Defining and generating axial lines from street center lines for better understanding of urban morphologies

Xintao Liu, Bin Jiang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Axial lines are defined as the longest visibility lines for representing individual linear spaces in urban environments. The least set of axial lines that cover the free space of an urban environment or the space between buildings constitute what is often called an axial map. This is a fundamental tool in space syntax, a theory developed by Bill Hillier and his colleagues for characterizing the underlying urban morphologies. For a long time, generating axial lines with the help of some graphic software has been a tedious manual process that is criticized for being time consuming, subjective, or even arbitrary. In this article, we redefine axial lines as the least set of individual straight line segments mutually intersected along natural streets that are generated from street center lines using the Gestalt principle of good continuity. Based on this new definition, we develop an automatic solution for generating the newly defined axial lines from street center lines. We apply this solution to six typical street networks (three from North America and three from Europe) and generate a new set of axial lines for analyzing the urban morphologies. Through a comparison study between the new axial lines and the conventional or old axial lines and between the new axial lines and natural streets, we demonstrate with empirical evidence that the newly defined axial lines are a better alternative for capturing the underlying urban structure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1521-1532
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Geographical Information Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • head/tail division rule
  • space syntax
  • street networks
  • traffic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Library and Information Sciences


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