Friday 22 November 2013

An Infestation of Spiders [Part 6]

Maybe we should have started with this question?

Why draw a "spider map"? What's wrong with a proper map?
click on the map for a larger version

Nothing is wrong with it but it makes the key area too small. We need to "explain" the area around South End Green (inside the yellowish circle where sits the information spider at the centre of its web) so that needs to be large enough to be useful. When Harry Beck created his underground map he realised that, in a geographical representation, the central area would be too cramped, too minuscule to be of any use.
So the diagram evolved.

And accurate geography was jettisoned. The result is a world famous tube map which, together with a printed timetable, gives you all the information you need to travel in troglodyte mode in the capital. Sadly, Transport for London [TfL] won't publish an Underground printed timetable so you have to allow plenty of time if you are venturing out of the central area.

Waterloo to Edgware take 39 minutes; West Ruislip to Epping takes one hour and 23 minutes!

So, where is fbb and his completion of Diane Aggram's stratagem to supply a superior spider? He has coped (incompletely but adequately) with the horrors of Camden Town ...
... and offered more helpful guidance at Finchley Road.
The geographical relationship of stops along the Euston Road is better ...
... and the TfL mega-mess at Waterloo ...
... is replaced by something that might actually be helpful to the passenger.
Harry Beck did not like place names running across rail lines and fbb has failed to avoid that trap with Embankment. More thinking needed.

Before the revised map is formally launched by some incredulous celebrity ...
... revealing the fbb / Diane Aggram version, there are a few caveats. Firstly, fbb's steam driven vector graphics programme has no simple facility for doing rounded corners. So there aren't any!

Then a full spider (with every stop shown) would have been too large to show in a readable blog, so fbb has only added main stops, particularly those with interchange with Over- and Under-ground. TfL "spider" posters are huge as per the T-Kartor (contractor to TfL) web site ...
... with oddles of room for stop names. One day, when fbb has more time, a full version will be completed.

Finally, the chubby one has not attempted to show any rail routes after they leave the area served by the buses. This has been a deliberate decision to reduce information overkill and based on the realistic assumption that passengers travelling further than a single-leg bus journey are likely to be changing from bus to train or vice versa.

So, here it is, warts and all, howlers included in some places; but a tidier effort than TfL's offering. Thanks to the advice of an expert, several hours of sweaty iteration and, most importantly, the use of human brains, there is an improved spider to stimulate debate.
And (here) is a suitably-sized version which you can enlarge print and examine.

This has been an enjoyable research project for fbb. It illustrates very clearly some of the difficulties of communicating bus routes as they negotiate the challenges of a city's big urban traffic management schemes. One possible conclusion is that Transport for London's [TfL] spiders are a poor effort at achieving this aim. Certainly a reliance on computer software as an alternative to local knowledge does not deliver the best.

No one admits how much TfL spends on spiders but a little bird from "elsewhere" steels himself to tell me that the T-Kartor software in use in one City was "disgracefully expensive"; and there, at least, the results are farcical! fbb wonders whether better spiders would infest London if a real human researched and created the maps. TfL might even save money!

One this is certain, however. TfL has made a complete and utter pigs ear of integrating Underground and Overground rail services into its existing "spides" for South End Green. Do the TfL people know how daft they are? Fortunately bus-plus-rail spiders are, so far, rare. May they ever remain so unless they are done properly.

A final question.
Is this helpful or just an example of  "we have the technology, so lets do it?"

Of course, there is no such person as Diane Aggram (Di Aggram, diagram); but the mythical retired cartographer is an amalgam of several experts who have guided fbb's pen and or confuser in the past. There isn't much chance of TfL changing their policy, but, if they ever do, fbb's advice is available for a modest fee. (fat chance!).

Hey, it's TfL; for a huge fee!

 Who will feature in tomorrow's bus blog : Sat 23rd Nov  


  1. Very good in re Di Aggram (chuckle), but I'm confused . . . if she is mythical, who paid for the tea and buns in blog 1?

    A good series of blogs, although I tend to agree only partially. In practice, whilst spider maps are only somewhat geographical, I do find them useful when I'm in a strange part of London and need some reassurance as to my next bus.

    Perhaps, as professionals, we don't altogether realise just how "lost" modern Londoners can be when out of their (geographical) comfort zones - Many folk just know their local area (or maybe Borough), and anywhere else . . . .they're quite flummoxed!. Spider maps do help the confused!

  2. I do wonder how much help spiders give. Or perhaps to rephrase, are they really the best way to help people? Or, maybe, is it like so much on line stuff these days - its OK when you know what you want to know!