If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll no doubt have seen quite a few flow maps on this blog. This tutorial brings together many different elements to show you exactly how to create a flow map from scratch. It’s the result of a collaboration with Hans-Jörg Stark from Switzerland who collected the data.

The flow data

The data presented in this post stems from a survey conducted among public transport users, especially commuters (available online at: Among other questions, the questionnair asks where the commuters start their journey and where they are heading.

The answers had to be cleaned up to correct for different spellings, spelling errors, and multiple locations in one field. This cleaning and the following geocoding step were implemented in Python. Afterwards, the flow information was aggregated to count the number of nominations of each connection between different places. Finally, these connections (edges that contain start id, destination id and number of nominations) were stored in a text file. In addition, the locations were stored in a second text file containing id, location name, and co-ordinates.

Why was this data collected?

Besides travel demand, Hans-Jörg’s survey also asks participants about their coffee consumption during train rides. Here’s how he tells the story behind the data:

As a nearly daily commuter I like to enjoy a hot coffee on my train rides. But what has bugged me for a long time is the fact the coffee or hot beverages in general are almost always served in a non-reusable, “one-use-only-and-then-throw-away” cup. So I ended up buying one of these mostly ugly and space-consuming reusable cups. Neither system seem to satisfy me as customer: the paper-cup produces a lot of waste, though it is convenient because I carry it only when I need it. With the re-usable cup I carry it all day even though most of the time it is empty and it is clumsy and consumes the limited space in bag.

So I have been looking for a system that gets rid of the disadvantages or rather provides the advantages of both approaches and I came up with the following idea: Installing a system that provides a re-usable cup that I only have with me when I need it.

In order to evaluate the potential for such a system – which would not only imply a material change of the cups in terms of hardware but also introduce some software solution with the convenience of getting back the necessary deposit that I pay as a customer and some software-solution in the back-end that handles all the cleaning, distribution to the different coffee-shops and managing a balanced stocking in the stations – I conducted a survey

The next step was the geographic visualization of the flow data and this is where QGIS comes into play.

The flow map

Survey data like the one described above is a common input for flow maps. There’s usually a point layer (here: “nodes”) that provides geographic information and a non-spatial layer (here: “edges”) that contains the information about the strength or weight of a flow between two specific nodes:

The first step therefore is to create the flow line features from the nodes and edges layers. To achieve our goal, we need to join both layers. Sounds like a job for SQL!

More specifically, this is a job for Virtual Layers: Layer | Add Layer | Add/Edit Virtual Layer

SELECT StartID, DestID, Weight, 
       make_line(a.geometry, b.geometry)
FROM edges
JOIN nodes a ON edges.StartID = a.ID
JOIN nodes b ON edges.DestID = b.ID
WHERE a.ID != b.ID 

This SQL query joins the geographic information from the nodes table to the flow weights in the edges table based on the node IDs. In the last line, there is a check that start and end node ID should be different in order to avoid zero-length lines.

By styling the resulting flow lines using data-driven line width and adding in some feature blending, it’s possible to create some half decent maps:

However, we can definitely do better. Let’s throw in some curved arrows!

The arrow symbol layer type automatically creates curved arrows if the underlying line feature has three nodes that are not aligned on a straight line.

Therefore, to turn our straight lines into curved arrows, we need to add a third point to the line feature and it has to have an offset. This can be achieved using a geometry generator and the offset_curve() function:


Additionally, to achieve the effect described in New style: flow map arrows, we extend the geometry generator to crop the lines at the beginning and end:

      buffer(start_point($geometry), 0.01)
   buffer(end_point( $geometry), 0.01)

By applying data-driven arrow and arrow head sizes, we can transform the plain flow map above into a much more appealing map:

The two different arrow colors are another way to emphasize flow direction. In this case, orange arrows mark flows to the west, while blue flows point east.

 x(start_point($geometry)) - x(end_point($geometry)) < 0


As you can see, virtual layers and geometry generators are a powerful combination. If you encounter performance problems with the virtual layer, it’s always possible to make it permanent by exporting it to a file. This will speed up any further visualization or analysis steps.


