Accessibility and the choice of network investments in the London Underground

Recent working paper:

Levinson, D., Giacomin, D., and Badsey-Ellis, A. (2014) Accessibility and the choice of network investments in the London Underground. Presented at the World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research, June 2014, at Delft.

Accessibility in London in 1881
Accessibility in London in 1881



  • Abstract: In 1863, the Metropolitan Railway of what came to be known as the London Underground successfully opened as the world’s first subway. Its high ridership spawned interest in additional links. Entrepreneurs secured funding and then proposed new lines to Parliament for approval, though only a portion were actually approved. While putative rail barons may have conducted some economic analysis, the final decision lay with Parliament, which did not have available modern transportation economic or geographic analysis tools. How good were the decisions that Parliament made in approving Underground Lines? This paper explores the role accessibility played on the decision to approve or reject proposed early London Tube Schemes. It finds that maximizing accessibility to population (highly correlated with revenue and ridership) largely explains Parliamentary approvals and rejections.
    Keywords: Accessibility, Network Growth, Subways, Public Transport, Travel Behavior, Networks

What if Minneapolis-St. Paul had the London Underground?

Many people have complained that Minneapolis – St. Paul does not have a good transit network, or is not a “real” transit city. Well London does have a good network, and if any place is, London is a real transit city, so it is informative to compare.


This map overlays the London Underground network on top of the Minneapolis – St. Paul street network, keeping scale consistent. We centered Green Park station at Nicollet and 7th in downtown Minneapolis. Like London, the Twin Cities region is asymmetric, with more people to the west than the east. The Underground service is much denser to the west of London than the east and south (the south does have more surface rail though). Lines are spaced at 1 – 2 mile intervals, so many people can walk to stations, even in the far suburbs of Metro-Land.

The system is radial, though not perfectly. London also has lots of cross-connections, and some of the radials cross as well, far outside the city center, and both the Circle Line (which is no longer circular, but more of a spiral), and the recently upgraded orbital Overground services. Roth, Kang, Batty, and Barthelemy argue that it is a natural stage of evolution for subway networks, once radials reach a certain point, to build circle lines to enhance accessibility at non-central stations. Doing so creates new hubs.

Why does London have such an extensive rail network?

The first answer is obvious, it is about 3 – 4 times as populous as the Minneapolis – St. Paul region. London has 8.3 million people in the city and maybe 13.6 million in the larger metropolitan area. In contrast, Minneapolis – St. Paul has 3.8 million people in the greater Metro area (well beyond the 3.4 million in the 7-county Metro), with only 700,000 in the core cities.

The second answer is that it grew to its current size before automobile dominance, and so co-developed the system with the city, much like the streetcars in the Twin Cities. Unlike the streetcars, the rail system in London was largely maintained at its full extent.

The third answer is that it has a higher transit mode share, and thus greater demand per capita. The London Underground is about 250 miles (402 km). The Twin Cities LRT system collectively are 23 miles (38 km) long, so about 10% of the length. London serves about 3.7 million passengers per day. The Twin Cities LRT will serve about 70,000 per day once the Green Line opens, about 2% of the London Underground ridership. The public transport mode share for work trips in London is 41%, compared with 5% for the 7 county Twin Cities region.

The fourth answer is that as demand rises, it becomes increasingly cost-effective to use rail rather than buses to move increasingly large numbers of people, as the higher initial capital costs can be spread over more users, while the potentially lower per person operating costs become more important. Thus, not surprisingly, London moves a greater share of its transit users on rail than bus. Perhaps surprisingly, even in London, buses still move many more passengers than the Underground, at about 6 million per day.

It would be nice to see similar overlays, transit systems of City X overlaid on the street networks of City Y to aid in comparative analysis. (It would be really cool to see an online tool that does this for any pair of cities). When we travel, we see other cities, and try to make comparisons back home, but it is difficult. The cities you visit are not as familiar as the ones you live in. The modes of travel are almost always different (even a rental car is not the same as your own car). Thus scales get distorted. By comparing cities, we are better able to see what is possible.

