Google Earth Exercise: Chapter 12

Urban Form and Governance: A case study in urban mobility

Moving around the city is closely related to planning and governance. Investment in road and transit infrastructure and the promotion of active transit are some of the responsibilities of local governments.

The task: Using Google Maps, visit New York City, Toronto, Amsterdam, and Portland to determine the relationship between active transport, and transit and traffic flows.

Click on each of the city names below to explore transit, cycling and traffic information for each location on a typical Thursday at 5:30pm. You may wish to enable to disable the individual data layers to better see the layer of focus.

Question 1:Differentiate between the cycling infrastructures in each city, what patterns do you notice? (Think specifically in terms of how many cycling routes exist, and how well connected they are as a network). Out of the four case studies, which do you think has prioritized active transport? How might each city’s network of bicycle routes affect commuting preferences?

Question 2: Compare traffic patterns in each of the cities. Does an improved cycling or transit infrastructure mitigate traffic congestion?

When you have answered the two questions above, scroll to the bottom of the page to check your answers.


Question 1: Toronto’s network is highly fragmented, with efforts to introduce cycling routes throughout the city. There is no continuity of routes, most routes are not dedicated to bicycles, and the cycling routes are not aligned to the traffic flows as evident on the traffic layer. The situation is similar in New York City, though in New York there is a concerted effort to introduce continuous lanes on some of the major avenues in Manhattan. Amsterdam’s network is one of the most developed in the world with numerous dedicated bike lanes and a cycling infrastructure that takes precedence over other forms traffic. Though transit data is not available for Amsterdam it is evident that cycling routes follow the same patterns as vehicular traffic. Portland is renowned in North America for its cycling infrastructure, but much of the network is composed of shared bike lanes, not dedicated routes as in Amsterdam. All cities have committed to developing increased cycling infrastructure, but Amsterdam remains far more advanced than the others.

Question 2: Traffic congestion in Amsterdam is lower in comparison to the other cities. Portland’s congestion is concentrated in the core, possibly as a result of lower density. New York’s is distributed throughout the metropolitan area, but is most severe in Manhattan and on the bridges leading into it. Amsterdam, despite being a much larger city than Portland, has relatively light traffic, and most congestion is confined to the core. Toronto is unique in that it is congested throughout the city, including the inner suburbs and has severe congestion in areas outside the core.