When QGIS 3.0 was release, I published a Processing script template for QGIS3. While the script template is nicely pythonic, it’s also pretty long and daunting for non-programmers. This fact didn’t go unnoticed and Nathan Woodrow in particular started to work on a QGIS enhancement proposal to improve the situation and make writing Processing scripts easier, while – at the same time – keeping in line with common Python styles.

While the previous template had 57 lines of code, the new template only has 26 lines – 50% less code, same functionality! (Actually, this template provides more functionality since it also tracks progress and ensures that the algorithm can be cancelled.)

from qgis.processing import alg
from qgis.core import QgsFeature, QgsFeatureSink

@alg(name="split_lines_new_style","Alg name"), group="examplescripts","Example Scripts"))
@alg.input(type=alg.SOURCE, name="INPUT", label="Input layer")
@alg.input(type=alg.SINK, name="OUTPUT", label="Output layer")
def testalg(instance, parameters, context, feedback, inputs):
    Description goes here. (Don't delete this! Removing this comment will cause errors.)
    source = instance.parameterAsSource(parameters, "INPUT", context)

    (sink, dest_id) = instance.parameterAsSink(
        parameters, "OUTPUT", context,
        source.fields(), source.wkbType(), source.sourceCrs())

    total = 100.0 / source.featureCount() if source.featureCount() else 0
    features = source.getFeatures()
    for current, feature in enumerate(features):
        if feedback.isCanceled():
        out_feature = QgsFeature(feature)
        sink.addFeature(out_feature, QgsFeatureSink.FastInsert)
        feedback.setProgress(int(current * total))

    return {"OUTPUT": dest_id}

The key improvement are the new decorators that turn an ordinary function (such as testalg in the template) into a Processing algorithm. Decorators start with @ and are written above a function definition. The @alg decorator declares that the following function is a Processing algorithm, defines its name and assigns it to an algorithm group. The @alg.input decorator creates an input parameter for the algorithm. Similarly, there is a @alg.output decorator for output parameters.

For a longer example script, check out the original QGIS enhancement proposal thread!

For now, this new way of writing Processing scripts is only supported by QGIS 3.6 but there are plans to back-port this improvement to 3.4 once it is more mature. So give it a try and report back!

In previous posts, I already wrote about Trajectools and some of the functionality it provides to QGIS Processing including:

There are also tools to compute heading and speed which I only talked about on Twitter.

Trajectools is now available from the QGIS plugin repository.

The plugin includes sample data from MarineCadastre downloads and the Geolife project.

Under the hood, Trajectools depends on GeoPandas!

If you are on Windows, here’s how to install GeoPandas for OSGeo4W:

  1. OSGeo4W installer: install python3-pip
  2. Environment variables: add GDAL_VERSION = 2.3.2 (or whichever version your OSGeo4W installation currently includes)
  3. OSGeo4W shell: call C:\OSGeo4W64\bin\py3_env.bat
  4. OSGeo4W shell: pip3 install geopandas (this will error at fiona)
  5. From download Fiona-1.7.13-cp37-cp37m-win_amd64.whl
  6. OSGeo4W shell: pip3 install path-to-download\Fiona-1.7.13-cp37-cp37m-win_amd64.whl
  7. OSGeo4W shell: pip3 install geopandas
  8. (optionally) From download Rtree-0.8.3-cp37-cp37m-win_amd64.whl and pip3 install it

If you want to use this functionality outside of QGIS, head over to my movingpandas project!

Many current movement data sources provide more or less continuous streams of object locations. For example, the AIS system provides continuous locations of vessels (mostly ships). This continuous stream of locations – let’s call it track – starts when we first record the vessel and ends with the last record. This start and end does not necessarily coincide with the start or end of a vessel voyage from one port to another. The stream start and end do not have any particular meaning. Instead, if we want to see what’s going on, we need to split the track into meaningful segments. One such segmentation – albeit a simple one – is to split tracks by day. This segmentation assumes that day/night changes affect the movement of our observed object. For many types of objects – those who mostly stay still during the night – this will work reasonably well.