For clarity, this map does not include all of the transit serving London. It excludes the surface rail, the Overground, the Docklands Light Rail, and Croydon Tramlink, as well as the extensive and excellent bus service. The map is from 2008, and so includes the East London Line as Underground, not as Overground. Some other minor changes are also ignored. Note, this is also a scale map of the London Underground, so it might look very different to those accustomed to the Beck map and its successors.

A movie of the evolution of the London Underground, as well as other movies, can be found here.

This article is cross-posted at Streets.MN

London is your Oyster

Two visualizations of the London Oyster data:

London in Motion (Jay Gordon)

London’s Oyster Card Tidal Flow (Oliver O’Brien)


A colleague asks, what cool things would you do with those underlying data (e.g. GoTo Card data for the Twin Cities)?

Dan Snow’s Locomotion


I just finished watching Locomotion: Dan Snow’s History of Railways. It doesn’t air in the United States (nor is it on US iTunes), so you will need to use your special internet TV show finding powers to get it.
This three episode modern documentary series is a nice social history of trains in England for their first century (through World War I), looking at the both the standard history and some side notes relating railroads with other social changes (from trains for the dead to early soccer hooliganism). If you liked James Burke’s Connections, and you like trains, and you like Victorian England, and you like history, and you like British accents, this show is well worth watching.

Utilizing the Space Beneath Bridges – Some More Examples |

Cross-posted from Utilizing the Space Beneath Bridges – Some More Examples

I want to thank Reuben for posting Utilizing the Space Beneath Bridges

Since I cannot put images in comments, I will post these as further examples, from Borough Market, London, Brixton, and the Darling Harbour, Sydney, respectively. The first three pictures are under railway bridges, the last a freeway bridge.

Borough Market - London
Borough Market – London
Borough Market, London
Borough Market, London
Brixton, London - Shops in the Viaduct
Brixton, London – Shops in the Viaduct
Carousel in Sydney, Australia
Carousel in Sydney, Australia

Going Underground

Prior to the advent of the steam railway, London was a metropolis of just over 1 million people. It was well Figure_c8-f3bFigure_c8-f3cFigure_c8-f3dserved by both canals and turnpikes connecting to other parts of Great Britain. Internally, there were omnibus services. The London & Greenwich Railway was the first of many railways to reach London, with the first section opening in 1836 and being completed in 1838, making it possible to reach Greenwich in twelve minutes instead of the hour required by horse-drawn omnibus or steamboat. Famously built on a viaduct, the route was initially paralleled by a tree-lined boulevard that operated as a toll road, serving those unwilling to pay rail fares. However, the toll road was disbanded when the viaduct was widened to enable more frequent services to the densely populated urban core, ultimately growing from two tracks to eleven.
Soon many other railways sought to connect to London. To avoid disruption in the core, a Royal Commission on Railway Termini, appointed in 1846, drew a box around central London and decreed no line shall enter the cordon. [This box resembles the congestion charging zone adopted in the early 21st century, which aimed to reduce cars, rather than prohibit trains]. The result was railway terminals locating on the edges of the central region. London, like many cities, has no unified railway station, as the North, South, East, and West lines have no common intersection. The problem is worse though in London, as even lines from the north run by different organizations would be build adjacent (St. Pancras/ Kings Cross), or nearly adjacent (Euston), stations without convenient interchange. Later (between 1858-60) some penetrations of the box were permitted by Parliament, but most of the City of London (the original walled city where the financial district still lies) remained untouched. While preventing railways from severing the most densely populated part of the city, which would have been expensive for both the railways and the city, it created a need for a connection between the termini to allow transfers. The Metropolitan Railway, a private concern like all railways of the era but with some support from the Corporation of the City of London, was approved by Parliament in 1854. It aimed to connect the northern termini (Paddington, Euston, St. Pancras, King’s Cross, and Farringdon, which was later added to the plan) to ease movement for through travelers.
The trends in the City of London were quite different from the rest of London. The City of London has seen a long trend of depopulation from 1851 (prior to the first Underground line) and for many years saw increasing employment, lending support to the notion that the railways, especially the Underground, enabled decentralization of residences and concentration of employment.
The Metropolitan Railway opened in January 1863, and was extremely successful. Clearly the market was much larger than inter-line transfers. The firm paid dividends throughout its life. Accounting in the early years of the Metropolitan Railway, especially prior to the Regulation of Railways Act of 1868, was a bit dodgy, and dividends were reportedly paid out of capital. To quote Jackson (1986) p. 38, describing the era of 1865, “It was . . . a house of cards, a precarious game in which the level of dividend was kept up at all costs, by finding money from somewhere, with no regard to sound accounting or financial rectitude.”. Emulation is the proof of success. Many new railway lines were proposed, the 219 London-area railway bills brought before Parliament during the period 1860-1869 totaled 1420 km (882 miles).
Some of those lines were proposed prior to the opening of the Metropolitan, indicating the smell of success was in the air, though the peak years were between 1863 and 1866, following closely on the heels of the Metropolitan’s opening. The most important of these was the Metropolitan District Railway (later called the District line), which ran just north of the River Thames, but south of the Metropolitan, connecting a number of the southern railway termini (Victoria, Charing Cross, Blackfriars, Cannon Street). Proposals for what became the Circle Line service linking the Metropolitan and District (roughly inscribing the box described above) were quickly proposed, but the two lines were not connected on both ends until 1884. Both the Metropolitan and District lines were constructed using cut and cover techniques. Later lines, from the City and South London Railway (first section opened in 1890) onwards, generally used deep-level tunneling techniques to avoid disruption of city streets, existing railway lines, and public utilities when they needed to be below grade. Outside the Circle Line however, the railways could emerge above ground and competed fiercely in some markets, while operating unfettered in others, to provide suburban services. In some cases this involved building new lines, in others it involved acquiring running rights on (or ownership of) existing lines. The development of suburbs was a way to develop traffic for lines that in the city, though profitable, were operating below maximum capacity, and thus maximum profitability.
Adapted from

