The Evolution Of Travel Time Over 100 Years: Isochronic London Travel Times In 1914 and 2016

How much faster can we travel from one place to another, compared to one hundred years ago?

Below is a data visualization of how travel times have evolved since 1914. The first map is taken from John G. Bartholomew’s 1914 An Atlas of Economic Geography, (source). The latter was created by Reddit user r2r_ last week.

London Isochronic Travel Times 1914 and 2016

(Click to enlarge)

Isochronic maps of the world are a good visualization for improvements to transcontinental travel technology like passenger jets and expanded road and rail networks. But we can apply isochronic mapping to smaller-scale transportation as well.

For example, Google Maps navigation data could be used to create isochronic maps of major cities. Such maps could be used to track the effectiveness of public and active transportation infrastructure on reducing congestion. City-level isochronic maps could also be used to visualize the impact of ridesharing policy changes on travel times.

City-level isochronic maps seem to have been a thing years ago, but no amount of Googling (at least not my two minutes’ worth) leads me to any publicly available contemporary maps. This seems like a great opportunity for some enterprising and technically-minded person to find a way to start scraping Google Maps/Navigation data to automate the collection and visualization city-level travel-time data. Any smart municipal government should be willing to pay well for such a great metric of one of their core areas of responsibility. (If you’re reading this and have an idea of how to implement this, please get in touch.)

*

The theoretical limit (barring inertial dampeners and a transporter room) on transportation speed is the human body’s tolerance for acceleration. If present trends continue, we will asymptotically approach a world wherein people and goods can travel from one place to another at speeds and costs that make travel and shipping times trivial. For now, I still have to walk (like a shmuck!) to the coffee shop; spend a half hour to drive across town; and take a whole afternoon to fly to London.

But compare the above maps of travel times in 1914 and 2016, and consider that we may be just scratching the surface of transportation technology.