Conventional wisdom (especially when it's raining) whispers in your ear that you can get anywhere in your city fastest by jumping in a car. Turns out in many cases, that is probably not true. Now you can easily see which mode of transit will deliver you to your destination faster, wherever you are.
This is the latest series in the mapping project You Are Here, where a team from The Social Computing Group and MIT Media Lab are making 100 maps of 100 cities over the next year. They've covered topics from bike crashes to coffee shops, and so far they've made these "fastest mode" maps for Cambridge, Manhattan, Boulder, and Santa Monica. Portland and San Francisco will be launching this weekend.
The fastest way to get anywhere in Santa Monica
Using the Google Maps Directions Services API and 2010 census data, these most recent maps are able to show how fast someone could get from a particular departure point to different parts of the city by walking, biking, driving and public transit. Each block is color-coded based on the minimum amount of time for that mode. For driving, they even added a buffer time for parking and walking (although anyone who has ever tried to park in some of these cities will say it was probably not enough!), however, traffic is not considered. Rolling over your destination will also tell you the exact time it will take.
Although you could find most of this information by comparing trip data in Google Maps, the beauty of this map is how it lays out the entire city and how close it is to you in neatly organized colored blocks. It also helps to point out larger accessibility issues when it comes to transit service. The most surprising takeaway, according to project lead Seb Kamvar? "Biking is really the most efficient way to get to all parts of Cambridge."
Coffee shops in San Francisco with their adjacent "walksheds"
The You Are Here project began when Kamvar moved from San Francisco to Cambridge and found himself fascinated with the differences between the cities. "I really started paying a lot of attention to tiny design decisions like the width of the sidewalk or number of trees," he remembers. "When you look at a map all you tend to see are the building and the words—that tells you very little about the city itself. We realized we could design maps about how to make your city a better place."
You Are Here is a way to not only keep tabs on the urban landscape, but also to encourage its improvement. Inherent in each map is a takeaway. For example, says Kamvar, the maps of street greenery are designed so someone could easily see where their city was lacking trees, and go plant some. This small-scale survey also sometimes requires finding creative solutions for data collecting, he says: Most cities don't have a database of where trees are planted, but Google Street View actually does a pretty decent job of mapping them. They're using image recognition to find and plot trees on every street.
Street greenery mapped in downtown Atlanta
Parsing potential neighborhood improvement efforts is also the reason that these maps are so pretty—and so simple. Kamvar and his team decided to launch the project making stripped-down abstract maps that each communicated one idea, effectively and almost artfully. "The visualization should feel like the data it's representing," he says. "A big reason for doing this project is to try to make the world a more beautiful place."
But here's where the full scope of You Are Here comes into play: While researching this most recent map series, the team realized that a more accurate calculation of transportation efficiency would not only include time, but also cost, and the effect on the environment. Thanks to their cumulative approach to data collection and visualization, that's something they'll be able to explore in the future, making better and more detailed maps as the project progresses. Stay tuned. [You Are Here]