By Patrick James
A phrase like "the history of transportation infrastructure" isn't jump-off-the-page sexy; it seems to retreat into a blur of whitespace and consonants. But if you consider what that phrase means for a city like Seattle, with its myriad inlets and frequent chills and plummeting hills and all that ceaseless rain, it's fairly mind-boggling (at least historically speaking) that people could get around at all. Even a cursory look at how Seattle built its infrastructure of locks and canals and roads will leave you marveling at both the ingenuity and the feats of engineering required to connect the dots in the region.
All of which is to say that today the Seattle metropolitan area boasts an impressive array of transportation options. That's part of the reason that John Nelson of IDV Solutions created his "People Dots: Seattle Area Commuting" maps. They're something of a follow-up to his series exploring drunk driving rates in the nation and specific geographical areas, which, he says, "sparked conversations about the availability of public transportation and the general walkability of those cities."
"The result was a series of commuter maps of Seattle where every dot was an individual person (inspired by Brandon Martin-Anderson's direct one-to-one dot mapping) that showed me where folks lived and how they got to work. Because there are so many methods of commuting used by Seattleites, I split it up into personal transportation and public transportation. Then I made a companion map that mapped the dispersion of carpoolers and also a general commute-time map. It was hard to stop, the data was so great and the geography of Seattle so inherently beautiful."
As you might expect, the farther you get from the city, the more single drivers you see. But there's still a remarkably high number of carpoolers and (the closer you get to the center) bikers and pedestrians. And the one-dot-to-one-person technique offers a fantastically visual manner of conveying information. Nelson found transportation data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, road/ferry networks from Natural Earth, and designed the map based on the State of Washington's Department of Ecology downloads page.
Maybe transportation in Seattle has an analog in a links golf course, with the natural environment relatively in tact, the infrastructure incorporated into what's there. "Because of its interesting combination of geographic transportation challenges (rugged landscape, bays, bridges, islands, all sorts of potential choke points) and the diversity of methods that locals have used to overcome those challenges (lots of rail options, carpooling, biking, etc.)," Nelson says, Seattle can be an object lesson for how people can navigate a landscape without entirely bulldozing it.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.