Researchers are using rider data to better understand how stressed subway crowds flow through the system.

London's Tube system works a bit like the network of blood vessels in the human body. One closed station or delayed train can throttle movement across the entire system, like a blockage in an artery. Tube delays and emergency closures are a fact of life for  London, but they don't have to be as debilitating as a heart attack. By looking at ridership data to see where and how Underground users move throughout the system, researchers are finding new ways of dealing with increased congestion during station closures, and even developing strategies to keep the flow moving, like the blood of a healthy person.

Researchers at University College London have teamed up with the Underground's operator, Transport for London, to analyze system usage information for millions of riders. Based on data collected at stations through the Oyster card transit pass system, the researchers were able to track and analyze about 4 million movements per day.

By looking at all this data, they've been able to verify the assumption that there are certain major stations in the system that are used the most, but also to understand how they interrelate. Blockages or delays at one of the major station can affect how ridership flows at the other major stations, for example. The researchers suggest that by being able to track how delays or disturbances play out at each station under different conditions, they'll be able to predict where congestion is likely to occur in the system and plan around it.

But it's not just the major stations. They're also looking into the ways that closures or delays at even minor stations affect traffic and flows at other surrounding stations. The idea is that having this understanding of the system will better equip TfL to reduce the congestion and impact of even temporary closures and delays.

This video explains the process and shows some cool visualizations of what the crowds look like at each station.

via GIS and Agent-Based Modeling

Image courtesy YouTube user UCLEngineering

About the Author

Nate Berg

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.

Most Popular

  1. Homeless individuals inside a shelter in Vienna in 2010

    How Vienna Solved Homelessness

    What lessons could Seattle draw from their success?

  2. Two New York City subway cars derailed on the A line in Harlem Tuesday, another reminder of the MTA's many problems.

    Overcrowding Is Not the New York Subway's Problem

    Yes, the trains are packed. But don’t blame the victims of the city’s transit meltdown.

  3. Postcards showing the Woodner when it used to be a luxury apartment-hotel in the '50s and '60s, from the collection of John DeFerrari

    The Neighborhood Inside a Building

    D.C.’s massive Woodner apartment building has lived many lives—from fancy hotel to one of the last bastions of affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood. Now, it’s on the brink of another change.

  4. Life

    Why a City Block Can Be One of the Loneliest Places on Earth

    Feelings of isolation are common in cities. Let’s take a look at how the built environment plays into that.

  5. Members of a tenants' organization in East Harlem gather outside the office of landlord developer Dawnay, Day Group, as lawyers attempt to serve the company with court papers on behalf of tenants, during a press conference in New York. The tenant's group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, filed suit against Dawnay, Day Group, the London-based investment corporation "for harassing tenants by falsely and illegally charging fees in attempts to push immigrant families from their homes and gentrify the neighborhood," said Chaumtoli Huq, an attorney for the tenants.

    Toward Being a Better Gentrifier

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to be a neighbor during a time of rapid community change.