Isochrone Map Generator: How to Create Isochrone Maps (& Why You Should)

Sep 24, 2021

Isochrone maps are a great way to see all the locations you can reach within a time limit by a specific mode of transport. With TravelTime's free isochrone map generator, you can create isochrones to show all the areas you can reach within a given travel time by different modes of transport.

But that's not the only way to create isochrones.

With the TravelTime API, you can make more complex isochrones and create thousands of travel time isochrones for any mode of transport, including public transport, cycling and walking.

In this guide, you'll learn the different ways you can create isochrone maps and how you can use isochrones in your business.

create free isochrone map

What is an isochrone map?

An isochrone map shows all the areas you can travel to from a starting point within a specific timeframe. For this reason, isochrone maps are often also referred to as travel time maps.

Isochrones answer the question, "Where can I can get to in X minutes?". This is vital not only when determining where to locate a new facility or office, but also when it showing website visitors points of interest within their desired journey time.

As an 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:

Example: A one-hour public transport isochrone map

As this is a public transport isochrone, it shows reachable islands that surround train stations or bus stops. 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.

How can you build a Google Maps isochrone?

Google does not have an isochrone API or a consumer-facing isochrone application, but the TravelTime API can be added to any map tiles provider, including leaflet or openstreetmap. This also makes TravelTime a great Mapbox Isochrone alternative, especially if you need public transport isochrones, which Mapbox do not provide. The transit isochrones can include a single mode - such as train, or combine modes such as cycling and train together.

Using an isochrone map to find out points fall in a polygon area

Isochrones help people visualise where's reachable within a travel time catchment area. But what if you don't need the visual?

If you want to identify which locations fall within a travel time catchment area, and which lie outside this requires a slightly different process. Follow the tutorial below to filter your points and calculate the distance to each.

Try our free point in polygon tutorial

isochrone mapping

How can I use the TravelTime isochrone map generator?

Let’s run through how you can use our free isochrone map generator to create 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: Enter your start location, preferred travel time and transport mode

Since they are starting from two separate locations in London, Kate and Sadiq can use the isochrone map generator to choose the best cinema to visit, based on their starting 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’.

travel time map

Step 2: Get your isochrone

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.

isochrones map

Step 3: Add another isochrone

Kate now wants to see which cinema is best for Sadiq. Sadiq lives in another neighbourhood (Battersea) and can 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.

isochrones maps

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.

maps isochrone

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 of their travel times. It also lists the results by the shortest travel time down the left side of the page.

isochrone map

Step 5: Change the start location of the isochrone

A change of plans means that Sadiq is now travelling from Stratford, not Battersea.

To change location, you can simply change Sadiq’s starting location from Battersea to Stratford, and the isochrone generator instantly recalculates the results.

isochrone maps

Step 6: 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.

isochronic maps

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

isochronic maps

Step 7: 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.

map isochrone

Step 8: Get directions

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

travel time isochrones

How can I create more complex 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 for QGIS, ArcGIS and Alteryx, you can create thousands of travel time isochrones for any transport mode – single or combined.

Let's explore each option in detail.

1. Create isochrones with the TravelTime API

Through the TravelTime API, you can create thousands of isochrones for any transport mode. The API can return individual isochrones, multiple isochrones or intersections of multiple isochrones.

Once you've signed up for a free API key, you can simply enter the parameters of your search.

These includes:

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

Once the request is made, the 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.

Below is an example of an isochrone created with the TravelTime API:

example of an isochrone created with the traveltime api

Isochrone map API developer Resources

2. Create travel time isochrones in QGIS

If you need to create isochrones as part of your location analysis, our TravelTime 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.

This tutorial shows you how to create isochrones in QGIS with the TravelTime QGIS plugin. Or you can can watch our video tutorial below:

free isochrone map

3. 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 run your travel time analysis.

intersecting travel time isochrones on arcgis

The TravelTime ArcGIS add-in can generate multiple standalone isochrones, unions of multiple isochrones, and intersections straight out of the box.

As with our QGIS plugin, the potential use cases are virtually endless, especially when you combine your isochrones additional data sets such as population data.

how to make isochrone maps

3. 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.

Check out the video below to see what you can do in Alteryx:

how to make isochrone maps

How can isochrones help make smarter location decisions?

Below are just a few examples of how isochrones can help us make better decisions when it comes to locations.

1. Show reachable points of interest

One great way to use isochrones is to show website visitors the points of interest they can get to within their desired journey time. For example, you could show users all restaurants or museums within 30 minutes of their hotel location.

Or you could use isochrones to show which locations are within a user's chosen travel time. For example, property website, Zoopla, uses isochrones to show all the available properties that fall within a user's maximum travel time to a key location such as work or school.

how to make isochrone maps

Similarly, estate agency, Foxtons, uses a travel time search tool on its website. The tool uses isochrones to show all of the properties that fall within a user's maximum commute time to work.

isochrone calculator

With high demand for properties in the Amsterdam Region, the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area built an interactive map tool that uses isochrones to help residents see areas they can live in that are within a good commute to work and school.

This helps spread demand for housing by highlighting locations that residents may otherwise not have considered:

2. Analyse accessibility to specific locations

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.

isochrone map financial times

3. Create drive 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.

isochrone map free

4. Get deeper demographic 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 how different demographics can access 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.”

isochrone map generator
SEGRO uses isochrones alongside different datasets for a more informed location analysis

5. Run 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.

isochrone map uk
Travel time isochrones offer more accuracy than distance radius maps

6. Identify areas to improve essential services

By combining travel time isochrones with population data, you can also identify the areas that require essential services, such as healthcare.

For example, the UK's National Health Service 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.

isochronous map

7. Find the best office location

Isochrones are incredibly useful for analysing the accessibility of a location. Businesses looking to relocate offices can use catchment areas to determine whether a new office location falls within a good commute time for employees.

You can use this analysis to identify the best office location.

isochronous map

Discover more inspiration here:

How does TravelTime calculate travel times?

A question we often get is how does the TravelTime API calculate accurate travel times. Our transport models are proprietary and use a mixture of 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 100+ 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 the TravelTime API & plugins

Isochrones, 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. But you can create much more complex isochrones with the TravelTime API - and create thousands of isochrones for any mode of transport.

To learn more about creating isochrones with TravelTime, check out our documentation or sign up for a free API key.

create free isochrones

Build travel time polygons and catchment areas with the TravelTime API.

Get started free

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