These maps show you how far you can travel by car, bike, bus or train in 30 minutes

Maybe this is making me stupid, but I didn’t know anything about isochrones until recently. Now that I do, they’ve changed my perspective on life in the Salt Lake Valley.

Isochrones are maps that represent areas accessible from points within specific times using specific modes of travel.

Think of them as a sort of inversion of the questions asked in your typical Google Maps search. There you want to find out how many minutes it will take to get from point A to point B. Isochrones tell you how many points B you can get from point A in that many minutes.

OK, maybe that’s more confusing than just showing you how they work. This article contains a number of different uses for isochrones which I thought revealed interesting things about life in the valley. In all honesty, you get the most out of isochrones by playing with the technology yourself – by seeing how far you can get from your home, office, etc.

In my experience probably the most user-friendly website to create your own isochrones is app.traveltime.com. Simply enter your starting point, choose your time and your preferred mode of transport. You can also overlay different maps to compare and contrast them. Here’s how we created:

Isochrones are particularly useful for showing how effective different modes of transportation are in different cities. In New York, for example, public transportation is often more efficient than driving from one point to another.

In Salt Lake City, on the other hand, cars dominate. For example, this is how far you can get from downtown Temple Square in 30 minutes by car vs. by bike or public transport.

TravelTime’s app shows how far you can travel from any point in a given time using a given mode of transport. (App.TravelTime.com)

Here’s how the Utah Transit Authority system worked: TRAX can take you south to 3900 South, while the 455 UTA bus can take you north to North Salt Lake. Truth be told, you can get further east and west if you’re willing to ride a bike, especially if you need to travel diagonally.

In the meantime, you can certainly get further by car. But you still can’t get much of West Jordan, South Jordan, and Sandy in half an hour from Temple Square.

If you go to the TravelTime app, you can also play with compromises. Public transport saves you some time compared to driving or cycling: you can work or read while sitting on the bus or train. So maybe it’s worth taking an hour’s journey on public transport instead of half an hour’s drive. (Of course, saving on car pollution is also important.)

Isochrones also show the effects of traffic on a commute. The TravelTime app lets you choose which times you want to examine. Here I have chosen the distance you can travel in a car from Temple Square at noon in a quiet time, compared to the distance you can travel at 4:45pm, a relatively busy time. Traffic is of course variable from day to day, so this map uses averages.

TravelTime’s app shows how far you can travel from any point in a given time using a given mode of transport. (App.TravelTime.com)

It’s a smaller difference than in many cities, but you can still see the impact of car traffic on traveling in the valley. In particular, getting to the south end of West Valley City or Kearns will be more difficult – as will getting to much of Holladay, Midvale, or Sandy.

How long a commute is okay for you? Personally, given my role as a Utah Jazz reporter, I might not want to be more than 15 minutes from Vivint Arena. On the other hand, with real estate prices at an all-time high, I’ll probably have to make compromises if I want to buy a home someday.

Again, I use Temple Square as a starting point. How far can you get in 20 minutes—compared to 30 minutes or 40 minutes—in a low-traffic scenario?

TravelTime’s app shows how far you can travel from any point in a given time using a given mode of transport. (App.TravelTime.com)

Of course, there’s plenty of real estate at the southern end of the valley, but it might take longer to get home from downtown than if you were living in Farmington. Hell, an enterprising real estate agent could use these isochrones to find the most undervalued areas on the Wasatch Frontier.

Likewise, if you’re starting or running a small business that relies on customers coming to a store, this tool can show how large your regular customer base might be and who might be out of reach.

Now let’s switch from downtown and our car-centric mentality. Where in Salt Lake City is public transportation most effective? Here I compared three neighborhoods: how far is 30 minutes from Utah State Fairpark on the west side of Salt Lake City, LDS Hospital on the Avenues, and Sugar House Park on the east side?

TravelTime’s app shows how far you can travel from any point in a given time using a given mode of transport. (App.TravelTime.com)

Living in the Avenues offers the widest range of the three options, providing access to points on the west side and Sugar House. From Sugar House Park, it can take 45 or 50 minutes to reach downtown hubs, while living in Fairpark means a much shorter commute. Frankly, however, there are strengths in each of these three options.

Again, one can easily imagine that this data is very helpful in deciding where to live. Entering an address or a nearby landmark can quickly show how feasible a car-free trip from a proposed apartment or house could be. City transit planners can also use this map to see how equitable public transit is on the Wasatch Front.

These are just a few examples of how isochrones can prove interesting, but there are many more. Again, you can make the most of this by trying to create the cards yourself and answering the questions specific to your particular circumstances.

Andy Larsen is a data columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can reach him at [email protected].

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

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