Silcon Valley's high-tech bus commuter lines visualized

Stamen, a design firm in San Francisco, was commissioned to study the private transport networks that run from San Francisco down to Silicon Valley. The traditional commuter dynamic for cities is suburbanites coming into the city to work, but in San Francisco it runs both ways, as city-dwelling tech workers catch a variety of semi-luxurious, WiFi-equipped buses with power outlets and work tables to tech campuses down the peninsula. I watched this with some amusement when I was in San Francisco this summer, observing how a crowd of googlers with Android handsets would magically converge on a corner near Dolores Park just as a big black Google bus pulled up and whisked them away (A friend at Google tells me that his bus has its own mailing list where they recently had a kerfuffle when some enthusiastic people proposed a weekly festive party-ride on Friday afternoons, to the horror of the more sedate riders).

Fun fact: apparently Twitter employees refer to the entire Mission district as "the campus" (though I assume that this is ironic).

We enlisted people to go to stops, measure traffic and count people getting off and on and we hired bike messengers to see where the buses went. The cyclists used Field Papers to transcribe the various routes and what they found out, which we recompiled back into a database of trips, stops, companies and frequency. At a rough estimate, these shuttles transport about 35% of the amount of passengers Caltrain moves each day. Google alone runs about 150 trips daily, all over the city.

We wanted to simplify that, to start thinking about it as a system rather than a bunch of buses, so we began paring down the number of stops by grouping clusters where the stops were close to each other.

The subway map is the end result of that simplification; it's not a literal representation, but it's much more readable than the actual routes. We also wanted to show the relative volumes, so the map segments are scaled by how many trips pass through them; you get a sense for just how much traffic the highways get, and how the routes branch out from there to cover the city. We only mapped San Francisco shuttles, many of these companies operate additional routes in East Bay, the Pennensula, and around San Jose, including direct routes from Caltrain stations to corporate campuses.

The work was commissioned by ZERO1 and partly funded by the James Irvine Foundation.

The City from the Valley (2012) (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. Maria Semple’s recent book Where’d You Go Bernadette has some amusing accounts of the Microsoft bus service (plus it’s a fun book in general to read).

  2. This isn’t new, Silicon Valley has had a backwards commute forever: the big employment centers have been in the area from Menlo Park down through Santa Clara (with Mountain View roughly in the center) for decades now.  The younger crowd has commuted down from San Francisco and the middle-aged techies and managers with houses and families have commuted north from San Jose and the West Valley. Only a few companies are in a position to provide private service, though, and Caltrain moves far more people than all the private lines put together. A lot more companies have shuttles to Caltrain stops, though.

  3. Stamen Design, eh?  With a name like that, their work is bound to be …

    [whips off sunglasses]

    hot as a pistil. 


  4. Hurumph.  It’s just the Mission. Adding district is a painful affectation. We, who suffer through cold summers, wet winters, filthy sidewalks, chronic inebriatants, and shameful government insist on all that is proper. There is no NOPA, only the Western Addition, we begrudgingly cede Eureka Valley, everything south of Army Street is Sanazay, San Fran only exists in the minds of flight attendants, it is the City, the surrounding counties are the suburbs, we are out west and are from back east, our freeways are 80 and 101, the 101 and the 5 are in another world that we will always want to beat, hella is superlative, and it is really OK to say Frisco, may Herb Cain rest in peace.

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