Streams

Data Art: NY Transit System as a Lite-Brite City Map

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 06:17 PM

What if every bus, train and ferry in NYC were turned into a pretty light and seen from space? The latest transit data visualization making the rounds after being featured on Mashable shows 24 hours in NYC transit as colored dots zipping around a darkened map.

These space-eye views of cities-in-motion always get touted as mesmerizing, or stunning, or just plain cool. This is no different. But Mashable's Kenneth Rosen also added a more precise description likening the video to a "Lite-Brite time lapse." To me, it's more of a confetti dance.

That got us thinking about the choices in visualizing moving planes, trains and automobiles. Usually, they're represented as glowing tails, more like Tron cycles than kids toys.

For a good example of the glowing tail style of transpo dataviz see this one from London, showing a day in bike share usage during a Tube strike.

But the most original art from a day-in-the-life of transit data is also from New York. In place of confetti and Tron tails, subway trains are represented as Cello strings ... sort of. Artist Alexander Chen lays train departures over Massimo Vignelli's iconic NYC subway map and each time "trains" cross, a cello string plucks. It's quite soothing, in contrast to the pace and clatter of the subways it represents.

Anyway, back to the video of the day.

STL Transit is a You Tube channel that makes videos of transit systems using the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), a data feed of when and where buses and trains are at any given time.

My favorite part of the STL NYC video is watching Staten Island, where it's a bit less crowded with transit dots. You can see clusters of buses spread out simultaneously from the ferry terminal, and then a few seconds later (in the video) all converge back at the terminal, presumably timed to the launch of the next boat, festive colors dancing to a rhythmic order.

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