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The London Underground Gets Real

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A few years back, when I called South Kensington home, I distinctly recall trundling through London's Underground knowing, even with map in hand, that I had been misled. Eyeballing the official Tube map insinuated that Heathrow was the same distance west of South Ken as Tower Hill was to the east. So you can imagine my surprise when we rolled past Monument station towards Tower Hill 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

True—one should never assume subway diagrams bear any resemblance to street level. But admit it: we all do. An NYU study in 2011 found that passengers put their faith in transit maps far more than they do in their own travel experience. But shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t our maps clearly illustrate that the amount of time it takes to walk from Queensway to Bayswater beats switching lines by almost six minutes?

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Designer Mark Noad thinks so. Behold: the new London Underground (above), a new take on the Tube released in late June.

Noad preserved as much of the iconically simple, color-conscious, easy-to-read map (originally designed by Harry Beck in 1931, and still the one in use) as possible, all while incorporating a more geographically sound layout. Note the Circle Line (in yellow) is no longer so circlular, while the Thames looks much more like its beautifully curvaceous, undulating self.

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This redesign is not meant to be a replacement to Beck's ingenius concept; rather, it is an alternative reference for those seeking to avoid misconstrued travel plans when navigating the vast world capital. Noad's hope is that passengers can, and will, more accurately plan their routes towards destinations. After all, the point missed by high design isn’t to get from A to B; it’s getting from A to B in the fastest, most efficient way possible.

Now, if only the same could be done for those beautifully linear but frustratingly distorted (not to mention misleading) subway grids of DC, Manhattan, and even Boston (though the main gripe there, in my humble opinion, is the meaningless exclusion of station names on the Green Line. Let's just say it made for some interesting rides home during college!).

Accuracy over aesthetics? You decide.

Lindsey Olander is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

From top: Photos courtesy of Lindsey Olander (1) and Mark Noad Design.

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