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Isochrone Map Generator: How to Create Travel Time Maps

by Victoria Akinsowon on Sep 6, 2021

Isochrone maps are a great way to showcase all reachable locations within a travel time limit.

Our free isochrone map generator lets you visualise all the areas you can reach within a given travel time by different modes of transport. You can try it out here. And with our TravelTime API and plugins, you can go one step further by creating thousands of travel time isochrones for public transport and other transport modes.

In this post, we’ll explore the different tools you can use to create your own multimodal isochrone maps, as well as the top use cases for these visualisations.

What is an isochrone map?
How does the TravelTime isochrone map generator work?
What are other ways to create isochrone maps?
How are isochrones used to make better location decisions?
How does TravelTime calculate travel times?
Which countries can I create isochrone maps for?
Create thousands of isochrones with TravelTime

What is an isochrone map?

An isochrone map is a map that shows all the reachable locations from a starting point within a certain amount of time. For this reason, isochrone maps are often also referred to as travel time maps.

For example, the isochrone map below shows where’s reachable within a 1-hour travel time by public transport from a starting point in Central London:

public transport isochrone map1-hour public transport isochrone map

As this is a public transport isochrone map, it shows reachable islands that surround train stations or bus stops. However, these are disconnected from the main isochrone shape because trains and buses only stop at designated stops, and so a traveller can’t get on and off at any point they choose. Holes in the large isochrone occur when an area is not accessible within the time limit, but the surrounding area is.

Recommended reading: Isochrone Analysis Made Easy

How does the TravelTime isochrone map generator work?

Let’s run through how you can use our free isochrone map generator to start creating your own travel time maps. We’ll use the example of two friends, Kate and Sadiq, who are looking for the most convenient cinema to go to.

Step 1: Begin your search

Since they are starting from two separate locations in London, Kate and Sadiq can use the isochrone map generator to create isochrones. These isochrones will help them determine the best cinema to visit, given their separate locations and preferred travel times.

The first isochrone we will map is Kate’s. Kate is coming from Highbury and Islington, and she doesn’t want to travel for more than 30 minutes by public transport. So, she enters her:

  • Location (this may be an address or postcode): Highbury
  • Maximum travel time: 30 minutes
  • Preferred mode of transport: Public transport

Then she clicks ‘GO’.

Isochrone Map Generator

Step 2: Retrieve your results

The isochrone map generator calculates every route within the travel time limit Kate has set (30 minutes). It then generates the isochrone (or travel time) map.

Public transport isochrone map

Step 3: Add another isochrone

Kate now wants to see which cinema is best for Sadiq. Sadiq lives in Battersea and prefers to cycle. He will cycle for up to 30 minutes to get to the cinema. So as not to lose her results, Kate clicks ‘add shape’, to add Sadiq’s travel time information to hers.

Cycling isochrone map

Kate can now see everywhere that she and Sadiq can meet within 30 minutes of cycling from Battersea and 30 minutes public transport from Highbury and Islington.

Transport isochrone maps

Step 4: Search for points of interest within the isochrone map

Now Kate can look for her point of interest. She types ‘cinema’ into the ‘show reachable’ box. The map shows all the cinemas within both travel times. It also lists the results by the shortest travel time down the left side of the page.

Points of interest_isochrone map

How to change the location of the isochrone

A change of plans means that Sadiq is now travelling from Stratford, not Battersea. However, Kate doesn’t have to start the search or create the shape all over again. She can simply change Sadiq’s starting location from Battersea to Stratford, and the isochrone generator instantly recalculates the results.

Points of interest_isochrone map

See which points of interest are relevant for both isochrones

Now Kate can filter further to see only the results that are relevant to her and Sadiq. To do this, she clicks ‘filter intersection’. Kate can now see the cross-section of the cinemas that both she and Sadiq can reach.

isochrone map

Kate clicks on her preferred result - The Rio Cinema on Kingsland High Street. The isochrone map generator draws a route.

Point of interest- isochrone map

Recalculate the travel time area using departure/arrival time

Katie and Sadiq decide that the ideal time to arrive at the cinema would be 6 pm.

So, Kate goes back to the original search window and clicks on the time. This brings up a calendar. Kate changes ‘Depart’ to ‘Arrive’ and changes the arrival time to 6 pm. She then clicks ‘Set time’ and the isochrone generator recalculates where is reachable at that time of day, as well as the travel cost.

isochrone map generator - arrival time

Get directions

Kate can also get A to B directions to their meeting location by clicking ‘Route’:

TravelTime routing

What are other ways to create isochrone maps?

While our isochrone map generator is a great way to get started with creating your own isochrone maps, you may be looking to visualise a much greater number of isochrones for location analysis or to integrate isochrones into your web application.

With the TravelTime Isochrone API or our geospatial plugins, you can create thousands of travel time isochrones for any transport mode – single or combined.

Below, we’ll explore each option in detail.

Create isochrones through the TravelTime API

To create isochrones with the TravelTime Isochrone API, first sign up for a free API key. Once you have your key, you can simply enter the parameters of your search. This includes:

  • Departure or arrival location
  • Mode of transport
  • Travel time limit
  • Time of the day

Once the request is made, the Isochrone API receives the request and returns a JSON response, which includes coordinates for points. These points show the boundaries of shapes reachable within the travel time.


isochrone map - TravelTime APIExample isochrone created with the TravelTime Isochrone API

Recommended reading: Isochrone API Tutorial: How to Create an Isochrone Map

Create travel time isochrones in QGIS

Our QGIS plugin lets you create isochrones within QGIS in just a click of a button.

