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Transport / Mass transit

What if London's tube map was just, well, better?

London’s Underground Diagram (or “Tube Map”) has long been regarded as an icon of informational design, pioneering the way for just about every other schematic transportation map in the world since its inception way back in 1931. But how much of that reputation is actually deserved these days?

Good question. And one which a lot of people – well, a lot of the sort of people with the sort of blogs that nerds like me read – have been asking recently.

Over the last few years, the tube map has added a whole flock of national rail lines, wheelchair symbols to highlight accessibility (or lack thereof), shading to show transport zones… And as a result has ended up looking a bit of a mess.

The most recent version of the tube map. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

Eugh.

So, a succession of graphic designers, wanting to show off their skills, have  taken on the project of redrawing it. (Strangely enough, hardly any of them seem to live in London.)

One of the latest is Cameron Booth, the Sydney-born, Portland-based designer whose blog we quoted at the beginning. His approach is less radical than those from Jug Cerovic (Paris), Thomas Lee (Hong Kong) or Rich Cousins (okay, he does live in London): rather than starting the map from scratch, Booth just tinkers with the existing version to make it a bit better.

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

But what it lacks in radicalism it makes up in realism. These are the sort of incremental changes it’s possible to imagine Transport for London actually making one day.

So, what does Booth do?

The zones are gone

Good. They’re hideous, and only actually relevant to a small number of users.

Stations are neatly aligned wherever possible

…something that the zone map made harder. Sometimes that means keeping lines as straight as possible; at other times it’s a matter of lining terminal stations up (those from Watford to Chingford, for example).

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

He’s tidied up the currently wonky north western section of the Piccadilly line too:

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

So are interchange markers

Removing the odd thing where diagonal ones currently drop lower than vertical ones.

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

More geographic accuracy where possible

In a few places the tube map is actively misleading (showing South Tottenham as north of Seven Sisters, for example). Booth has corrected a few of these.

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

White strokes separating lines where they cross without interchange

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

Just because it’s prettier.

Removing interchange circles at stations that have National Rail services

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

The old British Rail symbol does the job fine.

In his initial version of the map, Booth replaced the current clunky wheelchair symbols with little blue dots, which has the advantage of being clean, but would force users to look at the key to work out what they mean. So in another version he’s replaced them with wheelchair symbols next to station names, or in interchange bubbles where they exist.

As a special bonus, in this version of the map he even includes the potential extension to the Bakerloo line (although it’s difficult to imagine the station names “Old Kent Road 1” and “Old Kent Road 2” catching on). He’s tinkered with out of station interchanges those where you have to walk a bit at street level – too.

Click to expand. Image: Cameron Booth.

The map still gets a bit confusing in the north east quadrant, thanks to a profusion of orange Overground lines. And Booth himself acknowledges there are a few problems he hasn’t managed to solve (how to show those Crossrail stations that interchange with two tube stations, for example).

But as with so many of these unofficial takes on the map, the result are cleaner, prettier and easier to read than the official version.


Which leads me to wonder: why have London’s transport authorities not fixed any of this? Come on TfL, what are you waiting for?

You can read more about Booth’s map on his blog. Or you can follow his excellent Transit Maps tumblr.

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