GIS Software 101: A Beginners Guide to GIS Mapping


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

GIS — short for a Geographic Information System — is a powerful tool that illustrates data in action. The platform transforms spatial information into interactive maps that allow users to visually evaluate location-specific situations from a holistic, multivariate viewpoint.

This empowers decision-makers to imagine a strategic plan’s full range of potential outcomes and impacts, drawing conclusions that maximize a project area’s value and utility. By presenting data from multiple sources into practical visual displays, GIS supports:

  • More informed decision-making
  • Cost-effective solutions
  • Easier stakeholder buy-in

But traditionally, the value of this purpose-driven planning approach is only as strong as a user’s expertise — and their ability to involve input from all the right collaborators. Remix closes these gaps, leveraging GIS benefits into an intuitive, easy-to-use software that allows for unlimited access to those involved in making your next transportation planning project a success.

What is GIS Mapping Software?‌

GIS software provides the platform through which users can merge their data with geography, producing an immersive map that illustrates the real-world impacts of different decisions.

Its systems manage this visual interplay by:

  • Converting datasets into thematic layers that stack atop a geographic map
  • Enabling layer styling and editing for users to customize a map’s context and appearance
  • Creating filters that isolate data based on quantitative, qualitative, or spatial features for focused manipulation
  • Performing analyses that answer questions about how people, infrastructure, weather, geography, and other variables interact ‌

The platform’s power rests in its ability to answer questions that inform effective planning. Using its image processing base map, the software’s analysis tools tell the story behind the data. Its analyses draw connections between geospatial features like:

  • Overlap between boundaries and key elements
  • 3D cause-and-effect visualization
  • Network interconnectivity
  • Statistical distribution and density models
  • Temporal patterns that show change over time

What is GIS Software Used For? ‌

GIS uses this spatial data to solve problems. By integrating various datasets and showing how they interact, users can spot solutions while predicting outcomes, identifying challenges, and reducing the risk of unintended consequences from any action plan.

This geospatial analysis helps to isolate the best solution within a specific context, answering core questions like:  

  • ‌How many schools are within a given distance of a bus stop?
  • Which roads are within an area at a high risk of flooding?
  • How will damming a river impact surrounding farmland?
  • Which delivery routes minimize travel time?
  • Where are crime hot spots and how do they compare across neighborhoods?
  • How has cell service accessibility changed alongside a city’s population growth?

These questions are just examples of how GIS can be applied. With this tool’s innate flexibility, users can leverage this data processing to serve their goals. This customization has established GIS software as the gold standard to guide strategies across a wide range of industries from:‌

  • Community safety and local emergency response
  • Public health and disease management
  • Economic activity and commercial market development
  • Environmental conservation and natural resource management
  • Equitable access to public and private services from education to telecom networks
  • Urban planning needs like transportation and infrastructure development

5 Components of GIS

GIS combines five major components that together power its tailor-made applications. It starts with a robust foundation, from which GIS can incorporate user-specific variables to create a spatial tool customized to meet specific objectives.

GIS Hardware

Hardware refers to the equipment that supports an organization’s GIS workflow, ranging from its data aggregation to analysis and map distribution. Depending on the scope of a project’s GIS needs, this can include:

  • A workstation to run desktop GIS software
  • Handheld technology used in the field to collect data points
  • Web servers and cloud services that support large-scale collaboration and synchronous mapping

GIS Software‌

There’s a range of software options that power GIS functionality, helping to store, organize, and transform data while serving specific organizational goals. Software variations include those built for:

  • Desktop GIS: the Swiss army knives of GIS, a complex data management system with full capability to create, edit, manage, and analyze geographic data
  • Web-based GIS: cloud-based GIS mapping programs that enable seamless distribution among stakeholders to view, analyze, and contribute data
  • Specialized GIS: products purpose-built for niche policy or commercial GIS applications

GIS Data

Geospatial data is at the fuel that powers GIS. The system incorporates several types of information within its geodatabase, including:

  • Vector data defined by individual points, lines, and shapes aligned with X and Y coordinates
  • Raster data or image-based files that geocode maps, representing visual information related to topography, temperature, land use, and more
  • Attribute data that adds contextual information to spatial features
  • Metadata that helps users document and manage projects


Whereas the GIS platform provides the foundation for geospatial analysis, it’s the user who acts as the catalyst. Professionals working with GIS can maximize the functionality of the software by:

  • Understanding the interplay of geography and spatial data
  • Asking the right questions that leverage available data
  • Designing an architecture that supports project planning and management within an objective’s scope

GIS Methods

A well-designed process ensures that GIS effectively serves an organization’s specific goal, streamlining its workflow while amplifying the software’s potential. It should address:

  • What questions need to be resolved
  • How data will be accessed, stored, and managed
  • Which approaches will be used to process, analyze, and interpret data
  • How outcomes will be presented and distributed

GIS Mapping Software and Transportation with Remix

GIS simplifies the planning, monitoring, and maintenance of complex networks, especially those like transit systems subject to a range of interlinked variables.

From determining capacity enhancements to identifying the most strategic investments, GIS informs decision-making that optimizes transportation networks. The right software also encourages multi-stakeholder collaboration since geospatial maps clearly show the extent of problems and the impact of solutions — while respecting the socio-economic, environmental, financial, and other ramifications connected to a project’s success.

That’s why transportation planners turn to GIS mapping software like Remix. Our secure, easy-to-use platform transforms data into answers project planners can understand and communicate at-a-glance, overcoming barriers to goals like:

  • Highway management and road maintenance
  • Public transit hub and route planning with cohesive transportation mapping
  • Shared mobility programs
  • Designing safer streets
  • Strengthening an existing transit network to meet today’s challenges

We manage and maintain your data so that your team can turn their ideas into designs that illustrate trade-offs and impacts alike. With these complex concepts laid out in an easily digestible visual format, a project’s value gets communicated more effectively as well — so you build consensus faster among key stakeholders, including the public.

Schedule a demo to see how Remix can support better outcomes for your transportation planning needs, joining the transit agencies, municipalities, and organizations that leverage our collaborative, purpose-driven GIS interface to deliver better results.