Bostonography

Clocking the metric that matters most to many commuters.

Transit data visualizations got a lot more interesting with the advent of real-time information. Now, we can tell not just where bus stops are located, or how often trains are scheduled on a given line. Now in many cities, time-stamped, geo-referenced data reveal exactly where a given bus was located at a particular time... and then another time just a few minutes later. And this means that we can clock the metric that matters most to many commuters: speed.

The above map, created by Andy Woodruff of the great cartography blog Bostonography, illustrates a single day's worth of bus travel across Boston, by speed. Each little line on this map represents one bus (tracked as the crow flies between data points, not along its actual route), with red showing speeds of less than 10 miles an hour, yellow of 10-25 miles per hour, and green faster than that:

The concept was inspired by an earlier Eric Fisher map of transit in San Francisco. But because this latest Boston iteration is built using constantly updated data – the same NextBus feed that powers smartphone transit apps – this picture is ever-regenerating, too. The live map embedded below shows buses within the system over the last three hours. But Woodruff and Tim Wallace are also automatically archiving on Bostonography a new map every day over the previous 24 hours (the most recent one will be located here).

The project is primarily impressive for its design – "it’s at least half art," Woodruff says – but these daily maps also have the potential to reveal patterns in how the system changes from day to day, between week days and weekends, between business as usual and system break-downs. If you live in Boston, they may also simply confirm your suspicions about your own commute.

"It’s sort of a broad picture of what the network is, where it moves fast, where it looks slow, and you can try to place yourself in it somewhere," Woodruff says. Locals, he jokes, invariably want to focus on those clogged red arteries. "Because," he says, "of course everyone's experience of transit is to complain about it."

Hat tip: Per Square Mile.

About the Author

Emily Badger

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.

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