Thursday, 12 January 2006

London Underground Tube map by travel time: enhancements

Previously I posted about Oskar Karlin's innovative online London Underground Tube map, which showed you the distance in terms of travel time (how many minutes' away) of other London Tube stations from the Elephant & Castle tube station.

My wishlist for enhancements included the ability to check how long it would take to get to another Tube station from any chosen start station, not just Elephant & Castle; and also for the map to use the same colours for the different Tube lines as London Underground's official map.

Well Tom Carden's interactive travel time Tube map, inspired by Mr Karlin's original map, does exactly that. (NB it needs a recent Java plugin and may take a while to load). It reflects the conventional colours for the Tube lines, and you can select any start station by clicking on the station on the map, or from a dropdown list. According to Mr Carden's page a map of how far away places are in terms of time is known as an "isochronic map" or isochrone.

Though initially the scale shows distance in kilometers, once you pick a start station the map moves around accordingly (it's rather fun to watch that in action), with the scale switching to minutes and concentric circles showing "contour lines" in time terms. Hover over any Tube station on the resulting map and it'll tell you how long it takes to get there from your chosen start station.

It's only a proof of concept so far (crafted using Processing, an environment designed for programming multimedia). The travel times are not fully accurate, with journeys generally appear to take less time than they really do, but at least it gives you a rough idea.

Up steps Nicholas Shanks, who has created a Chronomap database for anyone to input their travel times between Tube and DLR (Docklands Light Railway) stations. Presumably it will then show users the average travel times for specific journeys (and it would be great if maps like Mr Carden's could hook into databases like this). Unfortunately I got a bunch of MySQL errors the last time I looked at that page, but thanks to Mr Shanks for setting that up. Another example of the potential of the Web to harness the collective power of people. I plan to start noting and submitting my own travel times soon.

I'd personally like Mr Carden's map to have a text-only option allowing a user to select both start and end stations from dropdown lists and then have the journey time displayed (e.g. in a popup) - which Mr Shanks's page will do, once there's enough data in it. I guess a combination of the two, with both visual and text information, would be ideal. Why don't London Underground produce an official version of something like this, updated with realtime travel information?

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Anonymous said...

This is a really, really good blog. I found it after searching for info on the BBC IMP trial, which you have reviewed.

Will be watching this blog closely. Well done.


Tom Carden said...

It's worth noting that as soon as you get into producing text lists of journey times, including times to change and bits that are quicker to walk, the TfL journey planner really is very good. I don't want to get into competing with that, I was more interested in the implications of journey time for looking at how the tube alters our perceptions of 'closeness' in London.

Thanks for the comments - glad you liked it!

Improbulus said...

Thanks for your kind comments Chris, I'm very glad you like my blog.

Tom, TfL journey planner is indeed pretty good. But the interactive Tube map is way cooler!

As for perceptions of closeness, time is the scarcest commodity these days for many of us, and for years that has been my main measure, e.g. if people ask me to go to X my question isn't how far away in miles (or even km) it is, but how long would it take me to get there?

1 hour is my max for weekly commitments, though I'll stretch to 1 and half once in a while. But I just won't take on regular commitments that require me to travel more than an hour each way per week. Some places which are far in terms of pure distance are much quicker to get to than others which are closer as the crows fly.

Ashlee said...

The first map you link to is great. I've just come to London as a student and it's always hard to tell how long a journey will take. This is an excellent blog, check out mine at, it's a travel blog of my exchange in London I've just started.

Improbulus said...

Thanks Ashlee, but take the map with a pinch of salt, journey times are a bit optimistic! As a rough guide it's fine.

Glad you like the blog, and good luck with yours. Enjoy London!