getting smart about transit with GIS

a set of insightful questions from Intro to GIS student, JR

Where are the best places to live if you want to minimize the time and environmental impact of your daily commute? Is it easy to live without a car in neighbourhood ‘A’? Partial answers have popped up in the geoweb, but I can hardly wait for more comprehensive analyses of such issues to be put in the hands of the online public.

Take, for instance,, which rates how walkable an address is, based on the distance to nearby amenities culled from the Google Maps local search function. The site has ranked the 40 largest U.S. cities according to the walkability of their neighbourhoods. (The top 3: San Francisco, New York, Boston.) The maps of these cities with heat map overlays of walkability are not only fun to explore, but they can also easily narrow down where you’d want to live – assuming you’re relocating to one of these American cities. These nifty maps have not been produced for other, international locations, but at least the site will perform the actual calculation for addresses (or coordinates) in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. using Google data (which means that some of us can roll up our sleeves and get scraping). Of course, the calculation is only as good as its algorithm and data quality, both of which could use improvement.

845 Sherbrooke Street West? A walk score of 90 out of 100 – a walker’s paradise. There’s no doubt that living in a walkable area (but not at school) has obvious health, environmental, and economic advantages. But what about public transit options?

Public transit data was a recent addition to Google Maps, but Google is not going to tell you the most convenient places to live (not yet anyway). Check out the drool-inducing, travel-time maps here, produced some time ago by the non-profit Yes, those are travel-time contour lines drawn with publicly available transit data, which are then made interactive. The overlay of housing prices is an eye-opening start.

Where is the user-centred geoweb app for this kind of analysis? What would be the impact of accessible, accurate visualizations of all urban transport options? I think we might collectively smarten up on our transportation choices and reduce our addiction to fossil fuel. Perhaps it would influence the shapes of our neighbourhoods. I hope a proper data display would also make necessary public transport improvements obvious to everybody, also exposing possible dubiousness of spending decisions on transportation by local governments.

Comments are closed.