I have a long-standing fascination with isochrone maps. Apart from finding the organic forms alluring, these maps are information dense whilst remaining legible due to its conceptual simplicity. They have also allowed me to recognise the importance of urban mobility, that travel time is more important than physical distance in an urban environment.
Isochrones are akin to topographical contours, but instead of representing elevation they represent travel time. Isochrone maps incorporate isochronic contours at set intervals (e.g. 15-, 30-, 45- and 60-minute intervals) to illustrate the relief and bring shape to the landscape, which have been utilised in transportation planning from as early as 1887.
That said, just like topographical contours, it takes some time to get accustomed to reading these representations. Thus, as an alternative view of the same data, I’ve made a variant which renders the isochrones in 3D as elevations. Below is an example of isochrones emanating out of Bishan.
‘Ridge lines’ or ‘island’ chains become evident in the 3D rendering, especially towards the North. The peaks of these ‘islands’ align themselves to train stations.
Below are a couple of examples which reveal different patterns within the landscape of public transit in Singapore.
Seeing Things Differently
Truth and beauty operator Moritz Stefaner describes data visualisation as a macroscope, while Bret Victor in his talk “Media for Thinking the Unthinkable” describes building modern tools to assist humans in understanding complex concepts. Both allude towards the idea of allowing us to view the same phenomenon through a different lens or set of lenses to promote understanding.
As mentioned at the start of this writing, I find that one of the most powerful parts of isochrone maps is that it has allowed me to recognise the importance of urban mobility. That not all roads are made the same, nor are all locations within a city equally accessible. There are areas within a city that can be physically near, but inaccessible. And thus improving mobility effectively brings places nearer together.
Apart from presenting urban mobility in a legible form, isochrone maps can also be used to answer or explore questions such as:
- Where’s an accessible location to live or work?
- What’s the impact of adding a new train line or bus route?
Or they can serve as a point of departure to begin to answer these questions:
Originally published at swarm.is.