This mesmerizing video may look like an art display, but it's actually a data representation of the five million routes taken by London cyclists since 2010. It's the perfect marriage of graphic visualization and useful information.
Barclays Cycle Hire was launched in 2010 to provide an alternative means of transportation for London commuters. Visualization specialist Jo Wood and collaborator Andrew Huddart, both from City University London, took the first five million journeys and created the animated map to help transport planners and associated organizations make better decisions on how to support the bicycle project in the future.
The animation starts out looking like tangled spaghetti, but the creators allowed for the least traveled routes to fade out after about 15 seconds. Patterns are then revealed after about one minute. The chaos begins to shape itself into three major routes: those in and around Hyde Park in the west, trips in and out of King's Cross St. Pancras in the north, and between Waterloo and the City in the east.
The curves of a route show the most frequent directions of travel. So, looking at the animation reveals more people traveled to King's Cross than from it; Waterloo sees people depart from there and head into the City rather than people heading towards that destination. Strangely, the data reveals people leaving locations via bicycle, but not necessarily returning that way.
The map can't reveal why these routes have evolved this way, which is why Wood and Huddart believe the next step would be to add anonymous user profiles to the data. If they can get a more detailed picture of use of the bicycles over time, it could help the planners adjust the location of the bicycle docking stations and how many are needed throughout the city.
If the next level of data collection looks anything like this first generation model we can't wait to see it — and what the City of London might do with it.