As with the TravelTime Isochrone API, it can also filter points of interest within a set travel time and calculate journey times to thousands of destinations. The maximum travel time polygon is currently 4 hours. You can sign up for a free trial here.

Check out how to create travel time isochrones in QGIS in our video tutorial:


Recommended reading: How to Create Isochrones with the TravelTime QGIS Plugin

Create travel time isochrones in ArcGIS

If you’re an ArcGIS Pro user, you can use our ArcGIS add-in to instantly create travel time isochrones and perform travel time analysis. This tool can generate multiple standalone isochrones, unions of multiple isochrones, and intersections straight out of the box.

The potential use cases are virtually endless, especially when you combine your isochrones additional data sets such as population data. To get started, you can sign up for a free trial here.

featureIsochrones created using the TravelTime ArcGIS add-in

Recommended reading: TravelTime Add-In for ArcGIS Isochrones & Travel Time Distance Matrix


Create travel time isochrones in Alteryx

For Alteryx users, our TravelTime macros allow you to generate isochrones for any method of transport. You can use the macros in Alteryx to get the travel time data you need and visualise your isochrones using Tableau. You can sign up for a free trial here.


alteryx 2
Isochrones generated in Alteryx via the TravelTime x Alteryx macros

Recommended reading: Creating Isochrones Using Alteryx & Tableau

How are isochrones used to make better location decisions?

Isochrones can help people and businesses make better decisions when it comes to locations. Below are just a few examples.

Web location search

Many of our customers use isochrones on their website or apps to allow users to search for relevant services.

For example, real estate company, Zoopla, uses isochrones on its website to help house hunters identify which properties are the best fit based on travel times to key locations:


Zoopla isochrone map

Zoopla’s isochrone map tool uses the TravelTime API to display points of interest within a travel time

Similarly, estate agency, Foxtons, built a travel time search tool that uses isochrones to show users where they can live based on commute time, using the TravelTime API:

Foxton isochronesFoxtons travel time search tool helps users find the best place to live using travel time maps

Analysing accessibility to specific locations or sites

The Financial Times used travel time isochrones to analyse how accessible Covid vaccination sites are across England by different modes of transport.

With the TravelTime API, the team calculated multiple travel time isochrones for each of England’s 1,220 vaccination centres. This would determine how far away someone could be from each vaccine centre and still reach it within a given travel time and by a given mode of transport.

ft analysis

Creating travel time catchment areas

IKEA used travel time isochrones to visualise how easily potential customers could reach one of its store locations within 20 minutes by driving.

The resulting drive-time isochrone map takes into account factors such as traffic and one-way street and helped the IKEA marketing team customise its marketing campaigns according to the location.

image-30Isochrone map showing all locations reachable within a 20-minute drive from a particular IKEA store

Layering isochrones with other datasets for more insights

Another benefit of isochrone maps is that you can layer them with other datasets, such as population data, to get more insights. SEGRO, one of Europe’s leading owners and managers of industry property, uses travel time isochrones alongside different datasets to analyse and fully understand the accessibility of a location.

As SEGRO Data Scientist, Tim Hirst, explains: “It’s been great to analyse the data we get from TravelTime alongside other datasets like census or population data, to tell us how many people we can reach from certain locations. That’s led to some very interesting insights in the locations and cities we’ve been exploring.”

undefined-Jul-13-2021-06-15-33-36-AMSEGRO uses isochrones alongside different datasets for a more informed location analysis

Location analysis for urban planning

When it comes to urban planning, travel time isochrones can help you understand accessibility to important services and develop solutions to improve urban infrastructure.

For example, Hatch, a global consultancy, used travel time catchment areas (i.e. isochrones) to understand the economic and social impact of a planned underground station extension on the surrounding areas.

To determine the impact, the team created a “study area” around each station, based on a 12-minute walking time catchment area.

travel time catchment areas Travel time isochrones offer more accuracy than distance radius maps

Identify the areas to improve services

The NHS uses isochrones via the TravelTime API to analyse population and health data. This analysis helps them to improve sustainability and the quality of care they offer.

Isochrone-map

Select the best office location

You can use isochrones to visualise the best location for an office, based on employees’ commute times.
Isochrones ArcGIS

How does TravelTime calculate travel times?

To create our routes, we use OSM, transport timetables and speed profiles.

  • Walking: we calculate walk times using an average walk speed. It allows for delays on routes including traffic lights, roundabouts, and crossings.

  • Public transport: we calculate public transport using real routes and timetables. It allows for the time it takes to enter the station or switch platforms.

  • Driving: we calculate drive times by applying specific driving speeds to individual roads. It allows time for parking the car, using roundabouts and traffic lights.

  • Cycling: we calculate cycling times using average speeds. It allows time for crossings and favours quieter roads or cycle paths.

  • Driving & Train: we calculate driving and train travel times by measuring the time it takes to travel from door to door.

Which countries can I create isochrone maps for?

TravelTime currently has global coverage for 48 countries – so you can create isochrones and visualise all reachable locations for different transport modes globally.

You can see our full list of supported countries here.

Create thousands of isochrones with TravelTime

Isochrone maps, also known as travel time maps, are a useful way to visualise where’s reachable within a time limit.

They can also help to make better decisions when it comes to locations, whether it’s helping your website visitors visualise the best areas to buy a property or performing location analysis to determine the best location for a new site.

Our free isochrone map generator lets you create free isochrones to see where you can reach within a given time. However, through our Isochrone API or plugins, you can create thousands of isochrones instantly to visualise reachable locations within a time limit by any mode of transport.

To create your own isochrones with the TravelTime Isochrone API or plugins, sign up for a free trial.

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Topics:
Isochrone maps