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What Public Transit Data Teaches Us About How People Use a City

What does a city look like when viewed through the movement of its riders?

Schema Design

We've highlighted a couple of projects this week developed out of an Urban Data Design Challenge in April that invited designers and developers to visualize data on public transit in three cities, San Francisco, Geneva and Zurich. The other two projects overlay transit data on a picture of a city's poverty, or animate a playful take on the life of individual bus lines (and the people who ride them) from one day in October. This last project, from Schema Design, looks instead at the patterns we make in whole city-wide communities of commuters.

As the creators, Christian Marc Schmidt and Sergei Larionov, wrote about the three below videos that pulse with the movement of transit ridership:

Ridership is an identifier for how cities are utilized—whether they are centralized, decentralized or have multiple focal points, whether activity concentrates during rush hour as people are entering or leaving the city center(s), or whether activity is spread out over time. As the transit passenger data suggests, Geneva is centralized while Zurich appears to have multiple centers, and activity is concentrated during rush hours. Activity in San Francisco on the other hand is more evenly spread out, both spatially and over the course of the day. These insights are not only useful for city planners and transit authorities, who can get a sense of what areas see high and low ridership and understand what areas are underserved by public transit.

San Francisco:

Transit Patterns: San Francisco from Schema Design on Vimeo.


Transit Patterns: Zurich from Schema Design on Vimeo.


Transit Patterns: Geneva from Schema Design on Vimeo.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.