Blog home

How to Use Urban Mobility Data for Municipal Planning

December 3, 2021
by
Annelise Dutcher

Retail stores, brands, marketing agencies, insurance companies, and investment firms are already learning that having a general understanding of where people go throughout the day is a powerful tool to support smart business decision-making.

But mobility data also has plenty of uses in civic planning to help people living in urban areas get around more conveniently and safely. We’ll explore some of these applications through the following sections:

  • What is urban mobility data?
  • 6 use cases for urban mobility data in city planning
  • Where to get urban mobility data

Before we look at ways to use mobility data for urban areas, we’ll first quickly explain exactly what it is.

What is urban mobility data?

Urban mobility data provides insight on how people move around in metropolitan areas. These insights can show how popular different destinations are, when people tend to visit certain destinations, what modes of transportation people usually use, and how long it takes people to get from one place to another.

As we mentioned, commercial enterprises are already learning to make use of this kind of data. It’s being used for everything from deciding which companies to invest in to where a business should locate its stores or advertisements. Insurance firms are also using it to determine how risky certain places are, based on how many people move through them.

But government agencies can also use this data for the public good. We’ll explain how in the next section.

6 use cases for urban mobility data in city planning

Many governments are beginning to see that urban human mobility data-driven modeling and prediction is critical to their civic planning. It fuels their strategies to make cities easier to get around, keep citizens safe during inner-city travel, and more. Here are a few ways mobility data can be used in urban planning.

1. Evaluating existing infrastructure

Planning improvements to urban mobility starts with understanding how well a city’s current infrastructure works. Analysts need to look at factors like how heavily public transportation systems are being utilized, including where and when these systems are vulnerable to being overwhelmed. This can include pinpointing the locations and times of day that traffic bottlenecks are most likely to occur.

2. Planning future transportation options

Urban mobility data can highlight the efficiency, or lack thereof, of a city’s current transportation infrastructure. Understanding efficiency helps urban planners consider new transportation offerings or alternatives. For example, urban planners may want to introduce more energy-efficient and/or environmentally-friendly modes of transportation. To supplement buses, cars, trains, or trams, they may want to install platforms for e-scooters or the like. They may also want to increase access to essential services for underserved communities.

3. Locating essential services closer to citizens

Another way urban planners can use mobility data is to build critical services near areas where people frequent. This strategic site selection allows essential services to serve citizens more efficiently. They can also do the inverse and locate housing closer to important facilities, such as grocery stores, to make accessing them more convenient and less time-consuming.

4. Modeling regulatory impacts on mobility

Urban planners can also use mobility data to model the potential effects of administrative changes to transportation. For instance, they can measure where human traffic fluctuates from high to low, or where bottlenecks frequently occur. Based on this, they can determine where cities should institute changes to speed limits, traffic cameras, police patrols, parking regulations, and more. They can also recommend that a city regulate where and when certain modes of transportation are allowed to operate.

5. Minimizing disruptions caused by construction

Of course, constructing new buildings and transportation infrastructure usually causes delays with existing traffic. That’s why studying mobility data to understand how people get to where they want to go can help to minimize the effect of these disruptions. Cities can prioritize construction at times when traffic volumes are lower, or at places where people can easily take alternative routes to where they typically go.

6. Crisis response

Mobility data can also help prepare essential locations for changes in human traffic as a response to crises. For example, a natural disaster or virus epidemic can cause structural damage and/or health and safety restrictions that cause people to visit certain points of interest more frequently. These include hospitals, grocery stores, and gas stations. Other points of interest, such as schools and sports stadiums, may be visited less frequently at a time of crisis. Mobility data allows municipalities to model these shifts so that they can make sure their facilities are adequate if an emergency temporarily alters the flow of human traffic.

Where to get urban mobility data

Mobility data can be collected in a number of different ways. The most common method is through GPS signals that people’s mobile devices send out to determine their location. Other methods include connections to Wi-Fi networks, proximity to mobile beacons, apps that interact with a point of interest (such as buying something at a store), or doing manual head counts.

However, this collection is often difficult for companies to perform in-house. This is because the collection process can cost a lot of time and money without the proper human and technological resources. Not to mention, once sourced, the data then needs to be organized into formats that analysts can extract actionable information from.

It is usually much simpler and faster to purchase pre-processed data from companies like SafeGraph. Our Patterns dataset provides detailed information on foot traffic around approximately 4.5 million points of interest in the US. And if you’re looking for mobility data more centered on census block groups and other residential areas, try our Neighborhood Patterns dataset.

Some other places you can get mobility data include:

  • Veraset — Their “Movements” data set contains mobility data for points of interest in over 150 countries around the world. Their “Visits” data set adds precise polygon data for over 6 million US properties to make visit attribution easy. Datasets are cleansed for your use, saving time and ensuring you get valuable insights.
  • Locomizer — Their “Footfall” data set provides key footfall metrics for up to 69 meters away from exact point of interest locations. They also have a “Brand Affinity” data set for information about consumer interest in brands for activities or products at points of interest.


Whether it’s used for commercial intelligence or urban planning, mobility data is becoming an increasingly valuable source of information. Visit SafeGraph today to get a sample and see what mobility data can do for your organization.

Browse the latest

Questions? Get in touch with our team of data experts.