somewhere in Bloomsbury? You have no idea how long it’ll take you to get to and from the tube stations, and anyway, the quickest route is probably not the one that involves changing at Holborn. This map is effectively useless to you.

The charitable reading of this is that it’s about persuading the very small number of Londoners who do count their steps to get off the tube a stop early, or to do the last stretch above ground rather than changing lines.

The less charitable reading is that TfL have worked out there’s a flurry of press coverage (Hi, TfL!) every time they publish a new map, and they’ve decided that this is the best way to promote their campaign to get everyone walking.

The new map doesn’t tell you anything about how many steps you have to walk inside a tube station

Changing trains between the Bakerloo and Victoria lines at Oxford Circus is incredibly easy. The platforms are right next to each other. Get off at the right door, and it’s probably less than 50 paces.

Changing trains between the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines at Green Park, though, is not incredibly easy, because the platforms are nowhere bloody near each other. Scientists say the average Londoner spends approximately 5 per cent of their life changing at Green Park.

On this, the map is weirdly silent.

To be fair...

The new map shows that some journeys are really better done on foot

Look at this:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

Remembering our conversation rate of 100 steps per minute, you can see that it’s less than 10 minutes between Bank and St Paul’s. Really not worth bothering with the tube, is it?

Cannon Street to Mansion House, meanwhile is just four minutes, while Cannon Street to Monument is around five. Cannon Street very obviously only got a tube stop because there’s a mainline terminus there. If it weren’t for that, no one would have bothered to build the thing in the first place.

Covent Garden to Leicester Square has no such excuse: 400 paces. No wonder they can get away with making Covent Garden exit only for extended periods of time without anything breaking.

Many of the shortest journeys of all are on the DLR. Which makes sense what with it being a tram with ideas above its station and all:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

From Poplar to West India Quay it’s just 400 steps. Between Canary Wharf and Heron Quays, meanwhile, it’s just 200. That’s nothing.

(A side note: Canary Wharf’s DLR and tube stations are actually quite a long way from each other – the latter is much closer to Heron Quays DLR – but the map doesn’t bother to inform you of this, instead insisting on the fiction that there’s a nice easy change between Canary Wharf DLR and Jubilee line stations. Great work, guys. Fantastic map.)

The new map shows that some journeys are hilariously impossible on foot

Look again at that extract from the map above. It shows that, from Canary Wharf to North Greenwich, it’s 7,600 steps – or about an hour and a quarter to walk. From Canary Wharf to Canada Water, it’s 14,400 – heading for an hour and a half.

Why? Because the only to cross the river on foot around there is the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which means going a very long way out of your way.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a less extreme version of this phenomenon out west, where getting from Imperial Wharf to Clapham Junction, the next stop down the line, will take you about 36 minutes. Might be time to build some more bridges.

The new tube map shows that the tube map is still hideous

I know I have form for banging on about this, but seriously, all the old flaws are there in all their hideous glory. The awkward new shade of grey for the zone 2/3 bit in east London; the massively over cramped bit around Hackney. All of those were bad enough before someone started trying to add little numbers to them.

Come on TfL. Instead of mucking around with new variants on the existing map, how about you get too it and design a new one? Enquiring minds want to know.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.