Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
What we can learn from where people walk, run, and ride their bicycles.
D.C. is a great city for runners. On my long runs this fall, I'd measure the distance in landmarks: half a mile to Union Station, another half to the Capitol, about 1.5 miles across the National Mall to the base of the Washington Monument, and another half to Jefferson Memorial—then back. For someone like me, who's relatively new to running, it's nice to be able to break up distances into bite-sized goals. And what the map above shows is that I'm far from the only one using my city's monuments as milestones the same way.
Mapbox developer Garrett Miller is a runner, too. This year, he found himself traveling a lot, and so navigating a number of unfamiliar cities on foot. To help him out, his colleague Eric Fischer pulled some data from RunKeeper (a route mapping app that recently partnered with Mapbox) and displayed 1.5 million walks, runs and bike rides in cities all over of the world.
Some cities had more data for the pair to work with than others. The maps are biased towards quantity, Miller explains, so they glow brighter in areas where more people recorded their routes. That varied from city to city, but there were some common patterns that emerged across the board.
"You immediately notice one very firm truth—people love running by water," Miller says. This is clearly visible in maps of New York City, London and Chicago.
As a privacy safeguard, the team truncated the first 200 meters of each route, then color-coded them. The pinker routes are shorter—probably walks or runs—and the yellowish ones are the longer distances—probably bike rides. Cities in the Netherlands, where a large share of the population bikes to work, show up as webs of yellow threads with clumps of pink.
Miller says that apart from guiding runners like himself, the visualizations show how much of the world is being "mapped on foot."
"Every glowing line was either walked, ran, or biked," he says. "Zoom in to a remote mountain range and you can see people exploring just about everywhere."