John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A chaotic animation portrays a full day of New York traffic, from buses to taxis to ferries to Amtrak.
They come in squealing on metal tracks; smashing through cold Hudson waves; spinning rubber on the dirty pavement—all the trains, ferries, cars, bikes, and other vehicles that carry commuters daily around New York.
And now you can see them all in action over a chaotic, 24-hour period, thanks to this fantastically involved visualization from Will Geary.
Geary, a data-science graduate student at Columbia University who previously dabbled in animating New York’s subway, became interested in the city’s wealth of transit options through prior visualizations from Chris Whong (taxis!) and Todd Schneider (taxis and Ubers!). “But why stop there?” Geary says. “I gathered all of the New York transit data I could find, including taxi, bus, subway, ferries, Citi Bike, Amtrak, the PATH and Metro-North trains, and layered that in to make the animation in its current state.”
The first viz Geary produced put the color-coded traffic against a black background to achieve a rather abstract effect, like thousands of rainbow cake sprinkles skittering around a hot pan. Thanks to the moody track “Lament I: Bird’s Lament” from the blind composer Moondog—whose own preferred method of travel was wandering around Sixth Avenue with homemade instruments and a 6-foot spear—the end result is perfect for just sitting and grooving out to.
Geary also made a version with a natural-earth base map that “may be more useful for viewers who are less familiar with the geography of greater New York,” he says. Quite evident in each is the huge amount of taxi traffic (both yellow and green) spraying from the region’s airports, as well as the footprint of the bus network, which fills the street grids like blue paint through canals.
Data on taxi and Citi Bike trips are drawn from a single day in 2015, and most of the rest he obtained via schedules downloaded from various transit agencies. “So this is static data according to the timetables, not real-time data that would reflect delays or deviations from the schedule,” he says. “It is also worth noting that information is only available on the pickup and drop-off locations for each taxi and Citi Bike trip—not the actual route taken—so the visualization simply draws a straight line from point A to point B.”
Geary’s the kind of guy who’s constantly obsessing over cartography. “When I am not making maps, I am usually riding my bike around thinking about maps,” he says. As grand a project as this one is, in the future he might expand it to include more transit networks throughout the nation. “When zooming out on the map,” he says, “I can’t help but think about how cool it would be to broaden the scope of this project.” Here’s that zoom, showing Amtrak trains’ scheduled routes all around the U.S. during the visualization’s time frame: