Sunday, 20 July 2014

London (again)

Dusting this off as I have something to say again.

We had another short visit to London last week and I wanted to write something about using public transport in London when disabled.  I lived in London on and off for a few years, until about 15 years ago and I used to visit occasionally, for work and leisure, when I lived in England.  One of the reasons I started to dislike London was that as I became less mobile, I found travelling there more difficult.  The Underground is (or was) notoriously inaccessible and buses were confusing unless you used them regularly.  

Lots was obviously done in the lead up to the Olympics, two years ago, to make London more accessible and lifts (elevators, if you are American) have been put into the underground platforms at most of the mainline stations and some others.  Central London is still a bit of a blackspot, due to the age of the network.  I have some sympathy with Transport for London (TfL) in this regard - retrofitting lifts to a 150 year old station can't be easy and in some cases the use of escalators means the surface station and the platforms aren't anywhere near each other.  Going Underground has a great post on this - this classic diagram of Bank illustrates it well.  

South Kensington is one station I often have call to use, these days, since a trip to London inevitably means a visit to the Science Museum.  We were hoping to also see the Natural History Museum this time, but unfortunately so were several thousand other people and standing in a queue for several hours is not the Small Scottish Boy's idea of fun, nor mine of comfort.  So back to the Science Museum it was.  Now, South Kensington Station is not at all accessible, especially from the Piccadilly Line.  Long banks of escalators and then stairs to street level.  Then to get to the museums, a long subway (for American readers, this means a pedestrian walkway that is under a road or similar, not a train, which is of course the Underground, or Tube) to the museums.  

Luckily, TfL have a solution. Their website has a brilliant journey planner which allows you to plan a route using any of the city's many transport options (including walking and cycling - it even shows the locations of the famous "Boris Bikes" you can hire all over London).  You can customise accessibility options to show routes which avoid stairs, escalators or both and specify your walking speed and maximum walking time and it'll let you save these preferences for future use.  If you don't want to venture underground you can also ask it to use any combination of transport or specify which ones you want to use - you might just want to use the DLR or buses, if going underground is a particular problem.   It takes into account real time closures, delays, etc on the network - we used it on the Sunday when there was a closure on the DLR and it gave details of the replacement bus.  The app works really well on the mobile site (screenshots below) so you can use it on the move - although if you are on the Tube, do put your phone onto airplane mode to stop the battery going flat quickly! 

The solution to the South Kensington problem was to take the Jubilee Line to Green Park and then a bus (there were several options) to just outside the Natural History Museum.  A word of caution - Green Park has lifts but is one of those stations where the platforms are a long walk from the entrance.  Buses might have been better.  

As an aside, the Piccadilly line at South Kensington actually had lifts, once upon a time.  The station was originally built with lifts instead of escalators (as is still the case at Covent Garden and Russell Square) but due to capacity problems (now a massive problem at Covent Garden) the station was converted to escalators in the 70s.  The Abandoned Stations website has details here.  That site is a complete time-sink, by the way.  

A few years ago TfL were looking at redeveloping the station to include lift access to the Circle and District Line, but not the Piccadilly Line or the museum subway.  

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