Maps

What Driving-Time Maps Say About Your City

These “isochrone maps” offer an interesting look at similarities and differences in road design, and their effects on travel.

Image Peter Kerpedjiev
Peter Kerpedjiev

If you live in a city where public transit options are sparse, or one where they’re temporarily out of service, you might have to use a car to get around. If that’s the case, these new maps can help you gauge how long it’ll take you to get to a given point—inside or out of your city—by car.

Here are some reasons the Vienna-based doctoral student Peter Kerpedjiev made these maps:

Kerpedjiev previously created a series of “isochrone mapsof European cities, which represented public transit commuting times as concentric layers of color around each city. Essentially, the maps show how long it would take, by rail or by foot, from a particular city to another point in Europe. In a new, more geographically diverse set of maps, he’s charting travel times by car. Here’s what he says the maps are designed to show, via his blog, Empty Pipes:

The wonderful thing about portraying driving times is that it's possible to make such maps for cities from all over the world. In doing so, we can see the how the transportation infrastructure of a region meshes with the natural features to create a unique accessibility profile.

To illustrate, he uses the example of Lincoln, Nebraska, which has diamond-shaped, concentric layers surrounding it, and compares it to Vienna (where he currently lives), which has rounder layers:

The difference in the driving times has a lot to do with the way roads are designed in the two cities. In Lincoln, they intersect in grids, so it takes longer to drive from point A to point B if the points are in a diagonal line. In Vienna, on the other hand, the roads are laid in all directions, so it doesn’t take much longer to travel in any one direction versus another.

When comparing cities in different parts of the world, or even different parts of the same country, it’s interesting to see all of the factors that can potentially influence our commute, Kerpedjiev says:

The differences in accessibility between different cities of the world can range from the trivial (Denver, CO, vs Lincoln, NE) to the substantial (Perth, Australia, vs. Sydney, Australia). Individual cities can have a wide automobile-reachable area (Moscow, Russia) or a narrow, geography-, politics- and infrastructure-constrained area (Irkutsk, Russia).

Kerpedjiev’s maps only cover select cities across the world, and his travel times, he notes on his blog, are estimates based on GraphHopper and OpenStreetMap data. But they reveal a lot of great information about each city’s unique geography and particular infrastructure. Play around with others here.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.