How the Commutes of 130 Million Commuters Reveals Megaregions in the United States

Elizabeth Borneman


Where people are and where they are going is one of the hallmark debates of 2016 and, indeed, one of the topics that has fascinated historians for hundreds of years. Where people live determines policies regarding schools, healthcare, and the governmental organizations that represent those people. Larger groups of people make up counties, states, and nations, influencing global diplomacy and migration.

Defining Megaregions

New data from 130 million commuters has revealed megaregions in the United States. Defining geographical regions based on human settlement can often bring up many challenges. This new data has created a map of regions where people commute to and from to show the incredible movement of people every day. Megaregions can cut across state or even country lines.

This research, published in PLOS ONE, has implications for influencing transportation planning efforts, infrastructure development, real estate, and retail analysis. Megaregions are fluid, but are generally identified by linking large metropolitan areas through their infrastructures, economies, and cultural similarities. However, larger data sets are now being used to back up these definitions of megaregions.

Tract-to-Tract Commutes of 80km/50 miles or less in the Bay Area. Nelson & Rae, 2016.
Tract-to-Tract Commutes of 80km/50 miles or less in the Bay Area. Nelson & Rae, 2016.

Mapping Commuter Flow Patterns to Define Megareions

Commuter flow patterns were analyzed over five years using the American Community Survey. The study hopes to change how policies are made with a wider look at economic regions, not just individual counties, cities, or states. How people commute and where they are commuting influences that particular location and gives researchers a lot of information on the economic effects of commuting on the American economy.

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The movement of people says much about the society they live in, and there are many different factors that influence commuter behaviors in the United States. Some people are able to work from home, while others must endure multi-hour commutes to other cities or other states in order to get to their jobs. This has a major impact on local economies and is, indeed, the basis of this study in particular.

Map showing megaregions.
Map showing megaregions.


Nelson, G. D., & Rae, A. (2016). An economic geography of the United States: from commutes to megaregionsPloS one11(11), e0166083.

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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.