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A Minneapolis Promenade: Running Maps of US Cities by Nathan Yau


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Image courtesy of Nathan Yau

It probably comes as no surprise, but when visitors (and even residents) want to enjoy a cityscape for a stroll or a jog, they tend to stay along some well-worn paths. Whether by design, or accidently due to our innate preferences, it seems that every city has a few routes that are most popular. Have you ever wondered where people go to enjoy a city? If you were going to take a stroll in an unfamiliar city, where would you go? Perhaps it’s the same route that many joggers choose to follow as well. If you could map where joggers run the most, what would it look like?

Nathan Yau of FlowingData wanted to know that too. Drawing inspiration from a similar project created for European cities, Yau used public data and created maps of 22 major cities around the world (18 of which are located in the United States) depicting visualizations of pedestrian traffic.

“I use Runkeeper for cycling and my initial interest came from mapping my own cycling routes,” says Yau. “This got me wondering about other people’s routes in my area. Runkeeper is primarily used to log running though, so there wasn’t a ton of public cycling activity. That took me to running routes, and I took it from there.”

Merging real data into a graphic interpretation creates a very interesting visualization of how the city is actually used. We enjoy scenery; and we enjoy long views of water. Among the cities included is Minneapolis. A first glance at the map shows that the chain of lakes remains a popular place to run. As more data is gathered, Yau hopes to derive some interesting interpretations.

“The obvious pattern is that people are attracted to the water and parks, which makes sense. But that’s superficial,“ he says. “My next step is to look at patterns over time and perhaps compare to auto traffic.”

Whether it’s the mall in Washington, D.C., the lakeshore of Chicago, or the paths near the Chain of Lakes and Mississippi River pathways of Minneapolis, each city has that iconic promenade, if you will, where people tend to gather. As more data becomes available, those patterns will become more clear.

“The most interesting things about the maps are probably not what I’m going to see though,” says Yau. “People who actually live and run in the cities know more context, and I’m guessing the smaller side routes are much more significant. That’s what I found with my own data at least.”

What do you see in the maps? It’s fun to learn exactly how riders, runners, and joggers use Minneapolis. Can city planners learn more from the data? Should there be more bike lanes or running paths built in certain areas? As mobile devices allow visitors to track where they are and how they are using their time, I’m sure similar info-graphics such as these created by Yau will only become more sophisticated … and more interesting.

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