Visualising Flows: Great Britain Journey-to-Work

There have been some wonderful flow maps appearing online recently, such as Paul Butler’s global facebook friend’s map, and maps of global trade and flight patterns. Inspired by these, I’ve been mapping travel patterns in Great Britain using a similar “night-lights” visual style.

The above maps use data from the UK census connecting where people live to where they work, showing how transport flows form complex urban networks and extensive metropolitan regions. The data is at ward level, allowing a good level of detail:


Taking this visualisation further, a key issue for policy makers is how people travel, with private cars having greater energy, pollution and congestion impacts than alternatives. The final map below groups work trips into car, public transport and walking-cycling travel using an RGB colour scheme, creating a galactic effect (click for larger):

The aim of the visualisation is to put travel patterns in the context of the diverse urban scale and geography of Great Britain, and reveal the degree of regional variation.

The map really highlights how different London is in terms of its extensive regional public transport network, with the other major English conurbations like the West Midlands, Manchester and West Yorkshire being highly car dominant in comparison. The variation in public transport levels could be argued to relate to London’s massive size, yet the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh perform well in public transport terms, despite being smaller than England’s northern cities.

Active travel modes of walking and cycling are generally minimal. The cities that do relatively well are the “cathedral cities” like Cambridge and York, with a few surprises like Hull.

The maps were created in ArcGIS using the XY to Line tool, then exported to Illustrator. A key aspect of such flow visualisations is that the thousands of overlapping flows add together to form denser links using a cumulative transparency effect. This is much easier to achieve using a vector graphics program such as Illustrator. Would be nice in a future post to add Northern Ireland and the Republic, and will get a data update with the 2011 census next year.


3 thoughts on “Visualising Flows: Great Britain Journey-to-Work

  1. I’d say the reason that Greater London has a higher share of public transport than, say, West Yorkshire is because the government spends around 14 times as much on public transport in London! (See )

    As a northern exile living in London, I can honestly say that public transport in West Yorkshire is a joke compared to what we have in the capital. I can’t blame anyone in Leeds for not wanting to use the buses or trains (where there are any), whereas in London it’s easy to get almost anywhere, at pretty much any time, without a car.

    The map backs this up!

    1. Hi Joe,

      Definitely government spending is a major factor, and recent investment in public transport in London and the South East has been extensive (tube upgrades, Thameslink, HS1, Crossrail…). The rest of the country has had no comparable level of investment. This gap has got wider rather than closed in the last decade.

      I’d argue privatisation is also a key aspect too, with public transport being very problematic to function with a competing services model. Cities that retained significant government control of local transport (e.g. London, Edinburgh) have been better placed to integrate services and reinvest profits.

  2. Pingback: Travel to Work

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