TfL has a tool that lets you map travel times to anywhere in London, and it is brilliant

This one shows travel times to Soho. Image: TfL/WebCAT/Google Maps.

“We use WebCAT to provide information on London's transport system to the professional planning community,” explains a rather unpromising page on Transport for London's website. “This connectivity assessment toolkit allows planners to measure public transport access levels (PTAL) and to produce travel time reports.”

I mean, no, that's not exactly doing it for us either, to be honest. You know the voice Steve Coogan uses in The Day Today, when he's a swimming pool supervisor? (“In 1975, no one died. In 1976, no one died...”) That's the voice we're imagining that last sentence in. Try reading it again, but this time, imagine him saying it. In that voice. All nasal and stuff. See?

Anyway. The reason we mention all this is that checking PTAL values and creating time travel maps is just about the most fun thing we’ve seen in weeks.

Let's start by translating this blurb into English. WebCAT stands for “web-based connectivity assement toolkit”. It allows planners to look at maps of particular locations anywhere in London, and see how well connected they are to public transport – something that’s vital, if you're planning new homes or offices.

To do that, it uses two related measures. One is the Public Transport Access Level, or PTAL. That ranks locations on a nine-point scale based on how well connected they are. The best connected places, where you have a choice of high frequency train services and buses, are rated 6b; the worst, where you really might as well walk, are zero. (There are nine points on the scale because values 1 and 6 are both split into two.)

The result of this ranking is this brilliant map:

On the TfL site, you can zoom right into that, and check the transport accessibility of an area as small as 100m square.


That, though, is a fairly blunt instrument. Central Croydon gets a high ranking because it has lots of trains and buses. But it's clearly a bit much to say it's “more convenient” than, say, the Bermondsey riverside, which has a much lower ranking, but from which many people would be able to walk to work.

In other words, PTAL shows where there are good transport links, but it doesn’t show where there are links to.

So, WebCAT also provides another tool: travel time mapping, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It can show you travel times from any point in London as they were in 2011; or you can look into the future, to see how they'll have changed by 2021 or 2031. You can also throw other variables into the mix: time of day, for example, or using step-free modes of transport only.

Using these maps (isochrone maps, to give them the technical name), you can instantly see that CityMetric Towers in London's fashionable Farringdon is – we don’t like to brag – pretty well connected. This map shows average travel times to and from the office in the afternoon rush hour:

Here's travel times from Canary Wharf in the morning rush hour. Unsurprisingly, it's quite well connected to the eastern suburbs, but a pain in the backside to get to or from the west:

That'll change a bit thanks to Crossrail and other initiatives, though. Here's the same map, for 2031. See how the yellow has spread:

Since the Guardian's Alex Hern was nice enough to point us towards this thing, here's a map showing how long it’ll take him to get from his office to everywhere else in London these days:

Our happy hour with WebCAT has taught us one lesson above all others: whatever you do, don't live in the Bromley village of Downe.

All in all, this is really, really cool. Go play.

 
 
 
 

Older people need better homes – but then, so does everybody else

Colne, Lancashire. Image: Getty.

Towards the end of last year, I started as an associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, working particularly on our goal around safe and accessible homes. Before I arrived, Ageing Better had established some ambitious goals for this work: by 2030, we want the number of homes classed as decent to increase by a million, and by the same date to ensure that at least half of all new homes are built to be fully accessible.

We’ve all heard the statistics about the huge growth in the number of households headed by someone over 65, and the exponential growth in the number of households of people over 85. Frustratingly, this is often presented as a problem to be solved rather than a major success story of post war social and health policy. Older people, like everyone else, have ambitions for the future, opportunities to make a full contribution to their communities and to continue to work in fulfilling jobs.

It is also essential that older people, again like everyone else, should live in decent and accessible homes. In the last 50 years we have made real progress in improving the quality of our homes, but we still have a lot to do. Our new research shows that over 4 million homes across England fail to meet the government’s basic standards of decency. And a higher proportion of older people live in these homes than the population more generally, with over a million people over the age of 55 living in conditions that pose a risk to their health or safety.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure all our homes meet a decent standard. A small number of homes require major and expensive remedial work, but the overwhelming majority need less than £3,000 to hit the mark. We know how to do it. We now need the political will to make it a priority. Apart from the benefits to the people living in the homes, investment of this kind is great for the economy, especially when so many of our skilled tradespeople are older. Imagine if they were part of training young people to learn these skills.


At a recent staff away day, we explored where we would ideally want to live in our later lives. This was not a stretch for me, although for some of our younger colleagues it is a long way into the future.

The point at which the conversation really took off for me was when we moved away from government definitions of decency and accessibility and began to explore the principles of what great homes for older people would be like. We agreed they needed light and space (by which we meant real space – our national obsession with number of bedrooms as opposed to space has led to us building the smallest new homes in Europe).

We agreed, too, that they needed to be as flexible as possible so that the space could be used differently as our needs change. We thought access to safe outdoor space was essential and that the homes should be digitally connected and in places that maximise the potential for social connection.

Of course, it took us just a few seconds to realise that this is true for virtually everyone. As a nation we have been dismal at moving away from three-bed boxes to thinking differently about what our homes should look like. In a world of technology and factory building, and as we build the new generation of homes we desperately need, we have a real chance to be bold.

Great, flexible homes with light and space, in the places where people want to live. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

David Orr is associate director – homes at the Centre for Ageing Better.