Interactive Commuting Time Maps – Find Where to Move (MySociety)

[Editor’s note: This article from 2007 shows how an interactive web map can help users narrow down the best places to live or work based on a home prices ($) and commute times (t) by car, bike, bus, or train. Interactive Flash versions of the maps are after the jump. Thanks Lynda!]

Reprinted from

In 2006, our late friend and colleague Chris Lightfoot produced a series of time travel contour maps, after the Department for Transport approached mySociety about experimenting with novel ways of re-using public sector data.

This mapping work was very important because it provides a potentially revolutionary new way of working out the best place for people to live and work.

Commuting Time Maps

Following widespread interest across the net and a major feature in the Evening Standard, the Department for Transport asked us to show them how this work could be taken further, and that is what we are showing here today. Get a quote for your map now

Improving legibility and clarity

Many of the maps we produced last time were very pretty, but could be somewhat difficult to interpret. We therefore teamed up with Stamen to improve the visual clarity and fun. Our first approach was to improve the base mapping to something more delicate and appropriate, using OpenStreetMap. We then worked on the colours and textures of the contours to make them quicker to interpret. Click on the images for larger versions.

Old map of London

Showing travel times to work at the Department for Transport in Pimlico, arriving at 9am

Old map of London showing travel times to work at the Department for Transport in Pimlico, arriving at 9am
Click image for bigger version.
© Crown copyright. All rights reserved. Department for Transport 100020237 2007

New map of London

Showing travel times to work at the Department for Transport in Pimlico, arriving at 9am

New map of London showing travel times to work at the Department for Transport in Pimlico, arriving at 9am

Click image for bigger version.

Introducing interactive maps

Whilst working on improving the usability of these maps, we came to realise that the complexity of graphical display could be substantially reduced by replacing multiple contour lines with a single interactive slider. Have a go here.

(Remember, each of these maps are useful for only one destination)

NOTE: Interact with the original Flash-based graphic here. Screenshot only below.

House prices

Next, it is clearly no good to be told that a location is very convenient for your work if you can’t afford to live there. So we have produced some interactive maps that allow users to set both the maximum time they’re willing to commute, and the median house price they’re willing or able to pay. Slide the sliders on the following map and all will come clear.

We have more such maps of London, with centres at BBC Television Centre and the Olympic Stadium Site.

NOTE: Interact with the original Flash-based graphic here. Screenshot only below.

Car vs public transport

Many people these days are looking to move to public transport, due to reasons varying from congestion, to cost, to environmental impact. But where can you live if you want to have the chance of getting to work speedily?

The following map shows which areas it makes more sense to get public transport to work in Edinburgh, and which areas it makes more sense to drive.

Getting to Edinburgh University by 09:00 - public transport vs road
Click image for bigger version.

Remember, these are not general maps for the whole city, each map is only useful for the specific target place of work or study marked with the black dot. Please don’t make a mistake and use these to pick your own place of residence unless you happen to work at the location these maps are centred on!

Public transport vs cycling

For some people, the dilemma is not between the car and the train, it is between the bicycle and public transport. This map comprehensively shows that if you want to commute to the Department for Transport, and you live anywhere near the centre of London, it’s best to get on a bike if commuting speed is your main concern.

Click image for bigger version.

How can I get a map?

There are two ways in which you can get a travel map of this sort centred on a location of interest to you.

If you’re a interested user, you can contact your local transport journey planning organisation, for example Transport for London or San Francisco BART, and encourage them to work with us to get a system like this working interactively on their websites.

If you’re a rich user, or company, you can commission us to create bespoke maps – we’re a non-profit after all and all the money will help run our other projects. And if you’re really rich, you can work with us to develop a real-time service of the sort that the transport agencies should be doing. Francis Irving from mySociety has written a technical review on the challenges of developing a real-time map generation system.

If you’re interested in working with us on this, email


Please contact us if you have any questions or comments. If you’re interested in this area, please also sign up to the (fairly low-traffic) mySociety maps mailing list.

The idea was pioneered by the late and sorely missed Chris Lightfoot. All later code developments implemented by Francis Irving. The street maps were generated by ZXV and Artem Pavlenko from OpenStreetMap data using Mapnik. The map graphical improvements, Flash and general sense of design is thanks to Tom Carden at Stamen; Matthew ran around tidying, spell-checking, validating, and outdenting. Tom Steinberg of mySociety herded all the cats together. The work was funded by the Department for Transport.

If you liked this…

mySociety, who produced this report, is a non-profit. We build websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives. Try some of them out!

  • Graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs or street lighting? Get them fixed on FixMyStreet.
  • Want to know what your MP is doing in your name? Find out on TheyWorkForYou.
  • Change the world by saying “I’ll do it but only if you will too”. Make a pledge on PledgeBank.

Technical notes

Journey times to work are for a week day in 2007. They were generated by screen scraping the Transport for London and Transport Direct journey planner websites. All journeys from public transport stops (in the NaPTAN database of such stops) to the destination were calculated using the journey planner. Points not immediately on top of a stop or station were interpolated using a walking speed to get to the nearest public transport stop.

House prices are based on house sales recorded in the Land Registry for a large random sample of London postcodes. For each point the median is calculated from the price of sales in a 1km radius round that point. Sales from all of 2006 are included in calculating this median, but are house price inflation adjusted to be the price as in December 2006.

mySociety makes open source software, so you can get the source code for the scripts that made these maps, and we can give you copies of the OpenStreetMap base mapping. Some other data, such as NaPTAN, will require permission from their owners.

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