Roads Marking Landscape

Ben Fry has produced a map of the USA’s landscape patterns by plotting only its roads. His All Streets project involved collating network data covering all the roads in the lower 48 United States (26 million road segments!) and mapping them (see below). It is a very simple idea that produces remarkable results. Roads are good representations of population density and the economic value of an area; they also try to follow a line of least resistance. Roads tend to avoid going across the grain of the landscape so you find them concentrating along valleys rather than up the side of mountains. This is clear on the West Coast of America, for example. The resulting image looks like it could have been taken from a satellite and works especially well due to the size of the USA and the quantity of its roads.


Although nowhere near as effective, I have attempted to do the same for Great Britain (see below) using data from Open Street Map. From this you can see the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District in England and the Snowdonia National Park in Wales. My favourite aspects of this map are along the coast where roads tend to follow the edge of estuaries and along rivers inland. Both maps show that landscape features still play an important role in the way we can move around. This perhaps is less surprising in the USA, but serves as a reminder that a small crowded island like Britain still has isolated communities.


Thanks to Allen Pope for sending me a New Scientist article on this.