If you’re one of the 54 million people in the U.S. planning to travel during the Thanksgiving weekend, you’ll want to bookmark this project from Google Maps, Google News Labs, and the visual journalists at Polygraph.
It’s a suite of data-driven trip-planning tools that serve as a cheat sheet for anyone attempting to travel this week. To make it, the group looked at historical aggregated data collected from the total number of cars on the road at all times, which was determined by the speed and location of Android phones with location services enabled (all that traffic information, according to the researchers, is anonymous).
The resulting visualizations show you how to avoid traffic jams in 25 cities. Simply select your city from a pull-down menu and the viz tells you the best time to leave before Thanksgiving and, equally crucially, when to return after Thanksgiving.
For example, if you live in New York, the best time to guarantee a smooth, uneventful escape to your turkey dinner is Wednesday at 4:00 a.m. And if you want to avoid the clusterfuck that is returning to New York, the best time is Friday at 4:00 a.m. Don’t wait till Sunday at 3:00 p.m. unless you want to sit at a standstill for hours.
The data scientists also analyzed popular visit times as well as search trends during the holiday to show when certain types of destinations are busiest. For example, bakeries are packed at noon on Wednesday in advance of Thanksgiving, while liquor stores get popular a few hours after the bakeries (I don’t blame you, people). And unless you mind being packed into sold-out theaters, avoid going to the movies on Friday at all costs.
In addition to traffic data, Google also dug into Search trends by state, resulting in a few other hilarious visualizations. Could it be mere coincidence that the number three most popular search for the Friday after Thanksgiving in Ohio is “tattoo shop,” and the fourth is “liquor store?” Or that in Maryland, the top search for that Friday is “pub?” I don’t think so.