A visualized day of New York’s transit options, working together

New York City is blessed with a lot of ways to get around town. From MTA buses to regional Metro-North rail lines to the omnipresent subway, the overall transportation system moves millions of people every day.

A new visualization puts 24 hours of them together, showing how each works together in the broader context over the course of a day.

Multimodal Symphony from Will Geary on Vimeo.

Will Geary, a graduate student at Columbia University, recently constructed the video by incorporating transit data from a number of sources. Speaking with John Metcalfe of CityLab, he explained how, depending on the option and the availability of the transit data, some of the sets were taken from schedules, while others were real trips.

“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.'”

In the transportation demand management industry, programs emphasize “transportation options” in spreading out the demand for streets across many different modes, from transit to vanpools to bikes.

What Geary’s visualization captures is not only the origins and destinations of that demand (typically from the entire region into Manhattan, and also a steady stream to and from the three airports) but also how the different modes complement each other. Northeast Regional Amtrak trains bring commuters into midtown from New Jersey and Connecticut, while buses fill in gaps in the outer boroughs. Other options, like the barely-visible navy bikeshare dots, provide options for unique shorter trips where a bus may not make sense.

While few other cities have the spread of transit options New York does, it’s enlightening, and even fun, to see the system working in a broader sense.

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Steve O

Pretty cool looking.
Interesting that yellow cabs only leave JFK, but don’t arrive there.
The yellow color dominates, which gives the impression that it’s dominant. But each yellow dot is only carrying 1-2 people while each subway or train dot is carrying hundreds. It would be interesting to see if there is way to improve the visualization to more accurately represent the movement of people rather than the movement of vehicles.

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Adam Russell

Yeah, great point. This made me think of a recent BART visualization that integrated ridership into train movements. https://youtu.be/owGgbAS7Wq8

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