Activity triangles: a new approach to measure activity spaces

Katarzyna Sila-Nowicka, Stewart Fotheringham, Urska Demsar

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There is an on-going challenge to describe, analyse and visualise the actual and potential extent of human spatial behaviour. The concept of an activity space has been used to examine how people interact with their environment and how the actual or potential spatial extent of individual spatial behaviour can be defined. In this paper we introduce a new method for measuring activity spaces. We first focus on the definitions and the applications of activity space measures, identifying their respective limitations. We then present our new method, which is based on the theoretical concept of significant locations, that is, places where people spent most of their time. We identify locations of significant places from GPS trajectories and define the activity space of an individual as a set of the first three significant places forming a so-called "activity triangle”. Our new method links the distances travelled for different activities to whether or not people group their activities, which is not possible using existing methods of measuring activity spaces. We test our method on data from a GPS-based travel survey across three towns is Scotland and look at the variations in size and shape of the designed activity triangle among people of different age and gender. We also compare our activity triangle with five other activity spaces and conclude by providing possible routes for improvement of activity space measures when using real human movement data (GPS data).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-517
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Geographical Systems
Early online date22 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023


  • Significant locations
  • Activity space
  • Activity triangle
  • GPS movement data
  • Human mobility


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