The new Dublin Luas map is a crime against cartography

Abbey Street. Image: William Murphy/Wikipedia.

It can be reassuring, in the era of Brexit, to know that there are still some things which Britain has in common with its European neighbours like Ireland. For example: "Really, really bad public transit maps".

The Luas is Dublin's tram network, which first opened in 2004. It has two lines: the Green Line, which connect the suburbs of south Dublin to St Stephen's Green; and the red line, which connects the western suburbs to the docks.

What the red and green lines don't connect is each other because, look:

Well, I guess we’re walking. Image: Strikous/Wikipedia.

But Dubliners need not worry much longer – because the Luas Cross City project is extending the green line across the city centre and into north Dublin. It's due to open in December, and the city's transport authorities have just released this outstandingly abysmal map:

Click to expand.

In fact, it comes in Irish, too:

Cliceáil a leathnú.

I'm not familiar with the geography of Dublin – sadly, I've never been – so unravelling this map required spending half an hour clicking back and forth between this and a street map. I might be wrong about some of the details (in which case, write in), but I’ve found four big problems with the new map.

It shows the wrong number of lines

Luas Cross City is not a third, blue line: it's an extension of the existing, green one. You wouldn't know it from this map, however, which strongly suggests it's a whole new line, because:

The river is invisible

Transit maps don't tend to go for geographical accuracy – that's not what they're for – but they do often include big rivers and other major features of the landscape, just to give you a sense of the shape of the city.

Whoever made this map seems to have considered doing this, then changed their mind, then decided on a compromise option. And so we get this:

This best I can tell is the River Liffey which divides the two halves of Dublin. I can see a case for including this on the map (Helps with orientation!); I can see a case for not including it (Clutters up the map!). What I can't see a case for is replacing the river with a confusing dotted line.

The interchange is baffling

Okay: if you want to change from the red to the green (blue) line, you will get off at Abbey Street, and walk to either O'Connell-GPO (to head in one direction) or Marlborough (to head in the other). You can see that from this monstrosity of an inset:

But which stop do you want for which direction? If you keep squinting long enough you can sort of see that the left hand line is northbound. But it's not obvious on the graphical map, and the geographical inset doesn't bother to make it any clearer.

What the hell is an interchange anyway?

Some stops are marked as interchanges because they're the point where two branches of the same line meet. That's not an interchange in the same way as Abbey Street, but I sort of see what they're up to.

But why is Sandyford an interchange?

Why is O'Connell Upper?

You can probably find out with long enough on Google (I got bored and gave up). But the point is you shouldn't have to. It should be clear from the map. What is going on?

Really, Dublin, you’re the capital of a bloody tiger economy, the city that's threatening to steal London's crown. Is this the best you can do?


Anyway, I'm going for a lie down.

Update: A number of correspondents have been in contact on the last point: both Sandyford and O'Connell Upper will be where some trams terminate, so you have to change trams. Which seems a funny definition of interchange.

Also, I can't vouch for this, but somebody tweeted to say that blue is a standard colour in Ireland for stuff under construction.

Still, though:

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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Can you have capitalism without capital? Brighton, Ankara, Ghent and the intangible economy

The Fusebox, Brighton. Image: WiredSussex.

As you head north out of Brighton on the A23 things take a distinctly granular turn. The cool bars and trendy eateries give way to second-hand shops and nail bars.

Looming over the area, New England House, an eight-storey brutalist office block, is home to Wired Sussex, a collection of digital and media companies, as well as its offshoot The Fusebox. Here, a collection of entrepreneurs, tech visionaries and creative technologists are seeking to transform their ideas into successful businesses. This island of cutting-edge thinking, surrounded by the evidence of the glaring consequences of austerity, could stand as a synecdoche for the suddenly vogueish concept of the “intangible economy”.