For example, the following screenshot shows raw data of one particular vessel in the Boston region. By default, QGIS provides a Points to Path to convert points to lines. This tool takes one “group by” and one “order by” field. Therefore, if we want one trajectory per ship per day, we’d first have to create a new field that combines ship ID and day so that we can use this combination as a “group by” field. Additionally, the resulting lines loose all temporal information.

To simplify this workflow, Trajectools now provides a new algorithm that creates day trajectories and outputs LinestringM features. Using the Day trajectories from point layer tool, we can immediately see that our vessel of interest has been active for three consecutive days: entering our observation area on Nov 5th, moving to Boston where it stayed over night, then moving south to Weymouth on the next day, and leaving on the 7th.

Since the resulting trajectories are LinestringM features with time information stored in the M value, we can also visualize the speed of movement (as discussed in part #2 of this series):

In Movement data in GIS #16, I presented a new way to deal with trajectory data using GeoPandas and how to load the trajectory GeoDataframes as a QGIS layer. Following up on this initial experiment, I’ve now implemented a first version of an algorithm that performs a spatial analysis on my GeoPandas trajectories.

The first spatial analysis algorithm I’ve implemented is Clip trajectories by extent. Implementing this algorithm revealed a couple of pitfalls:

  • To achieve correct results, we need to compute spatial intersections between linear trajectory segments and the extent. Therefore, we need to convert our point GeoDataframe to a line GeoDataframe.
  • Based on the spatial intersection, we need to take care of computing the corresponding timestamps of the events when trajectories enter or leave the extent.
  • A trajectory can intersect the extent multiple times. Therefore, we cannot simply use the global minimum and maximum timestamp of intersecting segments.
  • GeoPandas provides spatial intersection functionality but if the trajectory contains consecutive rows without location change, these will result in zero length lines and those cause an empty intersection result.

So far, the clip result only contains the trajectory id plus a suffix indicating the sequence of the intersection segments for a specific trajectory (because one trajectory can intersect the extent multiple times). The following screenshot shows one highlighted trajectory that intersects the extent three times and the resulting clipped trajectories:

This algorithm together with the basic trajectory from points algorithm is now available in a Processing algorithm provider plugin called Processing Trajectory.

Note: This plugin depends on GeoPandas.

Note for Windows users: GeoPandas is not a standard package that is available in OSGeo4W, so you’ll have to install it manually. (For the necessary steps, see this answer on

The implemented tests show how to use the Trajectory class independently of QGIS. So far, I’m only testing the spatial properties though:

def test_two_intersections_with_same_polygon(self):
    polygon = Polygon([(5,-5),(7,-5),(7,12),(5,12),(5,-5)])
    data = [{'id':1, 'geometry':Point(0,0), 't':datetime(2018,1,1,12,0,0)},
        {'id':1, 'geometry':Point(6,0), 't':datetime(2018,1,1,12,10,0)},
        {'id':1, 'geometry':Point(10,0), 't':datetime(2018,1,1,12,15,0)},
        {'id':1, 'geometry':Point(10,10), 't':datetime(2018,1,1,12,30,0)},
        {'id':1, 'geometry':Point(0,10), 't':datetime(2018,1,1,13,0,0)}]
    df = pd.DataFrame(data).set_index('t')
    geo_df = GeoDataFrame(df, crs={'init': '31256'})
    traj = Trajectory(1, geo_df)
    intersections = traj.intersection(polygon)
    result = []
    for x in intersections:
    expected_result = [LineString([(5,0),(6,0),(7,0)]), LineString([(7,10),(5,10)])]
    self.assertEqual(result, expected_result) 

One issue with implementing the algorithms as QGIS Processing tools in this way is that the tools are independent of one another. That means that each tool has to repeat the expensive step of creating the trajectory objects in memory. I’m not sure this can be solved.

