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Colour Coding Your Commute

How fast or slow is your TTC route?

All TTC buses and streetcars, traced for six hours during the morning of January 6, 2012. Average speed is indicated by colour: red is the slowest, followed by orange, yellow, green, and blue. Image by James Fisher

The TTC is many things: essential, frustrating, a lifesaver, a hassle, sometimes friendly, sometimes dirty, sometimes slow. And sometimes, just plain beautiful.

Another thing about the TTC: it tends to attract map-makers. There are fantasy maps picturing what a dream transit system might look like in 2030, dynamic maps which show you where streetcars are in real time—even joke maps imagining what each station might be called if the TTC sold off all the naming rights (anyone feel like a trip to St. George Stroumboulopoulos Station?). And once in a while, there are very nifty data visualization maps, like the one above.

Created by Toronto resident James Fisher, the map shows the relative speed of all the TTC’s surface routes—buses and streetcars—by colour coding them. Red routes are the slowest and blue routes the fastest. “I figured it would be a fun side project,” he wrote to us by email, “really just out of curiosity.”

A lower resolution, and a much lower sample rate (about 10 minutes between points) than the previous map. In this one individual routes are less defined, but overall trends are easier to see. Notice the major nodes such as the Scarborough Town Centre and Finch Station. Image by James Fisher.

Fisher, 27, works in web development and has a background in data analysis. But he wanted to take that further and: “learn more about visualizing large data sets. So I started messing around, learning about how to get the data, how to clean it up, and how to draw it.” He scraped the data from the TTC NextBus feed, which is available via the city’s Open Data project, and created a script using an open source programming language called Processing to extract the results. “It’s really just a big version of connect the dots,” Fisher explains. “Every vehicle has a set of GPS coordinates and a time. You just draw out all of the places a bus or streetcar has been, then connect those with a series of lines. Because you know the distance between dots and the time, it’s easy to calculate an average speed.”

Fisher says he was inspired by the work of digital cartographer Eric Fischer (no relation), whose colour-coded maps of the United States have garnered widespread acclaim.

Using information from one hour of travel (the maps above represent six hours of travel) Fisher also created this short video animation, which shows the route-by-route layering of data, and a quick timelapse of the vehicle positions:

He isn’t done with the TTC yet, either. We asked him what other visualization projects he had coming up and he told us that, given the richness of the data available, he was tempted to keep working on transit maps, maybe one of the stops with the longest wait times. It won’t make the buses come any faster—but at least we’ll get a pretty picture out of it.

Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of each map…

Images and video courtesy of James Fisher.


  • Isabel Ritchie

    I love these maps, but the video goes to quickly to actually make out individual routes. I’d love to be able to overlay this over a street map, cause I still cant tell which route is which.

    • Ltwo Threer

      Good idea… also, being able to isolate routes would be nice.

      I can see the “up and wait, down as another goes up to wait” pattern in the north most routes, and I have a feeling Sherbourne does the same thing. Would like to have some visual confirmation of this!

  • Toro

    Neat data visualization. So this image represents the actual speed of the vehicles? It would seem that the rider density and frequency of transit stops (or even traffic lights) would be influential factors to consider in a sort of ‘relative speed’ visualization, i.e. how many people are being moved at that rate). For example, this image shows the 105 Downsview bus being among the fastest routes, but it is very infrequent (as is the case with many routes on the system’s fringe).

    • Anonymous

      I was wondering the same thing. The 42 is shown as fast, but as a daily rider, I can tell you that the infrequency is what makes it slow.

    • James Fisher

      Yep, it’s only showing average vehicle speed. Doesn’t really relate how frequently a route runs, or how many people it might move.

      If you combined the speeds and frequency with average ridership, you could produce a pretty cool TTC density map. How many actual people are moved on each route per hour for example…

      • Anonymous

        That’s something I’d like to see. You can view tables of daily route ridership for the TTC (e.g Google ‘service improvements 2008′). But to see a map with that data overlain would be quite interesting. I’d like to see where most people are getting on, transferring to, and getting off.

  • Clive

    This isn’t a fair assessment. You need to wait until schools are back. They didn’t start back up until January 9th.

    • Clive

      So it usually takes longer when school is in session.

  • Brent

    This is awesome. It is disillusioning though to compare my regular route (Vic Park, 30 minutes from Sheppard to Danforth) with, say, Islington (same distance, ~10 minutes faster)… which I never knew before seeing the colour difference on Kipling / Islington / Royal York.

  • Janice

    This is awesome! Shout out to James Fisher for taking the time to create this and share it.

  • Michael

    Great visualizations! Another visual that’s worth looking at (and featuring on a real Torontoist story, hint hint editors!), would be This tool uses travel times to show you the boundary of how far you can travel in a given time. It’s really cool to see how much of the city is 10, 20, or 30 minutes from your stop!

  • Jp

    Here’s how you can access and map the data in something on a web map. It’s really easy to work with.

  • Anonymous

    That blue streak on the left would be the 192 Rocket.

  • Wildeyed

    I’d like to point out (as I do frequently to no effect) that about 33% of men are colour blind, most in the red green specturm so these kinds of maps are useless to a big chunk of people. There are lots of colours. Choose some others. Mix it up.