The Tube Map Is Full Of Lies

By M@ Last edited 81 months ago
The Tube Map Is Full Of Lies

Everyone knows that the tube map is not an accurate representation of London. This is its very power. The genius of its designer, Harry Beck, was to dispense with the need for geographic precision. All that really matters is that the stations are connected up in the right way.

All well and good, so long as you only ever travel by tube and don't need a mental map of the city that's based on geographic reality. If you do pop your head above ground, over-familiarity with the tube map might lead you astray.

Here are five of the many spatial anomalies to look out for on the network.

1. The crooked Thames

Nothing on the tube map is more divorced from reality than the River Thames. The blue streak promenades through the map on its own merry whim. A case in point is the bend at Westminster. On the tube map (look above), the river runs horizontally, straight and true, for some distance either side of that station. In real life, the Thames takes a decidedly north-south alignment as far east as Embankment:

Imagine that you're standing on Westminster Bridge. In which compass directions will you find Big Ben and County Hall? The intuitive answer, for many of us, is to picture Big Ben due north, and County Hall plus the London Eye somewhere south. (They are on the land known as the South Bank, after all.) But that is not the geographical reality. The landmarks are much closer to east and west of the bridge. There are, no doubt, several reasons for this common misconception, but we're betting the tube map's misbehaviour is a big factor.

2. Mansion House

We've measured from the ticket halls rather than specific exits, but the results would be the same.

Mansion House on the Circle and District lines is hilariously misnamed. Two other stations are closer to the Mansion House, home of the Lord Mayor of London.

Look above if you don't believe us. The Mansion House building is shown as a pink rectangle in the graphic — its entrance is on the west side, so that's where we're measuring from. Mansion House tube station is at the end of the orange line, approximately 320m away. Much closer is Bank (green). Cannon Street (blue) is also a shorter distance; 190m as the crow flies. Even Monument station (red) is in with a shout, depending which exit you use. If you don't have the ability to fly like a crow, then following the streets will give the same result: Mansion House just ain't the best station for the Mansion House.

3. How far?

Because the tube map shows a schematic representation of the network, distances between stations are not always as they seem. The effect gets more exaggerated farther out, where stations in zones 4, 5 and 6 are placed close together rather than making the map unnecessarily large. But weird spatial distortions can also be found in inner London. Here's a good example on the Northern line.

Looking at this, you might assume that Elephant & Castle is much closer to Kennington than to Borough station — maybe about four times closer. In fact, Elephant is around 100 metres closer to Borough than it is to Kennington. Why's that, then? You'll notice E&C is on the borders of fare zones 1 and 2. If the station were shifted closer to Borough, then the fare boundary would also have to move. That'd upset the parallel with another border station, Vauxhall, to the west. The best compromise is to place the Elephant within kissing distance of Kennington.

4. Underground, Overground

While we're in the area, let's roll just a little bit further south. Spot anything unexpected in the following pic?

OK, yes, Stockwell is shown south-east of Vauxhall station when it is, in reality almost directly due south. But there's a different class of anomaly in this part of London. Look instead to the orange Overground line. As it passes through Clapham and Brixton, it appears to duck beneath the Northern and Victoria lines. The reality is the opposite. The Overground, as befits its name, passes on a viaduct above the streets, while the two tube lines are very much buried. Similar things happen to the poor, suppressed Overground all over the tube map — see also Hampstead, Kentish Town and Shepherd's Bush, for example.

5. The game of Mornington Crescent

Mornington Crescent slots neatly into the western branch of the Northern line, like this:

Only, in real life, the station is situated on the eastern-most tracks, as this more geographic map shows.

Mornington has broken.

There are many further anomalies across the tube map. Feel free to share in the comments below.

Last Updated 23 May 2017