Many of my previous posts in this series [1][2][3] have relied on PostGIS for trajectory data handling. While I love PostGIS, it feels like overkill to require a database to analyze smaller movement datasets. Wouldn’t it be great to have a pure Python solution?

If we look into moving object data literature, beyond the “trajectories are points with timestamps” perspective, which is common in GIS, we also encounter the “trajectories are time series with coordinates” perspective. I don’t know about you, but if I hear “time series” and Python, I think Pandas! In the Python Data Science Handbook, Jake VanderPlas writes:

Pandas was developed in the context of financial modeling, so as you might expect, it contains a fairly extensive set of tools for working with dates, times, and time-indexed data.

Of course, time series are one thing, but spatial data handling is another. Lucky for us, this is where GeoPandas comes in. GeoPandas has been around for a while and version 0.4 has been released in June 2018. So far, I haven’t found examples that use GeoPandas to manage movement data, so I’ve set out to give it a shot. My trajectory class uses a GeoDataFrame df for data storage. For visualization purposes, it can be converted to a LineString:

import pandas as pd 
from geopandas import GeoDataFrame
from shapely.geometry import Point, LineString

class Trajectory():
    def __init__(self, id, df, id_col): = id
        self.df = df    
        self.id_col = id_col
    def __str__(self):
        return "Trajectory {1} ({2} to {3}) | Size: {0}".format(
            self.df.geometry.count(),, self.get_start_time(), 
    def get_start_time(self):
        return self.df.index.min()
    def get_end_time(self):
        return self.df.index.max()
    def to_linestring(self):
        return self.make_line(self.df)
    def make_line(self, df):
        if df.size > 1:
            return df.groupby(self.id_col)['geometry'].apply(
                lambda x: LineString(x.tolist())).values[0]
            raise RuntimeError('Dataframe needs at least two points to make line!')

    def get_position_at(self, t):
            return self.df.loc[t]['geometry'][0]
            return self.df.iloc[self.df.index.drop_duplicates().get_loc(
                t, method='nearest')]['geometry']

Of course, this class can be used in stand-alone Python scripts, but it can also be used in QGIS. The following script takes data from a QGIS point layer, creates a GeoDataFrame, and finally generates trajectories. These trajectories can then be added to the map as a line layer.

All we need to do to ensure that our data is ordered by time is to set the GeoDataFrame’s index to the time field. From then on, Pandas takes care of the time series aspects and we can access the index as shown in the Trajectory.get_position_at() function above.

# Get data from a point layer
l = iface.activeLayer()
time_field_name = 't'
trajectory_id_field = 'trajectory_id' 
names = [ for field in l.fields()]
data = []
for feature in l.getFeatures():
    my_dict = {}
    for i, a in enumerate(feature.attributes()):
        my_dict[names[i]] = a
    x = feature.geometry().asPoint().x()
    y = feature.geometry().asPoint().y()

# Create a GeoDataFrame
df = pd.DataFrame(data).set_index(time_field_name)
crs = {'init':} 
geo_df = GeoDataFrame(df, crs=crs)

# Test if spatial functions work

# Create a QGIS layer for trajectory lines
vl = QgsVectorLayer("LineString", "trajectories", "memory")
vl.setCrs( # doesn't stop popup :(
pr = vl.dataProvider()
pr.addAttributes([QgsField("id", QVariant.String)])

df_by_id = dict(tuple(geo_df.groupby(trajectory_id_field)))
trajectories = {}
for key, value in df_by_id.items():
    traj = Trajectory(key, value, trajectory_id_field)
    trajectories[key] = traj
    line = QgsGeometry.fromWkt(traj.to_linestring().wkt)
    f = QgsFeature()


The following screenshot shows this script applied to a sample of the Geolife datasets containing 100 trajectories with a total of 236,776 points. On my notebook, the runtime is approx. 20 seconds.

So far, GeoPandas has proven to be a convenient way to handle time series with coordinates. Trying to implement some trajectory analysis tools will show if it is indeed a promising data structure for trajectories.

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