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.
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.