Accessibility to Cities

The Malaria Atlas Project (University of Oxford, United Kingdom) is proud to release the global map of accessibility to cities for the year 2015. This map, created in collaboration with researchers at Google, the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, and the University of Twente (Netherlands), is the result of multi-year project to characterize travel time to cities using cutting-edge computational capacity available via Google Earth Engine in conjunction with global datasets of unparalleled quality (e.g., those quantifying the position and travel speeds of global road networks).

The resulting accessibility map provides a dataset useful in a wide range of scientific research endeavours, including those exploring beneficial aspects related to high accessibility such as increased wealth, educational attainment, and utilization of healthcare, as well as the negative aspects of high accessibility such as easing resource extraction and thus amplifying environmental degradation.

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Full Citation

D.J. Weiss, A. Nelson, H.S. Gibson, W. Temperley, S. Peedell, A. Lieber, M. Hancher, E. Poyart, S. Belchior, N. Fullman, B. Mappin, U. Dalrymple, J. Rozier, T.C.D. Lucas, R.E. Howes, L.S. Tusting, S.Y. Kang, E. Cameron, D. Bisanzio, K.E. Battle, S. Bhatt, and P.W. Gething. A global map of travel time to cities to assess inequalities in accessibility in 2015. (2018). Nature. doi:10.1038/nature25181.

Press Release

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Under the leadership of Director of Global Malaria Epidemiology Dr Daniel Weiss, the Malaria Atlas Project has published an article in Nature that maps the travel time to urban centres globally and highlights the importance of this metric for human wellbeing. The resulting map provides a critical dataset for identifying where gaps in accessibility remain and thus populations are at risk of being left behind.

Cities concentrate activities that promote and sustain human wellbeing including banking, education, employment, and healthcare services. Identifying populations that have poor access to urban centres provides an important data source for enacting and assessing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations. While broadly beneficial for economic development, however, increasing the ease with which humans can access remote areas also increases the likelihood that wilderness areas will be degraded. As such, our accessibility map provides a valuable resource for formulating policy that balances the often contradictory goals of development and conservation.

The global accessibility mapping project is the result of a three-year collaboration between the Malaria Atlas Project (Big Data Institute, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford), Google Inc., the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, and the University of Twente (Netherlands). The project emerged in response to the need for an updated global accessibility map that successfully integrates modern geospatial datasets that have improved markedly within the past decade.

Dr Weiss says “The game-changing improvement underpinning this work is the first-ever, global-scale synthesis of two leading roads datasets – Open Street Map (OSM) data and distance-to-roads data derived from the Google roads database – which resulted in a nearly five-fold increase in the mapped road area relative to that used the last time a map like this was created back in 2008. The improvements in our accessibility map are most prominent in the areas where quality data are most needed for informing sustainable development policies and actions.”

More information and interactive maps can be found on the Malaria Atlas Projects website at

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