Greater Nashville Regional Council Uses Heat Maps to Communicate Commute Patterns

The Greater Nashville Regional Council is leveraging heat mapping to analyze commute patterns in the region.

What turns data into intelligence? When it meets the needs of a decision maker—that means your audience can understand the data you’re sharing, can draw clear conclusions, and act on them.

Easier said than done, right? Visualizing data in a way that gets to all three of those outcomes can be tough, especially when the data is complex or not necessarily intuitive to non-experts. Fortunately, organizations like the Greater Nashville Regional Council (GNRC) are always experimenting with new ways to show data.

We’re a huge fan of GNRC’s recent heat maps designed to show local elected officials exactly where workers live and work—and how they’re getting from one place to the other. The maps are powered by commuting pattern data from the LEHD. Click on the map below to open up an interactive version.

Heat map showing home locations for Gallatin, TN workers

Heat map showing home locations for Gallatin, TN workers

Max Baker, GNRC’s Director of Research and Analytics, notes heat maps help elected officials understand how their city’s customers use infrastructure, which then helps them prioritize road and transportation infrastructure investments that better connect people to jobs.

The audience is elected officials, who respond really well with heat maps. Heat maps closely resemble weather maps and they understand weather maps, so it gets the point across quickly.”
— Max Baker, GNRC’s Director of Research and Analytics

Why the heat map is an ideal visualization for this story

For GNRC, everything comes down to making the data relatable to the target audience. According to Baker, that audience is elected officials, who respond really well with heat maps. Heat maps more closely resemble weather maps and they understand weather maps, so it gets the point across quickly.” The ability to incorporate custom map styles that speak well to a particular audience makes the mySidewalk platform that much more powerful.

How GNRC created their commute pattern heat maps

One more reason we love GNRC’s heat maps? They combine GIS analysis and mySidewalk in an innovative way, making GNRC the first users to leverage heat maps in mySidewalk.

Baker started with the Census web tool On The Map, which provides employment location and worker home location data from the LEHD and allows the user to export specific analyses of that data. He used the tool to export the results of a Paired Area Analysis for each community and the region as a whole. He then utilized ArcGIS to transform the raster output to a vector polygon layer and then uploaded that shapefile to mySidewalk.

“The process doesn’t take long, but the issue is so many people don’t know about On The Map, or how to leverage it with other tools like mySidewalk,” says Baker. “I want others to know about these tools so they can take advantage of them.”

If you want to learn how to create your own LEHD heat map in mySidewalk, contact your customer development manager.

The Greater Nashville Regional Council (GNRC) is an association of local governments in thirteen counties in the Nashville, TN region. GNRC’s core mission is to assist communities with planning and programming to guide community development for long term livability and prosperity. As part of that mission, GNRC provides a wide range of high-value data their member communities.