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Maps

A Freaky Pulsating Map of London's Daily Tube Ridership

Cartographer Oliver O’Brien has visualized the changing volume of people coursing through the city’s Underground.

HERE/Oliver O'Brien

During the morning rush hour, London commuters pour out of the Oxford Circus station like oil, and dissipate down cobbled lanes to their offices. In the evenings, they surge back into the Underground, on their way to homes and families.

Each day, two million commuters take the city’s subway back and forth to work, a rhythmic pulse of riders that has now been visualized in a neat interactive map created by Oliver O’Brien, a researcher at University College London, and commissioned by mapping company HERE.

O’Brien’s map tracks the volume of passengers from one station to the next, for every 15-minute interval between 5 in the morning and 2 a.m. the same night. The result is hypnotic: London’s 11 train lines throb with life, especially during the morning and evening rush hours:

Alongside the bulging train lines, fluctuating numbers show the total passengers entering and exiting each of the 168 stations, along with those transferring between train lines for every 15 minute period. Here’s what 8:15-8:30 a.m. looks like on O’Brien’s map:

HERE/Oliver O'Brien

And this is what 6:15-6:30 in the evening looks like:  

HERE/Oliver O'Brien

O’Brien also lets users dive deep into details for each station, as well as each line. Here’s a graph showing how busy Leicester Square is in the evenings, when theater-enthusiasts are heading home from a show:

HERE/Oliver O'Brien

There a number of similarly interesting patterns in ridership across the different station. O’Brien lists some broad ones in the introduction to the map:

  • Peak time at Leicester Square is after 10pm - the tube is a popular way to get back to homes and hotels after a night at the theatre.
  • Closing museums cause an early peak in South Kensington, while shoppers on Oxford Street can also be seen in the stats.
  • School kids cause spikes in usage across certain quieter stations, particularly in outer London.
  • West Ham's morning peak entry is an hour before everyone else! Other stations have two morning peaks.
  • Some places are changing character. Stratford now has almost as many people arriving as leaving in the morning peak.

One thing is clear from this map: The lines of the Underground are certainly the veins and arteries of the city. Via HERE’s blog post about the map:

People have compared large cities to the human body since their foundations. Their roads and rail lines are their metaphorical blood vessels, bearing people and fresh resources to its major organs and transporting them away at the end of the day.

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than London.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.