Interactive map: bike movements in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The cities appear to breathe as bicycles move into office districts in the morning and out in the evening.

From midnight to 7:30 A.M., New York is uncharacteristically quiet, its Citi Bikes — the city’s new shared bicycles — largely stationary and clustered in residential neighborhoods. Then things begin to move: commuters check out the bikes en masse in residential areas across Manhattan and, over the next two hours, relocate them to Midtown, the Flatiron district, SoHo, and Wall Street. There they remain concentrated, mostly used for local trips, until they start to move back outward around 5 P.M.

Washington, D.C.’s bike-share program exhibits a similar pattern, though, as you’d expect, the movement starts a little earlier in the morning. On my animated map, both cities look like they’re breathing — inhaling and then exhaling once over the course of 12 hours or so.

The map below shows availability at bike stations in New York City and the Washington, D.C. area across the course of the day. Solid blue dots represent completely-full bike stations; white dots indicate empty bike stations. When you click on a station, you’ll see a graph showing how many of the station’s docks are occupied on an average weekday over time. I’ve written a few thoughts on what this means about the program below the graphic.

We can see some interesting patterns in the bike share data here. First of all, use of bikes for commuting is evidently highest in the residential areas immediately adjacent to dense commercial areas. That makes sense; a bike commute from the East Village to Union Square is extremely easy, and that’s also the sort of trip that tends to be surprisingly difficult by subway. The more remote bike stations in Brooklyn and Arlington exhibit fairly flat availability profiles over the course of the day, suggesting that to the degree they’re used at all, it’s mostly for local trips.

A bit about the map: I built this by scraping the data feeds that underlie the New York and Washington real-time availability maps every 10 minutes and storing them in a database. (Here is New York’s feed; here is Washington’s.) I averaged availability by station in 10-minute increments over seven weekdays of collected data. The map uses JavaScript (mostly jQuery) to manipulate an SVG image — changing opacity of bike-share stations depending to represent availability and rendering a graph every time a station is clicked. I used Python and MySQL for the back-end work of collecting the data, aggregating it, and publishing it to a JSON file that the front-end code downloads and parses.

This map, by the way, is an extremely simple example of what’s possible when the physical world is instrumented and programmable. I’ve written about sensor-laden machinery in my research report on the industrial Internet, and we plan to continue our work on the programmable world in the coming months.

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