What does the Tube map look like if you're in a wheelchair?

Nothing like this. Image: TfL.

London's public transport is great. It lets you go pretty much anywhere via a seamless combination of buses, trains and even the occasional ferry.

It's less great, though, if you aren't able to get on any of it in the first place. Much of London's Underground system is old, and deep under the ground; this, if you're a wheelchair user or are otherwise restricted in your movement, is not good news.

Buses are a lot better: most can crank down to the level of the pavement, and there are designated spots where you can park your chair on board. But in a city the size of London, buses aren't really enough.

TfL released its latest "step-free guide" to the London Underground in 2015, and it basically does what it says on the tin: it shows those stations without big flights of non-escalator staircases, which would pose a problem for anyone in a wheelchair or others with mobility issues.TfL greys out the unusable stations, but we've erased them in the map below to make things  a bit clearer:

Click on image to see a larger size. Image: TfL, modified by CityMetric.

If you squint, it all looks prety straighforward: loads of stations have disappeared, but you can still take a fair few on the District and Circle lines, plus a good chunk fo the Overground and the whole DLR. Most of central London is off the cards, unless you happen to be travelling from Ealing Broadway to Oxford Circus (lucky you!).

But all those coloured symbols on the map mean different things for your ability to access trains at that station. Just because a station doesn't have a flight of stairs, doesn't mean there aren't other things standing in your way. 

  • An "R" in a green box means you need to call ahead to get a ramp set up.
  • The green and red circles indicate the gap between train and platform (more on that later).
  • Little red notes and exclamation points indicate stations where certain interchanges do involve stairs, or where you have to access the station through a certain entrance to avoid them.

The map actually comes with all this supplementary material, explaining certain stations' quirks: mini flights of stairs, say, or stairlifts which will carry your manual wheelchair, but not a motorised one:

Essentially: planning Tube journey when you have reduced mobility is a bit like running a small military operation.You need to research every leg of the journey beforehand, and probably need to call ahead, especially as TfL advises that you check the lifts are running if you need them. (To its credit, TfL does provide taxis if lifts are out of order.)

If you're in a wheelchair and can't do escalators, the map gets even simpler – and your journey gets even more complicated.

This map shows all the stations which have lift service (they're marked by a blue ring around a green circle), or stations where the platform is level with the street (green ring around a green circle). It's taken from TfL's "Avoiding Stairs" guide, but we've removed the stations which only have escalator service:

More caveats:

  • Notes in red indicate where this only applies to one direction.
  • Stations still on the map but with an open circle mean you can interchange, but not exit or enter the station.
  • Little numbers inside the circle mean there are that there are a handful of steps along your route in the station.
  • An exclamation mark means you need to check the supplementary material for more information.

I thought about redrawing the map with just the stations which have straightforwad, full access for wheelchair users, but I'm not sure it'd look like much of a map.

One last one: those letters on stations indicate the gap you need to bridge between the platform and train. A green "A" means TfL reckons wheelchair users shouldn't have any trouble getting across it: the gap is less than 50mm high and less than 85mm wide.

This map shows only those station with this designation, or where station staff can set up a ramp:

If you were a wheelchair user who needed to use a lift, and wasn't confident of bridging larger gaps to board trains, you'd need to cross-reference the above two maps (whose information is provided separately by TfL) to figure out if your journey is plausible. Spoiler alert: for most journeys on the Underground, it probably isn't.

We're much better off than Paris – we wrote last June about the fact that the map for wheelchair users there is basically a single line but accesibility in newer networks around the world, like those in many Asian cities, leave ours in their dust. Our network may be old and difficult to upgrade, but what use is public transport if a chunk of the public can't actually get on it?


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Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.