John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
"Mind the Gap" takes advantage of open data to present a rotating, zoomable, ambient-noise-inflected model of London's train system.
"It is amazing what we can find on the internet," writes Bruno Imbrizi, "it’s all there." In this case, Imbrizi is referring to the longitude and latitudes of London Underground stations as well as their precise depths below sea level, information that a diligent citizen obtained by filing Freedom of Information requests.
Imbrizi is a London-based visual developer with an interest in "beautiful things built with code"; naturally, he wanted to turn this data into something neat. His first idea was to transform the Underground's departures schedule into a nutty musical composition, kind of like how somebody made New York's MTA system twang like a harp. "I had this idea of using London Underground’s data and playing a note every time a train left a station," he says. "I could assign a different note for each line and the live feed would create random music all day long."
That didn't prove possible, however, so he turned to Adobe AIR and the web-scripting library Three.js and knocked out this impressive three-dimensional system map, called "Mind the Gap." Colorful ropes that twist and knot around each other represent the Underground's byzantine network of tunnels that in some cases date to the 1860s. Flowing through these tubes like platelets are capsule-shaped "trains" whose speed can be altered with a slider (for best results, slide to really fast). In the background is a pleasant mishmash of ambient sounds, like trains clacking over tracks, muffled commuter conversation, and a booming prerecorded voice commanding – yes indeed – "Mind the gap!"
Clicking and dragging the mouse will rotate the map on a central pivot. One of the more fun things to do with it, in my opinion, is turn it on its "side" so it looks like a column, and then zoom in like you're an astropilot rocketing into the center of the Milky Way galaxy. It might not be as practical as this detailed and almost-real-time map of the Underground's trains, but it certainly is more fun to fool around with. (See the visualization here.)