If you’ve ever visited Hong Kong you will have undoubtably discovered that the city has three distinct, albeit tangled, levels – street level, underground and overground – which can be navigated by pedestrians via a complex network of elevated walkways and underground tunnels that have evolved over the past 50 years. You can literally walk for miles through interconnected shopping malls, office lobbies, train stations, parks and other public/private spaces. Read more
So it looks like someone at TfL was listening last year when I posted my critique of the 2008 version of the London Underground Tube Map which had become horribly cluttered and complex. Last month they issued a new version of the map which immediately sparked controversy because the River Thames had been removed along with many other changes designed to simplify the map which made the original so effective. Now that the outcry has died down I thought I’d take an objective look at the changes…
Let’s recap – the clean and simple 2004 version (click for larger version):
The horribly complex and cluttered 2008 version:
Leading to the new 2009 version:
What a breath of fresh air – at a glance you’d think they’d simply gone back to the 2004 version but aside from the obvious removal of the river and fare zones there are some more subtle omissions:
- walking distances
- blue/orange info boxes
- limited-time junctions (e.g. Kennington, Woodford)
- “check before you travel” symbols
In keeping with the tidy-up the DLR and Overground lines are now better integrated into the rest of the system and many junctions have been simplified. The wheelchair accessibility symbols are still excessive (but probably required by law).
In general I like this new design a lot; it solves most of my gripes with the 2008 version and brings back a certain artful elegance to the classic design. There is only one problem I have with this version: the lack of the River Thames. This was an iconic part of the map which was also a useful geographical indicator to help you know which side you were on (North/South). Apparently Major Boris Johnson feels the same way and has promised it’ll be reinstated so it’s not all bad news.
Despite its drawbacks the London Underground is the circulatory systems that supplies the lifeblood to the city so it’s no wonder that people are passionate about how we look at and navigate through it. Within the perspective of its evolution it seems that a step backward was needed to move things forward; “back to basics” if you like. It will be interesting to see how this continues to develop but TfL definitely deserves a small pat on the back for taking this brave step.
In the afternoon after visiting Lijiang River we headed underground to a fascinating limestone labyrinth known as the “Silver Cave”. Running through 12 mountains the subterranean tour covers approximately 2 km and takes about 1 hour to complete with a guide giving copious information about each rock formation (great if you understand Chinese, not so great if you don’t!).
The cave has been well adapted for tourists with concrete floors and stairs so the able-bodied will have no problem getting around. Creative lighting has been used to highlight the cave with its many stalactites (the ones hanging from the roof) and stalagmites (those built up on the floor of a cavern). There are a number of natural pools which are so perfectly still that they act as giant mirrors and make the enormous space appear even larger.
Funnily enough one of my Chinese colleagues commented during the tour “do you think these are real?” which I think pretty much encapsulates a lot about China right now. They were of course the genuine article but as with so much in China it’s always hard to tell!
Some hilarious news I came across tonight – Emma Clarke, the voice on the London Underground announcement system has been fired for recording and posting some spoofs on her own website. Although the site has been crippled by people trying to access it I found them elsewhere and here are a few I found particularly funny –
“We’d like to remind our American tourist friends that you are almost certainly talking too loud.”
“Passengers are reminded that a smile is actually a friendship signal, not a sign of weakness.”
“Passengers should note that the bearded gentleman’s rucksack contains the following items only: Some sandwiches, a library card and a picture of a bare ankle and is no cause for concern.”
“Would the gentlemen in the pinstripe suit and £1000 glasses who obviously works in the media, please take one step forward on to the track as the train arrives. Thank you.”
I think instead of firing her they should commission some more to be randomly played between stops – it would certainly make the hellish nightmare of tube travel a little more bearable!
Download the rest of the announcements here (n.b. some are a little risque).