Wednesday 20 February 2008

Map! Rant


Something strange has happened to the Merseyrail map; they've started fiddling with it.

The signs have been there for a while now. Not long ago, the route from Chester to Shotton acquired a strange angle; it used to be a perfectly straight line, but now it's a bit, well, wonky. It violated the nice clean, simple diagonals of the rest of the map and just looked - weird.

Not long after this, symbols started appearing all over the maps in the station, indicating car parking spaces and bicycle stands. Clutter. Unneccesary and unnattractive, but I bit my tongue.

The latest incarnation of the map though, is a step too far. At the extremities, nothing's changed; the key alteration is right in the centre, at the heart of the system.
(Apologies for the quality; this is the map that's up in stations, so I had to take a picture). Let's start with the lesser of the two evils: Sandhills. As I've indicated in previous posts, Sandhills is closed for a while so it can be rebuilt. Naturally, this needs to be indicated on the network map. But Merseyrail have chosen to do it with a big red box.

Maybe it's me, but this makes me notice the station even more than before. On the Underground, they put a cross through the station, and even without the key, you know what that means. Here though, it makes Sandhills look like a large, important station - more important than Lime Street, even, which is squeezed in between the bike symbol, the loop and Wavertree Technology Park. Badly thought through.

The biggest crime though is the loop which is no longer a loop. Instead it's a sort of strange geometric shape with right angles. This violates one of the key rules of metro map design, one that goes right back to Harry Beck's Underground diagram - right angles do not flow. You should be able to follow the route of your line with a finger, and it should naturally merge into new parts of the line. The old map did this perfectly adequately. If you follow the route under the river, your finger just sort of naturally carries on up towards Moorfields, just like the trains do.

The new map presents you with a quandry; after James Street, you hit a t-junction, with apparently an equal chance of going either way. Worse still, because there's no longer that "pinch point", where the two lines separate, it looks like it is possible to take a train from Central to Moorfields and miss out James Street altogether. On the old diagram, the angles seemed to indicate (correctly) that after Central, you had to go to James Street. On the new one, yes, it'll be a bit of a bumpy ride round those sharp corners, but otherwise you can carry aparently go on riding round the city centre until your little heart bursts with joy. I can't wait to see the look on the faces of the Japanese tourists over here for City of Culture who end up in Rock Ferry instead of Lime Street.

Not only is it imperfect from a route perspective, it's also ugly. It's clunky and square and just doesn't work. It's not a loop any more.

I hope that there is some eminently logical reason for this at Merseyrail HQ. I hope that it's like the recent incarnations of the Underground maps, where they suddenly acquired huge gaps on the lines for no apparent reason, only for everything to become clear when the Overground network suddenly appeared (not that the new Underground map is perfect; in fact, it's one of the worst incarnations for years. Please, get rid of the misleading "disabled" symbols at stations, get rid of those bright orange Overground lines, and restore it to its former glory).

I don't think there is a reason though. I think it's just someone dicking about with graphics software, altering things just for the sake of change. If you want to have a positive effect on the map, Mr I've-Got-A-Mac-And-I-Think-I-Know-How-To-Use-It, how about sorting out the "Trioplus" shading? Or the mess around Wigan? Or be radical, and throw it out, and start all over again for a 21st Century design. Don't just fiddle in places you shouldn't. You'll go blind.

And in all that rant, I managed to completely forget to mention that the bicycle symbol for Bootle New Strand actually goes into the river. Unbelievable.


Anonymous said...

The monkeying with the loop confused me, too. The map works. It's a map of the stations in the network. If the stations change, the map changes. THE SHAPES ARE FINE. LEAVE THE SHAPES ALONE.

I've never really understood the concept of bicycle parking at stations. I've never, ever seen anybody else park their bike. They always take it on board. Very understandable, too I don't see why anyone would pay for a bike, razz to the station, leave it there unattended (in such wonderful places as... Birkenhead!), and then travel many, many miles away and end up in some other place without my beloved bike to get me around.

If I had my way, I would cycle through the Mersey tunnel to work instead of getting the train. If you read the website about the Mersey tunnels though, they only let bicycles through the tunnel at very silly times.

I hope you weren't caught up in the replacement bus service between Birkenhead North and Hamilton Square just two weeks ago. It was quite horrific. I did eke some good out of it, I managed to indulge an odd hobby of mine.

Whenever I'm on a double decker bus, I can't help but prop a camera on the rail at the front window and film the journey.

I did the same out the side window when there was a replacement bus service from Birkenhead Central to Hooton a few days before that. I suppose I just like buses. (I complain about the buses all the damn time... I really do like them, though. When they arrive. If.)

Scott Willison said...

In all my travels round the network, I've never seen a bicycle parked at a station. I mean, to use Birkenhead Central as an example; the cycle racks are down on the platform, and consist of basically a metal bar. If these were secure enclosed spaces for bicycles I could understand the boast - but you may as well advertise that there are railings outside the station for all the difference it makes!

I had no idea cycles were allowed throught the tunnel in any circumstances; somehow I have images of you riding along the pedestrian walkways and popping a wheelie over the emergency refuges...

I was trapped in the Birkenhead Central/Hooton rail replacement service of a few weeks back (since I work in Chester, it's easier to just go to Central than to go to my nearest station, Birkenhead Park, and change). Frankly if you can find anything to entertain you during a bus replacement service, I applaud you! Though I personally think a bus is nothing in comparism with a train ;-)

Scott Willison said...

Oh and as for the topic of Map! Rant, I am totally with you; it worked before, let it continue. I don't mean that the map should be set in stone - the legend that is Harry Beck acknowledged that "the thermos flask" was the best version of the Circle Line he'd seen, better than his own efforts - but it has to make sense, and that's why the new map annoys me: it violates the rules of common sense...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of maps: they've got the old style loop in the new Trio ticket leaflet. BUT! More importantly, they've FINALLY added a map showing where all the zone boundaries are. About bloody time.

Scott Willison said...

Yes, they've added the zone boundaries... just in time for you to see that there is no longer a zone E. Gits.