Go with the flow: the hypnotic beauty of public transport mapped

Will Gearys experimental TransitFlow tools help visualise the flow of buses and metros as colourful ant-like particles flowing across world cities

Public transit maps are a testament to the power of visual communication. They reduce the task of navigating hundreds or even thousands of miles of transport routes to simply glancing at an image. However, understanding a city’s transit frequency- how often the trains and buses run along those roads- is not nearly as easy, and typically necessitates scanning through pages of timetables.

How can cities make their transit frequencies as simple and intuitive to understand as their roads? Columbia University grad student Will Geary offers a answer: TransitFlow, an experimental situated of tools for house animated transport frequency maps.

” Transit frequency is hard to visualise utilizing timetables ,” says Geary, who constructed TransitFlow while interning this summer at mapping startup Mapzen.” Timetables informed about frequency but can be overwhelming, unintuitive and lacking geographic context .”

TransitFlow collects transport routes and schedules from Transitland, Mapzen’s open source repository of travelling data, and brings it to life as animated maps. The result is hypnotic. The transit flowings are visualised as colorful particles flowing across the city in patterns that resemble the coordinated motion of a colony of ants.

Examples from five cities are shown below.

New York City


New York is a city that never sleeps, and its public transit is no exception. The volume of activity ebb and flows throughout the day, but even during the lowest point in the early morning, the city’s transportation network remains abuzz with activity.

The region chart below the map summarises the transit volume by time of day and mode of transport. The measure shown is the total number of vehicles in motion , not to be confused with the number of passengers. Though there are far more buses( blue) in operation than subway develops( red ), the metro remains New Yorkers’ transportation mode of choice with an average weekday ridership of over 5 million, more than double the ridership of buses.



In contrast to New York’s fluctuating transportation volume, Rome’s transit frequencies remain remarkably flat throughout the day before slowing down to a steady near-standstill at night.



Boston boasts a diverse mix of transportation systems that includes buses, light rail, subways, develops and ferries. Geographically, the motion follows a clear hub and spokes pattern, with all lines converging at a single central point.

Mexico City


Unlike Boston’s hub and spokes layout, Mexico City’s transport flows are strikingly uniform across the city, carrying passengers back and forth and up and down with no obvious centre of activity.

San Francisco Bay


As a final treat, here is a view of the Bay Area, set to Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

You can find instances for several other cities on Geary’s Vimeo page. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for there, why not try making a TransitFlow map yourself? You can find the code and instructions Github.

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