See how space for cars, trains, and bikes stacks up in New York City

How much space cities provide to different transportation options is an easily-visualized hint into how they prioritize different ways of getting around, a relationship made even more evident through the basic geometric inefficiencies of driving.

As an exercise to investigate just how unfair this allotment of space can be, Moovel Lab, the creative side project of app company Moovel, released a project that categorizes and directly compares all of the car, train, and bike space in New York City.

“What the Street!?” identifies and measures parking, rail, and street space from OpenStreetMap across New York City. Users are asked to input their guesses as to the percentage of public space given to each mode (hint: it’s stark) and can see the shape of each parking lot and street stacked in a graphical comparison.

Click on the individual bike lane, train right-of-way, or street, and OpenStreetMap opens to show you where it is. Scrolling through the 107 million square meters of New York “car space” makes quite an impression when compared to the small stacks of “bike space.”

Source: Moovel Lab.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the above triangle chart, which compares how much space is provided per mode against how people in that city actually get around. For New York, for example, the majority of residents get around by subway, hence the long differential down the rail side of the triangle. When you move people more efficiently through transit and bike infrastructure, the saved space becomes available for uses open to more people than just drivers. And on the flip side, Moovel Lab notes that the existing highways and parking lots are a strong incentive for many to choose driving over transit or biking.

Moovel Lab acknowledges that the project is limited by a number of factors and is not meant to be a scientific analysis of infrastructure. For one, the identification of different types of space depends on the accuracy of contributions from OpenStreetMap volunteers. Nevertheless, the project is a fun look into recognizing a relationship that’s often taken for granted.

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charles denny

This comparison leaves out Busses who operate most often in general traffic lanes but do occasionally Have their dedicated lane. In NYC there are a good number of passengers on the busses. Also missing from the triangle is pedestrians who can outnumber both occupants of autos and bikes. They do have dedicated space on the sidewalk. Some of the sidewalk space is not available for walking however. Trucks which are need to bring the goods into the City are also not includes but they are necessary for its operation.

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