Bike Sharing Systems

rCharts + Shiny

View the Project on GitHub ramnathv/bikeshare

Visualizing Bike Sharing Networks

A couple of months ago I had posted an interesting application of using rCharts and Shiny to visualize the CitiBike system in NYC. I had always wanted to write a tutorial about its inner workings, so that it would be useful to others looking to build similar visualizations, and I finally got around to doing it. Along the way, I managed to extend the visualization to around 100 bike sharing systems across the world. The final application can be viewed here.

If you are impatient, you can view all the code on my github repo and run the application directly from github.

runGitHub("bikeshare", "ramnathv", ref = "gh-pages", subdir = "app")

If you want a more detailed explanation of how the app was built, read on.


My mantra for building interactive visualizations involves three steps, and it has worked well for me most of the time.

  1. Get Data.
  2. Create Visualization.
  3. Wrap in Shiny/AngularJS!

Let me expand on this and build the web app one step at a time.

Get Data

The first step is to get the data on availability of bikes in a city. Thankfully, the folks at have provided an API that allows one to programatically retrieve the availabilities across more than 100 bike sharing networks across the world. I like to wrap my analysis workflow into small functions, so that it is modular. There are two things that my getData function does.

  1. Fetch data for a given network using httr. (thanks @hadley)
  2. Add fillColor and popup to each station of the network.
getData <- function(network = 'citibikenyc'){
  url = sprintf('', network)
  bike = fromJSON(content(GET(url)))
  lapply(bike, function(station){within(station, { 
   fillColor = cut(
     as.numeric(bikes)/(as.numeric(bikes) + as.numeric(free)), 
     breaks = c(0, 0.20, 0.40, 0.60, 0.80, 1), 
     labels = brewer.pal(5, 'RdYlGn'),
     include.lowest = TRUE
   popup = iconv(whisker::whisker.render(
        <b>Free Docks: </b>  <br>
         <b>Available Bikes:</b> 
        <p>Retreived At: </p>'
   ), from = 'latin1', to = 'UTF-8')
   latitude = as.numeric(lat)/10^6
   longitude = as.numeric(lng)/10^6
   lat <- lng <- NULL})

Now that we have the data, it is time to visualize it.

Create Visualization

Given the nature of the data, it is best to visualize on a map. rCharts provides bindings to the Leaflet library, which makes mapping really easy. The plotMap function essentially does the following:

  1. Creates a new instances of a Leaflet map.
  2. Sets the map's provider, width, height, center and zoom level.
  3. Adds the network data retrieved as a geoJSON layer.
  4. Configures the properties of each point and popup to display on click.
plotMap <- function(network = 'citibikenyc', width = 1600, height = 800){
  data_ <- getData(network); center_ <- getCenter(network, networks)
  L1 <- Leaflet$new()
  L1$tileLayer(provider = 'Stamen.TonerLite')
  L1$set(width = width, height = height)
  L1$setView(c(center_$lat, center_$lng), 13)
    onEachFeature = '#! function(feature, layer){
    } !#',
    pointToLayer =  "#! function(feature, latlng){
      return L.circleMarker(latlng, {
        radius: 4,
        fillColor: || 'red',    
        color: '#000',
        weight: 1,
        fillOpacity: 0.8
    } !#")

We can test this function by plotting the availabilities of bikes in NYC. You can play with plotMap and change the default color palette, or popup details, and see how it affects the map.

plotMap('citibikenyc', 600, 300)

Now that we have successfully visualized the bike sharing system for NYC, we can get to the exciting task of wrapping this up in a Shiny application, where the user can interactively choose the bike sharing system, whose availabilities they want to visualize. Before, we can do that, we need the names of these systems to passed to plotMap. Thankfully, the API provides easy access to this. The getNetworks function retrieves this data.

getNetworks <- function(){
  if (!file.exists('networks.json')){
    url <- ''
    dat <- content(GET(url))
    writeLines(dat, 'networks.json')
  networks <- RJSONIO::fromJSON('networks.json')
  nms <- lapply(networks, '[[', 'name')
  names(networks) <- nms

Wrap in Shiny

This is the easiest part of the whole tutorial. Shiny requires two files ui.R and server.R, that contain the UI and server logic respectively.

For the UI, I make use of a basic bootstrap page that ships with Shiny. Lines 5 - 7 add links to a custom style file and javascript file that allow me to add a collapsible credits box at the bottom left of the page. I use a selectInput for users to select the network they want to visualize, and populate it with an alphabetically sorted list of names of all the networks, initialized to citibikenyc. Finally, I use the mapOutput function which adds a div containter named map_container that houses the map.

networks <- getNetworks()
  tags$link(href='style.css', rel='stylesheet'),
  selectInput('network', '', sort(names(networks)), 'citibikenyc'),

The server side code is even simpler than the UI and merely wraps the plotMap call inside renderMap, and passes the name of the network chosen by the user, input$network in place of the hard-coded citibikenyc.

shinyServer(function(input, output, session){
  output$map_container <- renderMap({


  1. Vladimir Agafonkin for Leaflet.
  2. CitiBikes for easy access to data.
  3. Joe Cheng and RStudio for Shiny.
  4. Kenton Russell and Thomas Reinholdsson for some awesome work on rCharts.
  5. Yihui Xie for knitr.
  6. Hadley Wickham for httr and several other packages.