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This Map Shows Commuting Times Across The Entire Planet

A new map reveals how long it takes to get to the world’s cities–an important indicator for the economic health of any community.

This Map Shows Commuting Times Across The Entire Planet
[Photo: Sharleen Chao/Getty Images]

Despite the fact that incredibly fast adoption of cell phones and internet access are helping close the gap of inequality and poverty, it’s not enough. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals call for other key factors to eradicate poverty and improve the lives of every human in the planet, like building resilient, fluid transportation infrastructure to connect communities.

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[Image: Daniel Weiss and Jennifer Rozier/Malaria Atlas Project/University of Oxford]
Why is transit so important to ending poverty? Because “the ease with which people are able to connect with the services, institutions, and individuals supportive of socioeconomic success, good health, and overall well-being can ultimately separate communities that thrive from those left behind,” according to the team at the Big Data Institute in the University of Oxford.

These new maps, created by the Oxford team using data from the Google roads database and Open Street Map, show the current state of transportation around the world with a precision of one square kilometer. They offer unprecedented, never-before-seen detail–a crucial tool for directing future policy and investment.

Prior to this project, the last accessibility mapping effort took place in the year 2000. So what has changed over almost two decades? Like with everything else when it comes to human development, accessibility in urban centers around the world has changed dramatically. The Big Data Institute team says that the new maps show a substantial “expansion of transportation infrastructure,” reflecting the acceleration of train, road, and aerial networks over the last 200 years.

[Image: Daniel Weiss and Jennifer Rozier/Malaria Atlas Project/University of Oxford]
Still, there are differences that need to be solved. You can see the stark contrast between a country like Great Britain (shown above), with a dense transportation network of unhindered mobility and low travel times compared to the Central African Republic (shown below).

Lighter colors show shorter travel times to urban centers–pure white being 0 hours, or living at the urban center–while dark colors show longer travel times–black being more than a day.

[Image: Daniel Weiss and Jennifer Rozier/Malaria Atlas Project/University of Oxford]
The people living in communities at the end of those dark violet tendrils have a very hard time accessing the health services, commerce centers, and educational opportunities available in the two major cities.

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Sometimes the black is just a matter of the nature of the territory. In places like Australia, large areas in the country’s center are empty while the population centers cluster across the coast with dense transportation networks.

[Image: Daniel Weiss and Jennifer Rozier/Malaria Atlas Project/University of Oxford]
On the other hand, there are places on Earth that are extremely well-connected despite the low population density in extremely large areas. Dr. Dan Weiss–who led the team that made these maps as well as others for the World Malaria Report and the Global Burden of Disease–says that the United States is one of those countries with a “remarkable infrastructure” between rural and urban areas, thanks to a transportation model that started to take over the country in 1916 with the Federal Aid Road Act. After that, consecutive road construction efforts that culminated with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s National System of Interstate and Defense Highways created the dense road system we know today:

[Image: Daniel Weiss and Jennifer Rozier/Malaria Atlas Project/University of Oxford]
But overall, it seems like humanity is moving forward at a faster pace across the globe, aiding health, education, and overall development levels–and hopefully the crushing of extreme poverty, a goal that the World Bank says could be attainable in 2030. There’s still a long path ahead, but the mapping project’s findings offer some hope–despite the seemingly never-ending supply of political bad news from the usual clowns.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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