Also see:

Underground 150

Happy Sesquicentennial to the London Underground. In its honor, I relink to a movie of London’s growth from 1801.

More movies and higher resolution here.

Walk Minneapolis

The Twin Cities should have something like Walk London (only better). I don’t want just trails (I am familiar with the Grand Rounds, but there should be more), but actual urban paths I might want to take because they are walkable, interesting, and minimize conflicts with traffic. These paths should not simply be on a website or mobile app, but either be marked or signed, or otherwise self-navigating.

In London you have:

The route is indicated on the ground by a variety of signs and waymarks, which are very similar to those of the London Loop. In open spaces they consist mostly of a simple white disc, mounted on wooden posts and containing a directional arrow with the Big Ben logo in blue and text in green (but note that in Richmond black replaces green due to local conservation area considerations). A word of warning: the arrow’s direction may not be clear until you are close up. It is easy to assume that it points ahead, but it may turn – look closely before continuing.
On streets the posts are replaced by larger aluminium signs strapped to lampposts and other street furniture, and additionally carry a walking man symbol. On link routes to stations the word ‘link’ is incorporated into the logo. At major focal points you will also meet tall green and white signposts that give distances to three points in either direction. Some of these locations may also have the big, round-topped information boards.

And of course, they should be contiguous.
The best I can find is this, which helps me if I am a planner, but not a pedestrian. At Bike Walk Twin Cities, which feels like , let’s be honest, Bike Bike Twin Cities, the “maps” link has links to 8 different bike maps on their maps page, only one of which is really only for hiking too, and that is for outstate. The Walking maps page leads me to the useless City of Minneapolis page, the route planner from Metro Transit, and two Skyway maps.
Maybe there is some other resource I am missing. Maybe someone has a grant to do this. Maybe someone had a grant to do this, but didn’t do it.

London’s black cabs to get free high-speed WiFi hotspots from early 2013 – The Next Web

If anyone was wondering why Google is interested in self-driving vehicles … imagine the future as robot black cabs. The Next Web: London’s black cabs to get free high-speed WiFi hotspots from early 2013