Scaling laws for the movement of people between locations in a large city

G. Chowell, J. M. Hyman, S. Eubank, C. Castillo-Chavez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Large scale simulations of the movements of people in a “virtual” city and their analyses are used to generate insights into understanding the dynamic processes that depend on the interactions between people. Models, based on these interactions, can be used in optimizing traffic flow, slowing the spread of infectious diseases, or predicting the change in cell phone usage in a disaster. We analyzed cumulative and aggregated data generated from the simulated movements of [Formula presented] individuals in a computer (pseudo-agent-based) model during a typical day in Portland, Oregon. This city is mapped into a graph with 181 206 nodes representing physical locations such as buildings. Connecting edges model individual’s flow between nodes. Edge weights are constructed from the daily traffic of individuals moving between locations. The number of edges leaving a node (out-degree), the edge weights (out-traffic), and the edge weights per location (total out-traffic) are fitted well by power-law distributions. The power-law distributions also fit subgraphs based on work, school, and social/recreational activities. The resulting weighted graph is a “small world” and has scaling laws consistent with an underlying hierarchical structure. We also explore the time evolution of the largest connected component and the distribution of the component sizes. We observe a strong linear correlation between the out-degree and total out-traffic distributions and significant levels of clustering. We discuss how these network features can be used to characterize social networks and their relationship to dynamic processes.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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