Joint Research Centre - European Commission

The European Commission's in-house science service
European Commission

accessibility map

Travel time to major cities: A global map of accessibility

JRC and World Bank publish global urbanisation and accessibility map


A new global map released today by the Joint Research Centre and published in the World Bank’s World Development Report 2009 measures urbanisation in the new perspective of Travel Time to 8,500 Major Cities. The map fills an important gap in our understanding of economic, physical and social connectivity.

In the absence of agreement on the meaning of "urbanisation", the European Commission and the World Bank are proposing a new definition based on a unique mapping of “Accessibility” called the Agglomeration Index. In this context, the new map, developed at the JRC's Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES), uses travel-time as a unit of measurement, representing accessibility through the easily understood concept of “how long will it take to get there?” Accessibility links people with places, goods with markets and communities to vital services. Accessibility - whether it is to markets, schools, hospitals or water - is a precondition for the satisfaction of almost any economic need. Furthermore, accessibility is relevant at all levels, from local development to global trade.

Key findings demonstrated in the map

  • more than half of the world's population lives less than one hour from a major city, but the breakdown is 85% of the developed world and only 35% of the developing world;
  • 95% of the world's population is concentrated on just 10% of the world's land; but
  • only 10% of the world's land area is classified as "remote" or more than 48 hours from a large city.

Commenting on the release of the map, European Commissioner for Research, Janez Poto─Źnik said: "The latest computer-aided mapping and modelling technologies, such as these developed by the Joint Research Centre, paint a unique picture of our planet - a picture that shows how increasingly connected we all are, especially within Europe. This brings home just how important it is to manage our resources, lifestyles and economies in a sustainable manner."

How does the mapping work?

Digital maps of road, river and rail transport networks, population data, satellite-derived maps of land cover and terrain and information on border crossing times are combined using advanced geographical modelling techniques. For example, the time it takes an individual to travel to a city from 100 km away is calculated from precise knowledge of the terrain he or she must cross whether it be by foot, road, rail or river.