Friday, 11 January 2013

Improve the tube map – take out the wheelchair symbols and replace them with ones for toilets

The genius of Harry Beck’s London Underground electrical circuit map (50 years old this week) is demonstrated by its ability to absorb brand new underground lines without tipping over into incomprehensibility. The only thing that really annoys me about it – because it makes it unnecessarily cluttered – is the introduction of blue symbols to mark stations where getting to the trains in a wheelchair won’t result in the equivalent of the Odessa Steps runaway pram sequence in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.

Unlike everything else on the map, the location of wheelchair-friendly stations is of no interest to the vast majority of us. Of far more interest – especially to parents of young children and anyone over the age of 55 or so – would be to identify stations with usable (i.e. non-cottaging) toilets. Like this one:

I have nothing against disabled people who need to use wheelchairs being afforded as much help as possible, but, given how vital the information regarding wheelchair access is to them, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect them or - where appropriate - their carers to set off on their journeys forearmed with a hard-copy or digital map designed especially for their particular needs. They could, for instance, print one off from the web or pick one up at any station, or download it to their Smartphone or iPad. I just don’t see why millions of able-bodied people should have to filter out irrelevant information from an already jam-packed map.

These sorts of things happen because lobby groups put pressure on company executives and public officials, who then make themselves feel good (or avoid bad publicity) by giving in. This is similar to the Post Office caving in last year to ridiculous demands to treat Paralympians and Olympians the same by issuing a special stamp for every gold medallist, whether able-bodied or not. This represented an unedifying conjunction of sentimentality, bullying and cowardice.

Before I’m (inevitably) accused of complacency and callousness, my attitude would not change were I unlucky enough to end up in a wheelchair – I’d damn well make sure I had the information I needed to get around.

Like many people, we have the delightful parody tube map, The Bear, on the wall, but, as that's famous, I'll leave you with two less well-known ones. First here's a section of the Have I Got News For You tube map from 1997 (the full, easier-to-read version is available here):

I also love the "What If The Germans Had Won The War" version (again, the full thing is available here):

Other examples of parody tube maps can be found here

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