Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
Welcome to the first edition of MapLab, a newsletter exploring how maps illuminate the world around us. Here there will be many, friendly dragons: featurettes on newsworthy mapping efforts, fascinating cartographers, snippets of history, eye-popping data visuals, and intriguing map links. I’ll drop you a mix every two weeks.
These dispatches won’t be designed for passive receipt. I want to pull map makers and map lovers together, to share and explore the abundant landscape of cartographic work this digital century has produced. To get started, sign up here.
The terror attack on the Hudson River Greenway this Halloween—in which a driver plowed a truck into the Manhattan bike path—cast a harsh light on the state of cycling infrastructure in New York. The greenway, the busiest in the U.S., had obvious safety flaws: fuzzy signage, intersections where bikes tango perilously with cars, and a lack of bollards.
It‘s not enough, but the city is working for safer streets. The New York City Department of Transportation is using data and artificial intelligence to try to predict where drivers are most likely to injure pedestrians and cyclists, work I profiled earlier in 2017. Eventually, the city wants to know how well certain safety improvements—such as wider streets, protected bike lanes, and left turn bans, the likes of which are mapped above—affect crash rates, so that they can better tailor future interventions.
It’s still early days. In fact, the clearest takeaway so far is that the city needs to physically build more street improvements, so that the AI knows what a “safe street” looks like. You can’t put the cart before the horse… or the data before the bike.
“Vision Zero” supporters are tapping into big data in other ways. This month, Strava, the app that tracks users’ athletic activity, re-released a “Global Heatmap” tracing more than 1 billion jogs, hikes, and bike rides by millions of members around the world. (The running scene in London, in striking orange and black, is shown above.) Already, some public agencies are making use of the data to support and protect all that sweat. CityLab’s Benjamin Schneider recently wrote about how Utah’s DOT is changing road and intersection designs to be safer for cyclists, based on the map. “It’s replacing anecdote with data,” one local planner told him.
When it comes to safe streets, though, the most powerful intervention of all has very little to do with maps or data. It’s simply banning cars.
Orient yourself: gerrymandering
Democrats made huge gains in state and local polls last Tuesday, reviving hope of a diverse coalition on the left. But an insidious threat to progressive leadership persists: gerrymandering. If not for manipulated district boundaries in Virginia—which saw one of the most dramatic leftward swings on election day, as these four maps show—Democrats would have made an even more decisive sweep. Gerrymandering also curtails the power of city leaders, and seals the GOP’s iron grip over the House of Representatives.
The Supreme Court is considering a case that could rewrite the rules of drawing congressional districts. Here’s how one mapmaker suggested heavily gerrymandered North Carolina take on the task. Last week, scientists at Brown University published a paper offering a purely mathematical approach. Above, behold their un-gerrymandered map of Florida, compared to the current congressional districts. Can you guess which is which?
Hey, good job, Facebook—a new “Disaster Map” function available to Indian users will track population densities and mass movements in the wake of crisis. ♦ How long’s the wait? Google Maps now offers time estimates for restaurant tables. ♦ Babbling brooks and tumbling torrents! All the ways Britons refer to streams, mapped. ♦ Infrastructure, meet inventory: Mapillary, a crowd-sourced competitor to StreetView, is helping Lithuania gather images of every road and road sign in the country. ♦ Choo-choo: Mapmaker James Clark wrote to CityLab to share a fun viz he recently made: a subway-style map of future railways in Southeast Asia.
Startographers of the week
A second-grade class at Ozark North Elementary in Ozark, Missouri knows that “maps have a compass rose and a map key to help us find important places,” but “would like to know how people in our community use maps,” according to their open letter the Christian County Headliner. It continues:
What jobs find maps helpful? What kinds of maps do people use the most? Is there anyone who can’t do their job without a map of some kind?
Since this was posted online, I think “community” can be construed broadly. Hit the link if you’d like to send their teacher a note. Also, check out her classroom’s awesome rug.