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Spark it Up

This post is literally 2 years in the making. In the Spring of 2007, Jeff "You Don't Mess With the" Zupan gave me a spreadsheet with the annual 'registrations' (i.e. recorded entries) at each station in the NYC subway system going back to the beginning (1905). At the time, I was heavy into the new open source geo stack, as is reflected in the main piece of work I did at RPA. Hammer in hand, I of course saw this spreadsheet as a bucket of nails.

The result, after much whacking, is, I think, compelling, but you'll have to see for yourself. The general idea it that the history of subway ridership tells a story about the history of a neighborhood that is much richer than the overall trend. An example, below, shows the wild comeback of inner Williamsburg, and how the growth decays at each successive stop away from Manhattan on the L train:


This is somewhat in contrast to the South Bronx, which is yet to see the resurgence in ridership, other than at Yankee Stadium and the Grand Concourse:


The stations around Wall Street tell a totally different story, in which the ups and downs of each dep/recession have more immediate but temporary effects:


My first stab at visualizing this data was a traditional cartographic approach, showing the overall growth from 1977 to 2006 at each station. This told an approximate story at the level of the whole the city, but did not leave much room for detailed exploration. Thanks to geoserver's awesome new(ish) dynamic symbolizers functionality, it was trivial to plot the station-by-station time series sparklines (generated in R of course) onto the interactive online map. (Originally I the plots were produced in Perl and placed onto the map with a Javascript WFS layer, but that is so 2005.)

For all this, I never really felt like this little experiment was ready for an audience. That all changed when OpenGeo put up its Open StreetMap base layer for the web, giving fancy overlays like this one the context they need.

http://transit.frumin.net/subway/spark.php

UPDATES:

At least 2 people have taken the data I put out there and used it to make some zippier interactive flash apps:

  • The first is very polished, but I think the designer is quite misled in his desire to not plot dots on a map, and thus to plot what looks like a network flow diagram but with totally bogus data
  • The second is a little rougher around the edges, but I'd say is much more honest, and thus useful

Not sure if anyone knows, but I also have GIS files for the subway here: http://transit.frumin.net/trx/Alignment

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 7, 2009 11:22 AM.

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