On this map, disclosed by Transport for London in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, all of the Tube’s noodle-like contours are laid bare. It’s accurate, yes—at last, the Northern Line is revealed for the twisted mess it is! But it’s also disorienting, as the clean, bold lines of the iconic Tube map melt away.
When it comes to its transit map, London decided long ago that it was willing to forego accuracy for simplicity and design.
But for the first few decades of its existence, the city’s (much smaller) underground system was mapped out geographically.
An early London Tube map c. 1908 pic.twitter.com/kc0Dgse8nw— Historic London (@LDNhistory) September 12, 2015
A draftsman named Harry Beck came up with the prototype of the current design in 1931. It was all straight lines, with 45- and 90-degree angles only, a modernist masterpiece divorced from the chaotic reality of the streets above. Transit planners initially rejected the map, saying its failure to allow Londoners to gauge real-life distances between stations would be too confusing for riders. A trial run proved them wrong.