Distorted Maps Visualize Congestion and Pollution

Xiaoji Chen, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created isochronic maps of Paris and Singapore that represent distance on a map proportionally to travel time. The distorted maps show that the distance between any two stops in a city is not proportional to their geographical distance but rather to the cost taken to get there, Chen explains.

For example, on the Paris map, when comparing the standard map to the driving time map, we see that the city center expands to account for congestion, and the edges of the city collapse to become denser. To account for such differences, Chen used the Google Directions API to calculate the time it takes to reach a destination.

Chen also made isochronic maps based on the carbon footprint of various transportation modes. Looking at bicycling, riding the metro and driving a car, Chen visualized the amount of carbon emissions it would take to get to your destination, hoping to shift travel behavior to more sustainable modes of transport. “This would have a psychological influence on the user when he decides which transportation makes the trip easier,” Chen says.

Chen made the maps while working with MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory, a research initiative that studies the transformations of the built environment with evolving technologies and data collection methods.

In addition to mapping travel time and carbon footprint of travel modes, Chen also visualized air pollution in Chinese cities and created a video showing the network of human interactions in Great Britain.

Read more on Chen’s work here.

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