It's Friday, so here's a 1935 map of some suburban London rail services

A detail of the 1935 LMS suburban rail network map. Image: Signage Design Society.

Oh, dear readers. I feel that recently we've let you – or at least, a significant minority of you – down of late. Not so long ago, CityMetric was over-flowing with tube map-y goodness. In February alone, we ran four different stories about the bloody thing.

Recently, though, between a mayoral election and Brexit and the gradual implosion of life as we know it, we've got distracted by other, less important subjects. As a result, we've published nothing on everyone’s favourite navigation-based design icon in weeks.

Rejoice, though, for the Sign Design Society is riding to the rescue. Last night it held a party/lecture/exhibition to show off some of its favourite tube maps. We couldn't make it, alas – but thanks to the wonder of the internet we can still enjoy some of our favourite metro maps and share them with you.

There's this display of experimental circle-based maps, for example:

 

There was a display of different takes on the tube map, using a range of different angles:

 

There were maps showing the evolution of Berlin's S-Bahn map...

 

...including that awkward phase when the city was divided and East Berlin decided to just pretend West Berlin wasn't there.

 

My favourite, though, because I'm a bit parochial, is this one.

 

It shows the suburban routes of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) as they stood in 1935: a main line from Euston to Watford, an orbital route from the East End, around to the north London to the south western suburbs, the Bakerloo line (which it helped operate), and assorted branches.

Perhaps surprisingly, despite 80 years having passed, many of those lines are still associated with each other. Until 2007 they were bundled together as the London bit of the optimistically-named “Silverlink” franchise, before making up most of the first phase of the London Overground. (The Bakerloo still shares tracks with it between Queen's Park and Harrow & Wealdstone, though joint operation is long dead.)

Here's the whole thing. Click it expand:

So, what, I hear you cry (yes I do), does this map tell us about the history of London's rail networks?

Firstly, what is now the North London section of the Overground used to terminate at Broad Street, a long defunct station next door to Liverpool Street. In its early 20th century heyday, Broad Street was one of London's busiest stations, with a train arriving every minute.

After World War I, though, the growth of more direct Tube lines meant that it went into a steep decline, and it closed in 1986, to be replaced by the Broadgate office complex. Anyway, Paul McCartney made a film about it, so that's nice.

Another branch continued on through Hackney down to Poplar. That's mostly beeen swallowed by the Overground and DLR now.

There used to be branch lines from Watford to Croxley Green and Rickmansworth. (The former is coming back, sort of, as part of the Metropolitan line.) More excitingly, for a certain value of “excitement”, there was another branchline from Harrow & Wealdstone to Stanmore, which – I feel quite shamed by this – I had never heard of.

Apparently it opened in 1932 and ran to a different Stanmore station to the one now on the tube, but only last 20 years. The section to Belmont lasted a bit longer, but still, Stanmore Village must be pretty near the top of London's shortlist lived stations.

Kensington Addington Road is now Kensington Olympia. Uxbridge Road is now Shepherd's Bush. Chelsea & Fulham is not now Imperial Wharf, but was quite near it. S Quintin Park & Workword Scrubs is alas no longer with us - a strong candidate for London's best forgotten station name.

And Chalk Farm was later Primrose Hill, and later still a yoga studio.

That guy looks pretty bendy. Image: Google Streetview.

This map, incidentally, has been rescued from obscurity by metro map expert extraordinary Maxwell Roberts. By way of thanks, you should probably all buy his book.

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

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Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.