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Visualizing Public Transit Flows in NYC, SF and Other U.S. Cities

Visualizing Public Transit Flows in NYC, SF and Other U.S. Cities

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Experimental tool enables the animation of mesmerizing public transportation flows

Public transportation flows and frequencies are unique to each city. Transportation systems have there own rhythm and there own beat, just like the cities themselves. What determines that beat is frequency.

Transit frequency is important to meet rider volume. It determines waiting times and is often a testament to a public transportation system's efficiency. The bus, train, streetcar or ferry schedule shows timetables, which outline the frequency, however; timetables are far from ideal to evaluate a system's frequency. This is where TransitFlow comes in. 

Example of TransitFlow's animation generated for San Francisco

Will Geary, M.S. Data Science candidate at Columbia University offers TransitFlow, which the official blog describes as "[an] experimental set of tools to generate spatial-temporal transit frequency datasets and visualizations from the command line." 

TransitFlow uses a few Python scripts to retrieve public transportation data from the open-source data service Transitland, enabling the creation of mesmerizing animated maps of public transportation frequency for cities and regions across the world.

Geary uploaded the GitHub repository here. Luckily for non-coders, he also created a set of examples to highlight TransitFlow's capabilities.

See the examples for New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Denver below.

New York City

New York City has the most active and frequent public transportation system in the United States by a long shot, comprised of the subway system as well as buses, ferries and a tramway. The NYC subway alone claims more than 5 million riders a day. 

San Francisco

The vertically challenging city of San Francisco claims a portfolio of buses, light rails, cable cars and historic street cars. The BART has an average daily ridership, during workdays, of 433,400 people. The system does not run 24-hours, but BART's own wireless network supplies cell phone service to riders underground. 

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is an interested city for this tool. The city has the most congested traffic in the world, however; this comprises of independent drivers that are not accounted for in the public transportation data from Transitland. Angelenos have voted in favor of new taxes to expand public transportation service, but the bus system has seen a overall ridership drop by around 19%. Cars are still the major mode of transportation in the city of Angels. 


Behind New York City, Chicago is the nation's 2nd largest public transportation system. That system, the CTA, comprises of buses and a train system, the L.


Philadelphia is home to the SEPTA system. Outside of Boston, SEPTA is the only other system in the United States that operations the five major types of terrestrial transit vehicles, including commuter trains, heavy rapid transit trains, light rail vehicles, motorbusses and trolleybusses. 


The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, called the MBTA or T, runs a wide variety of transportation services for the Greater Boston Area and is the largest consumer of electricity in the state of Massachsetts.  


Atlanta, home to the world's busiest airport, has bus and subway service operated by MARTA. Despite MARTA service, Atlanta is a very car reliant city. In 2011, The Brookings Institute rated Atlanta as one of the worst cities for transportation accessibility.


The Regional Transportation District, more commonly referred to as the RTD serves the Denver-Aurora-Boulder statistical area in Colorado. The RTD operates a bus and rail system that has grown significantly since 2000. Currently the RTD is constructing the multibillion-dollar FasTracks transit expansion, planned to add new rail, light rail and bus service.

More information about TransitFlow

Will Geary has uploaded more examples to his Vimeo account here.

To read more about TransitFlow, get to the blog here.

All credit goes to Will Geary and Mapzen.

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