London tube map with distance grids

London's famous tube map sacrifices geographical accuracy to make a useful diagram. Though a boon to travelers finding their way around the complex network, it does have drawbacks: for example, the distances between stations are all wrong. This makes it hard to estimate journey times, and easy to make mistakes when traveling overground—one's mental map of the city starts to resemble the tube diagram more than the real thing. Boing Boing reader Spiregrain created a version of the map where the background is a subtle, distorted grid. Like longitude and latitude lines on a world map projection, they tell the viewer how much geographic distortion is in play in any given region. []


  1. London is a little busy being on fire right now. Please call back with your improved tube map later.

  2. It’s great – what I would really love to see now is the street map of London deformed by the same grid (i.e. the one spiregrain derived from the tube map). This would give an excellent visualisation of how warped the usual tube map is. Spiregrain can you oblige me?

    1. I no longer have as much free time as I did 5 years ago when making the map – it took ages.

  3. Are these spatial distortions responsible for the current troubles? More on this story at 10:00.

  4.  Interesting. But as someone who made moderate use of the London tube system in years past, I think a better method would be to note the approximate travel time between stations.

    Isn’t there an app for that, by now?

    1. “I think a better method would be to note the approximate travel time between stations”
      That works well for sequential stops on the same lines, but doesn’t help much if you’re trying to figure out whether to walk from – say – Maida Vale to Green Park. The total travel time between stations would help with that only a little because it doesn’t factor in waiting time at each station, nor how much time you’ll spend waiting for the next train on the next line.

      1. That’s a good point. Maybe the solution would be to add average wait times at transfer points.

        Add route planning and this strikes me as a really useful Android/iOS app.

  5. It’s certainly much better than a tangled spaghetti.

    An alternative to the background (its purpose may not be clear, nor is it easy and accurate to consult) would be to put an arrow next to each line segment with a length proportionate to the travel time (along with a number).

  6. Google Maps does a transit overlay for at least some major cities (including London), showing the actual route of the lines, undistorted, on top of the regular map.

    The normal type of transit maps (distorted for clarity) are great once you know where you want to go, but there’s no reason why a simple realistic map needs to be complicated or confusing, and it gives you a very good idea about travel times and so on.

    It looks great in my browser now, but I will say that last time I tried it in NYC a few months ago on my Android phone, it was a little lackluster – the transit lines didn’t show up clearly enough and disappeared if you zoomed out past a certain point (too soon of a point) no matter what I tried. However, it does show you precisely where the stops are so you could combine that with referencing the normal transit map (which you can get on your phone with an app) and be good.

    With some improvement in visual clarity, though, google maps on your phone would be a perfectly great method of figuring out transit lines in a non-distorted way.

  7. When I first came to live in London I used the tube to get everywhere, but after about 6 months or so I started to walk –  being a country boy originally I was used to walking 5 to 6 miles without giving it a second thought – and I was really surprised how distorted the sense you got from the tube map was. So then I started to walk everywhere to both save time and get a sense of the overground.
    It is still how I prefer to travel today and I’ll usually only take transport if travelling large distances or am really stuck for time.

  8. The idea is great but at least my mind isn’t processing the information in anything but a general way. I wouldn’t be able to tell from the map that Warren Street and Euston Square are closer together than Euston Square and Euston.

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