GIS for Transportation: Principles, Data and Applications

10.1 Other Transportation Modes


This week, we'll review some other important transportation modes and look at how GIS is being leveraged in these areas.

Walking and Biking

Over the past 50 years, walking and biking as modes of transportation have declined dramatically in the United States largely as a result of urban sprawl. However, in the past decade, we have begun to see a resurgence of interest in these modes of travel, driven in large part by millennials. 

The Alliance for Biking and Walking is an association of bicycling and walking advocacy organizations in North America. They currently have more than 220 member organizations across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In 2016, the Alliance published a report benchmarking the status of bicycling and walking in the United States. The report has been published every two years for about the past decade. Funding for the effort comes in large part from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In March 2016, Christy Kwan, the interim director of the Alliance gave a podcast which touched on some of the highlights of the report.

To address the increased interest in walkable and bikeable communities, planners use GIS to assess current conditions and to identify and prioritize needed improvements. Dr. Mike Lowry from the University of Idaho gave a presentation in 2014 where he described the concepts of bicycle level of service and bikeability and reviewed some of the GIS tools he has developed for analysis in this area. 

Walk Score and Bike Score are two GIS applications currently owned by the Seattle based residential real estate company, Redfin. These applications are designed to help people assess the walkability and bikeability of a house they may be considering. They both implement priority algorithms to calculate a score from 0 to 100. Bike Score, for example, takes the following characteristics into account in deriving a score.

  • Bike lanes
  • Hills
  • Destinations and road connectivity
  • Bike commuting mode share

GIS is also leveraged by walking and biking enthusiasts, largely through the use of mobile applications such as STRAVA, to track performance and share route information with others.

Watch these two TED talks given by Jeff Speck, a city planner, urban designer and walkability advocate. The first, titled The Walkable City, was given in September 2013 and the second, titled 4 Ways to Make a City More Walkable, was given in October 2013.

If you would like some more information on this topic, you may want to take a look at a December 2016 report published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) titled Creating Walkable and Bikeable Communities.

Assignment 10-1

Navigate to Canvas and complete Assignment 10-1.


Given the inherently spatial nature of flight data, it is not hard to understand the importance of GIS when it comes to navigation and surveillance in the skies. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that the number of airline passengers will double in the next 20 years. This will make the already challenging job of managing traffic in the skies and at airports even more challenging.

In recent years, airplanes and airports around the world have been modernizing their flight management systems and air traffic management systems to incorporate GIS and the Global navigation satellite system (GNSS). Due to the increased spatial accuracy that results, this modernization increases the capacity of airports for both departures and arrivals and also allows for the more efficient use of airspace since planes can fly closer together. The modernization effort in the United States is known as known as the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and is led by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an administration within the USDOT. A similar initiative in Europe is known as Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR). The United States and the European Union have worked together to ensure that these initiatives are interoperable (see NextGen - SESAR State of Harmonisation).

The use of GIS in aviation, however, goes well beyond the navigation and surveillance of airplanes. GIS is also used to address many concerns in and around airports, including:

  • infrastructure planning
  • asset management
  • maintenance operations
  • the assessment of noise impacts
  • the evaluation of vertical obstructions and height clearances
  • avoidance of bird strikes

Take a look at this presentation at the 2015 ESRI Users' Conference which looks at some of the ways the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is leveraging GIS to manage operations and improve their passengers' experience. Then watch this session on Combining GIS and IoT to Create Smart Airports which discusses how they are using IoT to expand the capabilities of spatial technology in ways which benefit both the traveling public and a variety of business units within the airport.


Maritime transportation is one of the oldest forms of transportation and remains a vital component of the world's economy. Over 90 percent of the goods traded are transported by ship. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) is the agency within the USDOT which oversees waterborne transportation in the United States. As in aviation, GIS plays an important role in ship navigation and surveillance to help to manage traffic near ports, to keep ships safe from natural and human dangers (i.e., piracy) on the open water, and to aid in response to emergencies when they occur.

GIS is a valuable tool for managing all aspects of port operations. Read the article titled Maritime transport: Shipping undergoes sea change published in the May 2012 issue of GeoWorld and watch this presentation from the 2014 ESRI Users' Conference on the ways GIS is employed at the Port of Rotterdam, Europe's largest port.

Assignment 10-2

Navigate to Canvas and complete Assignment 10-2.