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Help! The London Tube Map Is Out of Control.

It’s never been easy to design a map of the city’s underground transit network. But soon, critics say, legibility concerns will demand a new look.
London's Tube system has grown, and its map is having trouble keeping up.
London's Tube system has grown, and its map is having trouble keeping up.Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

A familiar tradition played out in England’s capital city last week, as Transport for London (TfL) released a new version of its Tube map. The city’s public transportation agency is adding a few stops to the west of London that will ultimately compose Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line—an entirely new rail service that will cut across all of London when it opens in 2021. For now, TfL Rail, a patchwork of soon-to-connect Crossrail segments, will begin serving cities and towns outside of London starting December 15.

As they have in the past, transport critics and map geeks assailed the new map for betraying the design principles of Harry Beck, the draftsman who brought abstraction and clarity to the increasingly tangled Tube map back in 1931. Beck’s use of straight lines and extremely loose adherence to true geography created the template for the system’s current iteration (and many others). But as the complexity of the Underground network has grown, the map has evolved with it, inspiring an an ongoing debate among Londoners who hold passionate beliefs about the Tube and what it’s supposed to look like.