london: questioning sacred maps

Buses from Farringdon (West End)

Are you tired of hearing that London does everything right when it comes to transit?  Do you wonder if the mapping styles widely copied from London are always the best?   Are you even open to the heresy that London's famous Underground map, despite its global reach as an image, may be less than perfect?  Then you'll enjoy Kerwin Datu's affectionate take-down of London's information system, at the Global Urbanist.  My favorite bit, about the image above:

These maps, which TfL call 'spider maps', fail at the very first task: helping you identify your destination. Normally, once you've found where you're going on a map, you work backwards to where you are. But not here. On these spider maps, you are only shown where the closest bus routes want to take you, not where you want to go. It's like the old joke they tell beyond the Pale: when asking a local for directions one is told, 'well, if that's where you want to go, I wouldn't start from here!'

UPDATE:  Excellent arguments in London's defense, in the comments.  More responsible followup by me here.

london’s northern headache

London underground_map crop Commenter David M on what rivers teach about transit:

It's interesting to note that in London the newest Underground lines have no branches (Victoria, Jubilee). In fact, when Jubilee was originally opened it took over one of the Bakerloo Lines branches, reducing the Bakerloo to a branchless line also.

For real complications, look at Camden Town [top center] on the Northern Line [black on this classic map] in London, England. Just south of this station is a complex deep underground junction that lets trains from any two of the branches south of Camden to simultaneously run on any two of the branches to the north. It is a marvel of engineering, but it is also an operational nightmare with trains run from any branch to any branch – one train runs late and it can cause problems on all of the branches.

London has wanted to simplify the operations by spliting the line into two and requiring an interchange at Camden Town. There are four platforms at Camden Town but the interchange passages are insufficient to handle the expected interchange traffic – so for now, it is cheaper to suck it up and deal with the operational issues.

There is an interesting effect of this interchange. Going south, both branches serve Euston Station before heading off to cross London on two different lines serving different areas of the core. You can get on one train at Camden, stop at Mornington Crescent and at Euston. You could get on the following train at Camden and arrive at Euston without passing through Mornington Crescent. The reason is that Mornington Crescent is on only one of the two branches, the other just bypasses the station. It makes for fun time when trying to get to Mornington Crescent.

The other night a Sydney rail expert was telling me that when the North West line is built, creating a four-way junction at Epping similar to the one at Camden Town, they will spend a number extra millions on the tunnelling to create the ability to route trains from any segment to any other.  A similar decision has already been made about a similar junction at Glenfield in Sydney's southwest.  I wonder how much could be saved if we let lines cross without connecting track, and required connections, where that pattern makes sense as part of a larger grid.  It's not the right answer everywhere, certainly, but it sounds like London transit experts aren't very appreciative of all the flexibility that their great-grandparents gave them with the design of the Northern Line.

Connections vs Complexity

In my first “basics” post on connections, I explained why a network that requires connections (or as North Americans call them, “transfers”) can actually get people where they’re going faster than a network that tries to avoid them.

But there’s another important reason to plan for connections rather than direct service, one that should be important to anyone who wants transit to be broadly relevant to urban life: Unless you welcome and encourage connections, your network will become very, very complex. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Aaron Renn on Universal Fare Media

(Aaron Renn, who writes The Urbanophile, is an opinion-leading urban affairs analyst, consultant, and speaker, based in the US Midwest.)

When I’m at home, I ride bus and rail transit about equally.  But when I travel to a new city, I travel on rail systems frequently, but almost never use the bus.  Why?

For me, while I know how transit systems generally work, the specifics of fares and fare media are different from place to place. I know that if I show up at a rail station there is likely to be a station house where I can look at maps, read about fares and rules, and use nice machines with step by step instructions for purchasing tickets or other fare media.  Continue Reading →

London: the Circle Reaches an End

550px-Circle_Line.svgOne of the world’s most famous continuous loops is finally reaching an endpoint.  The London Underground’s Circle Line, which has long attracted tourists with its simplicity but bedeviled its operators with lack of rest, is to be broken apart into a “tadpole” shape, with trains leaving the circle at Paddington, via a spur of the current Hammersmith & City Line, to end at Hammersmith. Continue Reading →