How useful are the “connectors” on the Tube Map really?

All over the map. Image: TfL.

Connectors on the Tube Map are so often the unsung heroes of London’s transport network. Because of its advanced age, many of the lines in the capital snake around each other and interchange in ways that a modern transport system built from scratch would never even consider.

This means some pairs of stations are linked to each other, either through physical connections (like the walkway between Hackney Central and Hackney Downs) or more notionally, via the street (like Forest Gate and Wanstead Park). These links often necessitate a ‘connector’ on the Tube Map, like the big one between Bank and Monument. However, the sheer number of situations in which these humble connectors are applied means they often fall victim to problems.

Case in point: Camden. TfL’s recent public consultation into its upgrade of Camden Town Station noted that the new station, moved up onto Buck Street, will ease interchange with Camden Road Overground station, an option opened up by the new station’s increased capacity.

Image: TfL/CityMetric.

This is already an official “out-of-station interchange” (OSI), which means you can change from one station to the other and have it count as one journey rather than the usual two, and so are charged less on Oyster. You can find the full list of those here.

What stands out, though, is that the interchange TfL is so eager to improve in Camden is one they currently don’t bother to tell passengers about: it just doesn’t appear as a connection on the Tube Map. Unless a savvy passenger were to check, they wouldn’t know that the two Camden stations are only a three minute walk apart.

This is particularly scandalous, given the relative rarity of viable Overground – Underground interchanges. Why would TfL purposefully mislead passengers like this? Moreover, how do they determine when to connect two stations on the map? This is a question that deserves answers, but it feels like there aren’t any.

There is literally no firm way of telling which stations deserve a connector and which don’t

Let’s start with a simple assertion: all of the stations that are connected by underground tunnels are connected on the Tube Map. This, obviously, holds up.

There are also above-ground interchanges, like Clapham High Street/Clapham North, which are signposted and don’t use tunnels. Even though travellers have to enter and exit a ticket gate to use these interchanges, they still work because there is an OSI between them.

But half of the above ground OSIs aren’t shown on the map. And Camden is just the first of many.

Why did they bother with these two but not those two? Image: Tfl/CityMetric

There are lots of stations with OSIs that don’t connect on the Tube Map

A relatively well known example of this is Seven Sisters/South Tottenham; there have been complaints in the past that, despite being just as close together as the two Walthamstow stations to the east, these two don’t appear connected on the map.

But that is simply the first in a line of peculiar choices. Take Dalston Junction to Dalston Kingsland: only a three minute walk apart, they don’t get a visible connection either, even though a sprint between these two could make the difference when catching a train that’s just left Canonbury.

There are even interchanges that really should have an OSI but don’t get one

There are two stations in London called Bethnal Green. The two are about an eight minute walk apart, but they don’t get an out-of-station interchange. You might be wondering whether this is really so egregious: after all, eight minutes is surely a long time, and passengers could simply stay on either line and change at Liverpool Street.

Well, if eight minutes is a long time, then the trek required for the official interchange between Euston and King’s Cross is even longer. As for the change at Liverpool Street, this is a fair criticism – but enabling passengers to change at Bethnal Green would mean they could change without entering Zone 1, and save money as a result.

Double standards. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric

But that sets a dangerous precedent, doesn’t it?

Maybe. If we give the OSI between Euston and King’s Cross a thumbs-up, why doesn’t it get a connector? What about the other Central London stations with OSIs? There’s actually quite a lot of them.

The OSI between Warren Street and Euston Square is one example. A simple three minute walk along Euston Road could shave a minute or two off a journey. However, it feels like putting a connector on the Tube Map here would be overkill: travellers could simply walk from Euston instead. Giving all OSIs connectors on the Tube Map could just mean needless clutter and senseless route planning.

And with that, we reach a peculiar sort of conclusion: according to common sense, some stations, like in Camden and Bethnal Green, really need connecting up – but that same common sense could make Central London a complete mess on the Tube Map.


Method in the madness, then?

Yes. So perhaps the fact that there are no hard and fast rules for connecting stations on the Tube Map actually results in a cleaner end result than if such rules did actually exist. It’s also a much safer solution than connecting stations willy-nilly.

That’s because connecting two stations up on a map completely changes how travellers actually behave. Connecting stations like Dalston and Bethnal Green seems good on paper – but do the same in Camden this evening, and by tomorrow you’ll have dangerous crushes in station corridors, because too many people are trying to get from one station to the other.

The same might happen if you connected Euston Square and Warren Street on the map: the junction between Euston Road and Gower Street is not designed for masses of pedestrians crossing east to west.

So, if the system for determining which stations to connect appears non-existent in theory, but relatively sturdy in practice, what remains to be said?

Well, for one thing, Bethnal Green and Bethnal Green. Sort it out, TfL. 

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In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.