Tag Archives: transport

Gridlock: GIS in transport planning

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

It is not hyperbole to state that we are witnessing a revolution in the human sciences … fuelled by a stunning advancement in capabilities to capture, store and process data, as well as communicate information and knowledge derived from these data” (Miller and Shaw, 2015; p. 180)

We have all been there, haven’t we? Powerlessly sitting in a vehicle amidst of a sea of pollutants. I am of course referring to the traffic jam. They are often the result of rapid urban expansion around city centres that were simply not designed with such volumes of traffic in mind. It is something that people the world over can relate to. Indeed, Statista (with TomTom data) recently released a graphic that identifies the world’s worst cities for gridlock (also see: IB Times, Forbes). Drivers on a thirty minute commute (with no traffic) in Istanbul, Mexico City, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Bucharest, and Recife (Brazil) could expect to spend more than 100 hours a year in gridlock; that’s over 4 days a year just sitting in a car stationary in traffic! The sheer volume of waste that traffic causes (fuel, money, time) has hugely negative effects on the environment, economy, and human wellbeing. Environmentally, of course, pollutants are also a significant problem, posing risks to both the natural world and human health.

‘GIS’, or ‘Geographic Information Systems’, is now ubiquitous in geographical research and beyond. It refers to an array of processing and analysis techniques that use spatial data and theory (see the QGIS introduction to GIS online). GIS can be used across an enormous range of research from natural disaster management and monitoring deforestation, to biodiversity science and geomorphology. This post considers GIS in transport planning.

Rgoogin at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons. Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_York_City_Gridlock.jpg

New York in Gridlock. Source: Rgoogin at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), from Wikimedia Commons. Available here.

Miller and Shaw (2015), writing in Geography Compass, recently discussed GIS-T (GIS for Transportation), providing an update update on their previous work from 2001. The quote at the top of this post says a great deal in itself and, while people referring to data volumes and computing power is so common it is bordering on a cliché, it really is true and we need intelligent systems to make both sense and use of it. The heart of GIS-T projects is identified as a georeferenced transportation database, probably using a spatial network in which locations, nodes (e.g. junctions), distances, and directions can all be represented in a model. With this spatial network in place, mobile objects (e.g. people, vehicles, freight) can then be incorporated and modelled. Terrain (e.g. if somewhere is very steep) and human-imposed features (e.g. congestion zones, toll roads) can also be considered where they may affect traffic flow and peoples’ decisions.

We are now comfortably into the 21st century, and new technologies can help provide information for GIS-T models. Most notably, GPS technology is widely available in most vehicles and on most individual people (via a phone or tablet). Such mobile tech means that “it is now feasible to collect large amounts of data from a wide range of mobile sensors in real-time or near-real-time at high spatial and temporal granularity” (Miller and Shaw, 2015; p. 185). A better understanding of how people move should help with urban planning, in terms of both policy making and infrastructure design, by allowing scenarios of certain decisions (e.g. creation of a congestion zone where people have to pay to drive into the city centre) to be incorporated into the GIS-T models.

GIS is a fantastic geographical analysis and problem-solving tool that needs to be fully harnessed and applied to a range of problems (from traffic management to conservation planning) if we are to cope in our increasingly busy and complicated world. As we have seen here, GIS-T has enormous potential in urban planning, utilising quantities of fine-scale data that we have never had at our disposal before. Hopefully this will be able to make for more efficient and sustainable cities, towards improved environments, economies, and human wellbeing.


books_icon Miller, H. J. and Shaw, S. (2015). Geographic Information Systems for Transportation in the 21st Century. Geography Compass, 9 (4), 180 – 189.

Content Alert: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 37, Issue 4 (October 2012) is Available Online Now

Cover image for Vol. 37 Issue 4

Volume 37, Issue 4 Pages 477– 657, October 2012

The latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break for a full list of articles in this issue.

Continue reading

Trainspaces: Shaping Transnational Spaces

by Fiona Ferbrache

High speed train Cisalpino (Source: Eurail Group G.I.E.)

This week I write from Germany and a media event to mark the 40th anniversary of the InterRail pass: a rail ticket allowing passengers to travel (up to one month) on roughly 250,000km of rail track across 30 European countries.

