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Travel Time API — Amazon vs. Microsoft public transit times

The awesome part about working at a startup is that I get to play with all the neat technology that the rest of the team puts together. One such example is the Travel Time API, which is used to calculate actual travel times (via multiple modes of transportation) from one origin to many destinations. Most competitors do “as the crow flies” distance (straight line measurements), but that is easy. An interesting case is when one has to walk 30 minutes out of the way, to find a bridge to cross. Walk Score’s Travel Time API does routed distance calculations to account for just that.

example of routed travel distances used on walk score

"Example of routed travel distances used on walk score."

If Paul Butler can create pieces of art out of playing with data, then I can… aspire to try. Having gotten access to a firehose of data, I set out to play with it over the weekend from a local coffee shop.

With some analysis, exploration, and photoshop, I ended up telling a story about the city of Seattle, the two tech giants established in the city, and the local public transit system. Below is the resulting map of how far one can get via public transit and walking from the centers of Amazon (left) and Microsoft (right) tech headquarters within 25 minutes. It takes a minute to get from one outline to the next. The visualization is as if the the entire area was a pond, and one was to drop rocks at the locations of transit stops, at the time one can arrive there. The resulting ripples fill in the space at walking speed.

Amazon vs. Microsoft transit time map: 25 minutes

"Amazon vs. Microsoft transit time map: 25 minutes"

It’s pretty clear that for a given company, having a reasonable commute will dictate exactly what side of the Lake Washington one would have to reside on. It’s also interesting to see how parts of Kirkland are outright inaccessable, while sections of Bellevue and Queen Anne are underserved. Of course this map doesn’t tell the complete story, as both Amazon and Microsoft also offer private shuttle services, and Microsoft has many sattellite offices throughout the city. This has been brought up in the comments on Reddit; through by far the most upvoted contribution was this derivative piece of art.

flaming guy catching a kicked ball

"Flaming guy catching a kicked ball."

All of the underlying data is available via Travel Time API and can be used to make the same kind of travel maps. Walk Score already uses this technology for finding hotels closest to multiple meetings, apartments closest to a particular location (school or work), and travel maps. Some other interesting ideas that I would like to see someone do in the future would be around mobile locations that quit making assumptions that I can jump across river/highway/barriers to get to their local deals. Programmable Web is likely the place to track API mashups for just such applications.

Update: there has been an addition to drive time api examples to include a rush-hour drive time estimates mode. Neat!

Drive Time API example

Drive Time API example

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