These tools let you map journey times in the world's major cities

How far can you get on Los Angeles' half-hearted transit network? Image: Mapnificent.

Earlier this year we told you about TfL’s shiny mapping tool, which you can use to work out journey times from anywhere in London to, well, anywhere else in London.

But maps can bring joy to everyone, not just Londoners. Lucky, then, that there are other tools which let you do the same thing much of the rest of the world.

Mapnificent is the creation of Stefan Wehrmeyer, a German data researcher.  The tool mines a database of timetables submitted directly by municipal transit authorities, and estimates any connection and waiting times between changing modes of transport. Starting life as a project which looked at transport accessibility in Berlin, it now covers 99 major cities worldwide (though it seems to be more reliable for some than others).

Are you stuck in a major world city and want to know how far you can travel within half an hour? You can do that. From downtown Manhattan?

From Notre Dame, in the heart of Paris?

From the centre of Sydney?

What about amidst the throng of central Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil?

(It’s worth noting that these images aren’t necessarily all to the same scale.)

Closer to home, the tool covers cities including Manchester and Dublin. In London, though, Mapnificent produces some results that are strangely inconsistent with official TfL tool.

Below, as an illustration, we’ve used estimated travel times from the heart of Westminster. TfL reckon that you could reach as far as Covent Garden or Pimlico in 15 minutes (the central dark patch on the left hand image). Mapnificent suggests you could reach as far as the City of London or Elephant and Castle.

We think the latter is the more accurate assessment – a tube from St James’s Park to Cannon Street underground stations takes just 9 minutes, but the TfL mapper places the journey well inside the 15-30 minutes bracket.

That said, Mapnificent does appear to be less reliable when estimating journeys to outer London. A journey from Westminster to Romford, for example, can be completed in around 50 minutes, but the tool suggests considerably longer than that.

In its defence, Mapnificent doesn’t claim to be completely accurate: it doesn’t assess any of the raw data it uses, so discrepancies are likely to be down to data errors or an over-simplification of the connection times between two transport modes. But its creator claims the majority of errors are of less than 5 minutes, so it remains a useful indicative tool.

For those in the UK wanting to look at cities other than London or Manchester, there is an alternative. Mapumental served as the inspiration for Mapnificient, and allows transport accessibility mapping of any part of the UK with journey times of up to two hours.

A fast train from Birmingham to London takes just over 80 minutes. The Mapumental image below shows, starting from Birmingham city centre, where else you can travel within that time. Again, it has its issues (on the map below, we think central Nottingham should be lit up, for example). But for transport planners and those of us with an unhealthy interest in maps it is a great resource.

You can try out Mapumental and Mapnificent for yourself here.

(H/T for Mapnificent: the Guardian’s David Shariatmadari.)


What’s behind the rise of the ornamental restaurant toilet?

Toilets at Sketch restaurant, London. Image: Nik Stanbridge/Flickr.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the toilets of a zeitgeisty new Italian restaurant in east London called Gloria. As with so many contemporary restaurant toilets, those in question were an aesthetic extension of the establishment’s soul. The inventive menu was matched by two-way mirrored toilet doors.

The setup was this: cubicle occupants could see out while the unisex crowd milling around the taps could check their outfits on the exterior mirrors. All fun and games, I thought. But then I found myself mid toilet with a guy peering into my door to change his contact lens. Either he had spectacularly bad manners or he was unaware of the two-way door thing. (Let’s hope it’s the latter.)

Gloria’s toilets aren’t unique in their attempt to be distinctive. The loos at nearby Mr Fogg’s Maritime Club & Distillery are adorned with specimen boards of dead spiders. Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s The Sun Inn invites patrons to pee in buckets, and trumpets double as urinals in The Bell Inn in East Sussex. Men can wee into the vista if they’re dining in the Shard. And Sketch’s ovum shaped loos are the stuff of urban legend.

Further afield, transparent doors become frosted only after they’re locked at Brussels’ Belga Queen. In Otto’s Bierhalle in Toronto, diners can press a button to activate their own private rave. And the toilets in Robot Restaurant in Tokyo have gold-plated interiors and dancing robots.

What’s behind this trend? Are quirky toilets just a bit of fun – or an unnecessary complication to the simple act of going for a wee and checking you don’t have tomato sauce on your chin?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s London flagship restaurant Nopi crops up often in conversations about restaurant bathrooms. A hall of mirrors glitters enticingly ahead of loo-bound diners. “The bathroom needs to be the nicest part [of] the whole place because that’s where you’re on your own,” says Alex Meitlis, the designer behind the space.

But no one is truly alone in 2019. If surveys are to be believed, nearly 65 per cent of millennials take their phone to the bathroom with them. Mike Gibson, who edits the London food and drink magazine Foodism agrees that the bathroom selfie – searches for which, incidentally, yield over 1.5m results on Instagram – is part of the reason that contemporary lavatory design is so attention seeking.

“Any new venue that's opening will be super aware that there's probably not an inch of their restaurant that won't be photographed or filmed at some point”, he says. But bathrooms like Nopi’s predate this trend. Indeed, Meitlis believes he has created a haven from the smartphone obsession; Nopi’s mirrors are angled in such a way that means you have to seek out your reflection. “You can choose whether to look for yourself in the mirror or not.”

Another driving force is the increasingly competitive restaurant landscape. “It’s almost like there’s some sort of ever-escalating competition going on amongst new openings, which makes every visit a faintly terrifying experience”, says food writer and New Statesman contributor Felicity Cloake. Gibson agrees. “Restaurants want an edge wherever possible, and design definitely comes into that.”

So novelty bathrooms get you noticed, promote social media engagement and entertain diners who are momentarily without the distraction of company. (Although, it must be said, quirky bathrooms tend to make the loo trip a more sociable experience; a Gloria spokesperson described the restaurant’s toilets as somewhere you can “have a good laugh and meet people along the way.”)

Nevertheless, I’m not the only one who finds bathroom surprises disconcerting.  One TripAdvisor user thought the Belga Queen loos were “scary”. And a friend reports that her wonderment at the Nopi bathroom was laced with mirror maze induced nausea – and mild panic when she realised she didn’t know the way out. Should restaurants save the thrills for the food?

“I think it's important not to be too snarky about these things – restaurants are meant to playful,” says Gibson. Cloake agrees that novelty is fine, but adds: “my favourite are places like Zelman Meats in Soho that have somewhere in the dining room where you can easily wash your hands before sitting down and tucking in.”

So perhaps we should leave toilets unadorned and instead ramp up the ornamentation elsewhere. Until then, I’ll be erecting a makeshift curtain in all mirrored toilets I encounter in future. An extreme reaction, you might say. But, as I wish I could have told the rogue contact lens inserter, it’s not nice to pry into someone else’s business.