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Quick Project: Accessibility on the London Underground


While I was researching my redrawn Tube Map, I stumbled across the above representation of the Underground as it supposedly appears to a wheelchair user. While it’s probably meant to be more metaphorical of the fractured nature of the network than a literal representation, I find myself infuriated by it. For example, the “map” really makes it appear that if you get on at Kings Cross St. Pancras (possibly the one truly accessible station on the Underground), you simply cannot go anywhere.

There have been other maps that show the same thing more accurately, but the newest one I can find is from 2011. A lot has changed on the Tube Map since then, including adding the distinction between street-to-platform and street-to-train accessibility to the map. Seeing as I had the Tube Map to hand for my previous project, I quickly modified it to show these two different networks. Unlike previous efforts, I also modified the route lines to reflect new end points for lines: if there were no accessible stations between a certain station and the end of the line, I deleted that section of track. As a result, the maps more accurately show the extent of accessible services.

Step-free access from street to platform or better

Use the slider to show the full Underground network compared to the street-to-platform network.
Click here to view a larger version of the street-to-platform map.

This map shows stations with both of the accessibility icons from the Tube Map. If a station has some accessible platforms and some inaccessible, the inaccessible connections have been deleted. This leads to situations like the Bank and Tower Gateway DLR stations being accessible, but not connected to their respective Tube stations, or the Romford–Upminster Overground shuttle line cutting off at Emerson Park because the Overground platforms at Upminster aren’t accessible.

The only complete casualty is the Waterloo and City line: neither of its two stations are accessible. The Bakerloo line now only serves three stations between Harrow & Wealdstone and Willesden Junction, and most other lines are truncated in some form or another. The Overground continues to be a viable network, although it still loses a lot of stations.

The other main point of interest is the lack of accessible interchanges within the central “thermos flask” – Kings Cross St. Pancras, Green Park and Westminster are it. You can’t change from the Underground to the Overground/National Rail at Liverpool Street or Euston. Baker Street and Bank/Monument don’t exist. This is the biggest impediment to real accessibility on the Underground – the inability to transfer easily between lines in the most important part of the network.

Note that Greenford (the new western terminus of the Central line) is the only street-to-train accessible station on that line: this leads to a very odd situation in the (frankly horrifying) next map…

Street to Train Access Only

Use the slider to show the full Underground network compared to the street-to-train network.
Click here to view a larger version of the street-to-train map.

Here’s the Underground network for those people who truly need step-free access from the street outside the station all the way onto the train. This means there’s no gap or height difference between the edge of the platform and the door of the train. It’s a pretty exacting standard, and the percentage of people who truly need this level of service is probably pretty low – but the map certainly doesn’t make for pretty viewing. The Waterloo and City, Bakerloo, Central and District lines have been wiped from the map entirely. The Circle and Hammersmith and City lines now just shuttle people between Hammersmith and Kings Cross St. Pancras, while the entire Overground has been reduced to a short section between Dalston Junction and Canada Water.

Only the DLR and the Emirates Air Line escape entirely unscathed. The Jubilee Line retains good accessibility in its modern eastern section, but the section that it inherited from the Bakerloo line has just one fully accessible station at Kingsbury. The Piccadilly and Northern Lines retain much of their length, but very few stations. Interchanges in central London are at Kings Cross St. Pancras and Green Park –that’s it.

Remember Greenford? Well, it may be fully accessible, but it no longer connects to a single other similar station. So it’s sitting out there all by itself with no possible route to the rest of the map: a Central line station with no Central line.

To close, I’ll note that TfL actually offers a lot of information for travellers who need accessibility information, including this insanely comprehensive step-free guide (PDF link) and more on the accessibility section of their website.

Click here to view an animated GIF of the three maps morphing into each other.

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