Creating Smooth Animations in R with tweenr (Traffic Speed Data)

Abdullah Kurkcu
3 min readFeb 14, 2018


While looking for libraries to create animated plots, I found this gem. I thought this was new but it looks like it s been there for a while. Tweenr library makes your gganimate transitions smoother by including more frames in between. I will show an example below.

Since I am a transportation engineer, I wanted to download some traffic data. Therefore, I used Caltrans PEMS tool. I downloaded traffic data for 3 days including Feb 5th, 7th and 9th — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday respectively. I wanted to show my students the change in speed for 3 different days. First let’s load our libraries:


After loading the required libraries, I loaded three different data frames including the downloaded data sets. Please keep in mind that these codes are shown in a class, thus, some codes are not practical. The aim was to make them as easy as possible.

Filename1 <- "../Data/d04_text_station_5min_2018_02_05.txt.gz"
Filename2 <- "../Data/d04_text_station_5min_2018_02_07.txt.gz"
Filename3 <- "../Data/d04_text_station_5min_2018_02_09.txt.gz"

PeMS1 <- read.delim(gzfile(Filename1), sep="," ,header=FALSE)
PeMS2 <- read.delim(gzfile(Filename2), sep="," ,header=FALSE)
PeMS3 <- read.delim(gzfile(Filename3), sep="," ,header=FALSE)

I selected one loop detector station specifically located on I80 with ID 400340

# Selection a loop detector station with a given ID, for instance SelectedID=400340 (lanes=4)
SelectedID <- 400340
StationData1 <- subset(PeMS1,PeMS1 [,2]==SelectedID)
StationData2 <- subset(PeMS2,PeMS2 [,2]==SelectedID)
StationData3 <- subset(PeMS3,PeMS3 [,2]==SelectedID)
StationData1$V1 <- as.POSIXlt(StationData1$V1, format="%m/%d/%Y %H:%M:%S")
StationData2$V1 <- as.POSIXlt(StationData2$V1, format="%m/%d/%Y %H:%M:%S")
StationData3$V1 <- as.POSIXlt(StationData3$V1, format="%m/%d/%Y %H:%M:%S")
StationData1$st <- "Monday"
StationData2$st <- "Wednesday"
StationData3$st <- "Friday"
StationData1$colour <- "red"
StationData2$colour <- "blue"
StationData3$colour <- "green"

I also defined two columns: one for defining the day of the data another one to define the color that will be required by the library. I realized I should add one more column to make the time axis look nicer:

StationData1$tt <- StationData1$V1$hour + StationData1$V1$min/60
StationData2$tt <- StationData2$V1$hour + StationData2$V1$min/60
StationData3$tt <- StationData3$V1$hour + StationData3$V1$min/60

Now, it is time to use tweenr library. The code to combine these 3 datasets using the package for a linear transition with 300 frames is:

data <- tween_states(list(StationData1, StationData2, StationData3), 3, 1, 'linear', 300)

If you go ahead and plot this with ggplot, you will see this:

ggplot(data, aes(tt,V12,  size = V10, colour=V10, frame = .frame)) +
geom_point(alpha=0.8) + xlab("Time (24 Hours)")+ylab("Speed (mph)")+
scale_colour_gradient(low="blue", high="red",guide="legend")

The rest is on the gganimate package. Tweenr package will only create the points to make the transition smoother.


It is so obvious that some kind of breakdown (accident maybe?) happened on Wednesday when speed values drop down to 40–50 mph around 3 PM.

This may not be clear for some, if you have some questions please let me know.