Launched in 1972, the InterRail pass enabled young people (aged 21 and under) to explore Europe. Forty years later and the pass is available for all ages. During this time the European map (its territories and borders) has changed: the fall of the Berlin Wall, dismemberment of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia, and the expansion of the European Union and Schengen zone, which have created a borderless space for mobility. As I am learning here in Leipzig, InterRail enables a unique cross-border perspective on the changing nature of Europe – a trainspace, perhaps.

Trainspace is an analytic concept proposed by Cidell (2012:3) to evoke “the space(s) constructed or maintained by the (im)mobility of trains, in both discursive and material forms”. The concept is introduced through Cidell’s exploration of freight transportation in Chicago’s suburbs. The case study explores the proposed purchase of a beltline railroad around Chicago by Canadian National Railroad, and the opposition raised by local American communities. While concerns over safety and risk were significant, Cidell shows how these were expressed in terms of disruption caused by a foreign railroad. This conflict, Cidell argues, revealed underlying fears of national control being eroded by a new transnational space (in terms of railroad ownership and the global flows of goods it could engender in Chicago’s suburbs).

Cidell’s trainspace encourages us to think about the effects of transport infrastructure beyond the site of the infrastructure itself. Applying this to InterRail, I am led to think in terms of the connected (rail)routes through which people flow and come to know a Europe: a significant component of transnational processes in a changing world.

  Cidell, J. (2012) Fear of a foreign railroad: transnationalism, trainspace, (im)mobility in the Chicago suburbs. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00491.x

  InterRail Celebrates its 40th Anniversary

When is a ‘map’ not a map? When it’s a Sat Nav!

By Stephen Axon, Janet Speake and Kevin Crawford

Dangerous, fun or pretty sweet? Attitudes towards Sat Nav use
(Artist: George Sneyd)

The rapid popularisation and extensive distribution of Sat Nav technologies represents the first widespread adoption of location-aware systems for journey planning and navigation. Sat Nav technologies illustrate the advancement and accessibility of technology used for journey planning and navigation. Despite the advantages, the media tend to focus on the negativities of over-dependence on the technology, reduced spatial awareness as well as the potential hazards of Sat Nav use.

The first Sat Nav summit in London convened by the Department of Transport in March 2012 started to address the blunders associated with Sat Nav use. The key issues discussed at the summit were to identify solutions to problems of out-of-date Sat Nav technologies. The Sat Nav summit sought to address concerns that old information on Sat Nav systems is leading inappropriate vehicles down inappropriate roads.

In our paper, ‘At the next junction, turn left’, we explore geography undergraduates’ attitudes towards, and experiences of, Sat Nav use as well as its impacts on spatial awareness and cartographic literacy. In doing so, we have started to address a major gap in the geographical literature.

The navigational capacities and technological aspects of Sat Nav are regarded positively whereas its technological, safety and financial attributes are considered negatively. Distinctions are made between traditional navigational technologies such as paper-based maps and Sat Nav. Crucially, the digital spatial representations of Sat Nav are not perceived as maps but as a distinctive navigational tool. Concerns are also expressed that Sat Nav could reduce the ability to read paper-based maps and interpret spatial data.

Sat Nav use is intrinsically changing people’s wayfinding behaviour, processes and practices of navigation, and understandings of what ‘maps’ are and do. Fundamentally, Sat Nav is not viewed, or used, in the same way as more traditional technologies of navigation. We argue that geographers should engage more actively with interdisciplinary dialogues on people’s changing perspectives on wayfinding, navigation and map design.

The authors: Stephen Axon is a doctoral candidate in Geography, Dr Janet Speake is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Dr Kevin Crawford is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography at the Department of Geography, Liverpool Hope University.

Axon S, Speake J and Crawford K 2012 ‘At the next junction, turn left’: attitudes towards Sat Nav use Area DOI: 10.1111/j.1475.4762.2012.01086.x

BBC News 2012 Sat-nav summit to tackle blunders 6 March (Accessed 8 March 2012)

Department for Transport 2012 Government’s first Sat Nav summit 6 March (Accessed 8 March 2012)

It’s a car’s world…

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Motor cars have become one of the most common private means of transport in today’s world and have transformed our societies, lives and physical landscapes beyond recognition. However, our relationship with these mobility machines transcends the purely practical domain and transforms the way we feel about our im/mobilities and personal spatialities. The success of programmes such as Top Gear (BBC) is based on the complexity of emotions which are embroiled in our relationship with wheels and speed. Similarly, but in a negative way, there are continuous examples of ‘road rage’, accidents and other incidents which remind us of the potentially devastating impacts that automobiles can have on our lives.

