"Urban Bus Races" and Data Visualization

A post in Google Maps Mania this morning set me off on a bit of Internet exploring.  The post is about "...Urban Bus Races ... a particularly interesting visualisation. Using actual transit data from San Francisco, Zurich and Geneva, Urban Bus Races measures and compares bus route performance in the three cities...." Since I ride public transport in Geneva and Zurich, I was curious, and decided to have a look at the Bus Races.

I clicked through to the source of the challenge, Urban Prototyping, which headed me off on an unexpected side trip, down an unknown path in the Internet Forest, to Visualizing.org  I used tineye to look for the source of this image, used on the Urban Protoyping page.  (The City of Geneva used it, too, on the web page describing their participation in the Urban Bus Races project.)

In the same Visualizing pages, I found the Geneva project, Ville Vivante,  and  a project about the Bern Train station that caught my interest (embedded below).


Back to the main path through the forest.  If you are interested in data visualization, public transport, urban design, or Geneva, Zurich or San Francisco, I urge you to spend some time playing with all the projects linked below.  They were all derived from the same data sets, but each is uniquely creative.

I explored all the winners, deciding to focus on Geneva when I had to make a choice among the cities, because I know it's transport system best.

I found the Urban Bus Races most interesting by setting it up to run 3 bus routes in Geneva. Be sure to scroll down so that you can see the maps and the statistics below each one, at the same time, and then going to Dots on the Bus to watch the same information in a different presentation.

"Buses, trams, bicycles, pedestrians, and cars zoom about modern cities like blood pulsing through the body. But with urban growth comes challenges—one of them is how to improve transportation. Luckily, advances in technology combined with active open data and open source movements mean the citizenry can increasingly become part of the solution. Unclog the arteries, stimulate circulation.
"The Urban Data Challenge seeks to harvest the innovative and creative power of communities around the world to explore urban data sets through visualization.
"Designers, programmers, data scientists, and artists alike are invited to take up the challenge: merge and compare mobility data sets from three cities—San Francisco, Geneva, and Zurich—and draw meaningful insights. Winning projects will showcase the power of open governmental data and facilitate the knowledge exchange between cities. Juried prizes include round-trip airfare to one of the participating cities and funding from Fusepool, the European / Swiss Datapool, for developing the project into an app.
"The Urban Data Challenge ran from February 6th through March 31, 2013 with events in San Francisco, Geneva and Zurich." (link)
Grand Prize
Dots on the Bus 
Be sure to click on the "About" link in the lower right corner of the map:
"Sometimes bus riding can feel intimidating, but this visualization proves it: everybody's doing it. Pick a route off the map and watch a day in the life of the line. Buses speed by, passengers jumping on and off. Some lines are slow, some are hopping, and rush hour is often hilarious."

"Transit performance is often solely measured by speed and efficiency. But how well do transit systems actually serve the diverse populations in a city? Do people of different economic classes experience different quality of service and access? By overlaying transit data with income levels, these maps visualize the equity impacts of transit service."
"Frustration Index shows the Level of Service (or Frustration) for transit services in San Francisco, Geneva, and Zurich. Our web application visualizes frustration factors (capacity or crowdedness, delay, and speed) for one day in October 2012 across the three cities. More background information can be found on the project’s about page."

Third Prizes
A City’s Heartbeat
"A dynamic and interactive visualization of the public transportation network in Geneva. A playback of tram movements over a 2 day period allows us tofeel the pulse of the city.
Feel free to pan around the map and use the controls on the right to adjust the playback speed."
"TransitVis is an iPad app that lets users examine transit ridership data from public agencies. Given a properly formatted data set, a user can see various statistics over a selected time period. Users can tap on individual stops to drill down into the data or zoom out to see overall trends. The app provides a map layer underneath the data and the ability to move around in 3D to see how things relate to each other."
"Urban Bus Races indicates the location of buses operating on the routes selected, during the date and hour selected (local time). The size of the grey circles along the routes represent the number of passengers waiting at the stop. When a bus, represented by a small white circle, arrives at a stop, all waiting passengers board the bus and the grey circle shrinks to show that the passenger queue has been served. This allows users to quickly visualize areas of the city where large queues are forming, by time of day. Large queues may be an indication that reliability needs to be improved to reduce gaps between buses or that service frequencies need to be increased to satisfy demand. The background maps are color-graduated according to the corresponding Walk Score®, to highlight areas of the city with more accessible destinations within walking distance of a transit stop."

Honorable Mentions
"A single day of transportation data is played back in 3 minutes. The visualisation shows the bare minimum, e.g. transportation lines, stations and buses moving between those stations. At any time during this process, the viewer has the opportunity to become active and interact with the data by interfering with the traffic. The moment he starts adding new informations to the visualisation, he creates a parallel reality where each of his action has consequences, good or bad. The original data sets, based on public transports information from San Francisco, Geneva or Zurich on October 4th, 2012, are then changed and the outcome of this day of experimentation is different than what happened on this day in reality."
"This visualization seeks to expose:
- Which are the busiest routes at different times of the day
- Congestion analysis – a particular stretch of road may be busy because there are multiple bus services travelling along that same road."
"MetroMapperSF utilizes the real-time data of all SF transit vehicles to draw out a map of the cities metro network.
Every 10 seconds [API delay allowance] the data is updated, plotting the latest location of up to 650+ vehicles during peak time.
Their given speed and heading are shown in read, pushed to an extreme speed, in order to map out an alternative grid of prediction."
"This map is a simulation based on the timetables of the TPG Genève public transport network."
"This project presents a few visualizations to compare and contrast between San Francisco, Geneva, and Zurich to see which city does a better job overall as well as particular routes and time of day where they can be further analyzed or improved. The plots show that San Francisco performs the worst in terms of reliability and over-capacity. In terms of peak riderships, Geneva has especially high peak loads during the morning, lunchtime, and evening commute compared to other times of the weekday. San Francisco also experiences some peak loads during the morning and afternoon commutes, but there were not as prominent compared to Geneva."
"Ridership is an identifier for how cities are utilized—whether they are centralized, decentralized or have multiple focal points, whether activity concentrates during rush hour as people are entering or leaving the city center(s), or whether activity is spread out over time. As the transit passenger data suggests, Geneva is centralized while Zurich appears to have multiple centers, and activity is concentrated during rush hours. Activity in San Francisco on the other hand is more evenly spread out, both spatially and over the course of the day. These insights are not only useful for city planners and transit authorities, who can get a sense of what areas see high and low ridership and understand what areas are underserved by public transit."
"I wanted to build a tool that analyzes public transit information and visualizes realtime arrival data for every minute of the day — showing the current load on the transit system, the current delays, where passengers are boarding, and more. My goal is to help understand when and where problems (i.e. delays) occur in public transit systems.

I also wanted to provide comparisons between the three cities, Geneva, San Francisco, and Zurich, so we can all see which city has the best public transit system., and it looks like Zurich is the clear winner with both the least delays per trip and the most passengers handled per day."

If you live in one of these cities, and experience transport problems, do these visualizations confirm your experience?  If you were trying to improve their transportation systems, how would these help?
And if you were trying to build a transportation system for a city which doesn't have one, what would these visualizations tell you?  How do you think the project creators personal experience might have influenced their approach to their creations?