Towards the end of last year, on Radio 4’s Start The Week, Jonathan Haskel, author of Capitalism Without Capital, laid out the features of this brave new economy. The ideas are scalable, have sunk costs, their benefits spill over, and they have synergies with other intangible assets. All of these things are, to a greater or lesser extent, attributes featured in the virtual reality games, apps for care home workers, and e-commerce ideas mapped out by the bright sparks in the Fusebox.

Its manager, Rosalie Hoskins, explains that it exists to support the work of small companies doing creative work. Within these clean white walls they can bounce their ideas off each other and reap the fruits of collaboration. “We’ll provide the doors,” she says. But “it’s up to them to open them.”

One innovative thinker hoping to make her entrance is Maf’j Alvarez. She tells me she studied for a masters in digital media arts at the University of Brighton, and describes herself as an ‘interactive artist’. “Right now I am playing with virtual reality,” she tells me. “There’s a lot of physics involved in the project which explores weight and light. It definitely has a practical application and commercial potential. VR can be used to help people with dementia and also as a learning tool for young people.”

The Fusebox, she says, is “about collaboration. The residents of the Fusebox are in all a similar situation.”

The willingness to work together, identified by Haskell as a key element of the intangible economy, is evident in the Fusebox’s partnership with like minded innovators in Ankara. Direnç Erşahin from İstasyon, a centre for “social incubation” based in the Turkish capital, visited the Fusebox toward the end of last year.

“It was a good opportunity to exchange knowledge about the practice of running a creative hub – managing the place, building a community and so on,” he says.

Erşahin and his colleagues have launched a fact-checking platform – teyit.org – which he believes will provide “access to true information”. The co-operation between the Fusebox in Brighton and İstasyon in Ankara  is “a good opportunity to reinforce a data-oriented approach and university and society interaction,” he argues.

But the interaction between wider society and the denizens of the intangible world is often marked by friction and, ironically, a failure of communication.

This point is underlined by Aral Balkan, who runs a company called indie.ie which aims to develop ethical technologies. “There’s a good reason we have a trust problem,” he says. “It’s because people in mainstream technology companies have acted in ways that have violated our trust. They have developed systems that prey upon individuals rather than empowering them.”

A former Brighton resident, Balkan is almost a walking definition of Theresa May’s “citizen of nowhere”. He is a regular speaker on the TED and digital circuits, and I crossed paths frequently with him when I covered the industry for Brighton’s local newspaper. He left the city last year, chiefly, he tells me, in protest over the UK government’s overweening “snooper’s charter” laws.


He has Turkish and French citizenship and is now based in Malmö, Sweden, while working with the city of Ghent on a radical redevelopment of the internet. “Ghent is a beautiful example of how location affects the work,” he tells me. “They don’t want to be a smart city, they want to encourage smart citizens. We are exploring alternatives.”

Karl-Filip Coenegrachts, chief strategy officer at the City of Ghent, is another believer in the synergies made possible by the intangible economy. “The historic perspective has impacted on the psychology and DNA of the city,” he says. “The medieval castle built to protect the nobility from the citizens not the other way around. People in Ghent want to have their say.”

Left out of this perspective, of course, are those who cannot make their voice heard or who feel they are being ignored. The fissures are easy to find if you look. The future of Belgium’s coalition government, for example, is threatened by Flemish nationalists in the wake of a scandal over the forced repatriation of 100 Sudanese migrants. In Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has purged local government and continues to stamp on any dissent.

In the UK, the gig economy makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Back in the area around the Fusebox, the sharp observer will notice, alongside the homeless people curled up in sleeping bags in charity shop doorways, a stream of gig-worker bikers zooming from one order to another.

The intangible economy throws up all-too tangible downsides, according to Maggie Dewhurst, vice chair at the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. She gives short shrift to the idea of ‘capitalism without capital’.

“It does get a bit irritating when they muddy the waters and use pseudo academic definitions. They pretend tangible assets don’t exist or are free.”

In fact, she adds, “The workers are a human resource.”