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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.