This is what the Paris metro map looks like if you're in a wheelchair

Oh. Image: Screenshot of RATP interactive map.

Hey, so, TfL isn't the only city transport authority doing some pretty cool things with maps these days. RATP, its Parisian equivalent, has produced its own plan-interactif.

There are all sorts of exciting things you can do with this baby. You can use it to plan your journey:

 

You can check the time of the next trains:

 

You can pull up maps of the areas around a station:

 

It's good. If you're planning to be in Paris any time soon, it'll come in handy.

But one of the other whizzy things the map does is to highlight which bits of the network are accessible if you're in a wheelchair. And the results of that are, er, less good

Here's a screen shot of the whole network:

 

Here's what happens if you set it only to show “stations with wheelchair access directly to trains with no need for staff assistance”:

 

That's without staff assistance, though, so here's what happens if you include lines you can access with staff assistance.

 

One extra heavy rail line. But apparently not any of the stations on it, which is a bit weird, so we suspect there's a bug at work somewhere.


The problem here is not that the stations themselves aren't accessible: many Paris metro stations are “wheelchair accessible”, in that there are step-free routes down to the platforms. The problem is that the trains aren't.

This geographical map of transport in Paris from 2008 includes a list of stations, with a wheelchair symbol to note that they're step free. Almost all of them also have a little asterisk, pointing you towards a note that explains that you need an escort if you actually want to get the wheelchair onto a train.

To be fair to Paris, this is largely a legacy problem, and there are signs that RATP is trying to change things. The thing that the accessible lines have in common is that they're all relatively new: Line 14 of the Metro dates from 1998; the first of the trams opened in 1992.

We also think the interactive map might be a bit, er, wrong. According to the list linked to above, stations on RER E, which opened in 1998, are also step free. For some reason, they're not on the map of accessible lines.

But if the details are wrong, the overall message unfortunately seems to be accurate: if you're in a wheelchair, there are large chunks of Paris you can't get around under your own steam.

Which seems a bit sad, really.

Hat tip: Peter Apps, of the Project for the Study of the 21st Century

 
 
 
 

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.