The environmental impacts of our petrol consuming four-wheeled ‘friends’ are unsustainable and developing electric, low-carbon and other alternative forms of motor cars has become a pressing matter. Geography, among other social sciences, has a great deal to contribute to the understanding of the human relationship with automobiles, road space, driving practices, etc. For instance, Peter Merriman (2009) provides an in-depth overview of the research that has been conducted on geographies of the spaces and practices of driving, focusing especially on the UK. He shows the important role that this type of research has in providing “sophisticated understandings of the complexities of car use and people’s desire to travel in private, flexible vehicles [so] effective strategies can be developed to tackle increases in private, petrol-car use and increasing CO2 emissions” (2009: 594). We need to follow the road of sustainable motoring if we want to continue enjoying the mobility and independence that motor cars can provide.

Visit Top Gear‘s website (BBC2)

Visit the Green Car Website (UK)

Read Peter Merriman (2009) “Automobility and the geographies of the car”. Geography Compass. 3(2): 586-599.

Sustainable commuting

A London Cycle Hire scheme docking stationI-Hsien Porter

In a paper in Area, Chris Banister and Nick Gallent analysed trends in commuting using census data from 1981 and 1991.

From the perspective of environmental sustainability, the patterns they discovered were worrying: commuting trips and trip lengths had risen, the proportion of commuter journeys made by car had increased by 21 %, while walking and cycling had fallen by 23 %.

At the same time, the analysis revealed that there were many opportunities for increasing the use of sustainable transport. Many commuting journeys were considered to be within cycling or walking distance.

Some time after this data was collected, it appears that the prospects for sustainable transport are improving.

This summer saw the launch of a Cycle Hire scheme in central London. For a small membership fee and usage charge, members of the scheme have access to 5,000 bicycles at 315 docking stations around the city.

The past few months have demonstrated the popularity and usefulness of the scheme. During a strike on the London Underground on 8th September, 24,000 journeys were made using the bikes (5,960 more than usual, according to Transport for London).

It seems then that there is no reason not to expand to scheme. However, in the journeys that we currently make there may be many practical reasons for travelling by car, bus, train or on foot.

As a discipline, geography has a role in examining the circumstances of different places and people that affect our decisions to use particular modes of transport. Banister and Gallent argue that understanding these local situations and processes is key to the future development of sustainable transport.

Banister, C. & Gallent, N. (1998) ‘Trends in commuting in England and Wales – becoming less sustainable?’ Area 30 (4): 331-341

BBC News (8th September 2010) ‘London’s Cycle Hire scheme records ‘busiest day’.

75 Years of ‘L’-Plates: The Geographies of Driving

Sarah Mills

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the compulsory driving test in Britain.  Commenting on the event, road safety experts have been keen to point out the dramatic impact the driving test has had on reducing road fatalities since its introduction in 1935.  Back then, the pass rate for the driving test was 63%, compared to just 44% today.  Though there have been many additions to the driving test in line with technological changes and an increased focus on personal behaviours, it remains remarkably similar to the first tests in terms of structure and actual driving practises.  Seen by many as a ‘rite of passage’, taking one’s driving test continues to elicit a number of highly emotive responses and is currently taken by nearly two million people a year.

In Geography Compass, Peter Merriman (2009) outlines research on the spaces and practises of driving and the ways in which geographers and social scientists have examined motoring and automotive spaces.  He examines the geographies of road space and how “motor roads have shaped our experience of space and place” through “their design, inhabitation, and regulation”.  Merriman also provides a discussion about the innovative methods being used by researchers to focus on the more social, cultural and emotive geographies of driving.

Read about the 75th Anniversary of the Driving Test in The Times:

 Read Peter Merriman (2009) ‘Automobility and the Geographies of the Car’, Geography Compass, 3 (2): 586-599