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Decentralized, Public, and Mobile-Based Sidewalk Inventory Tool

Description:

Communities throughout the U.S. are increasingly encouraging walking for transportation and recreation in order to meet a range of safety, health, equity, sustainability, and other goals. One way to accomplish this is by actively working to fill gaps in the pedestrian network and to improve sidewalks or other pedestrian pathways that have fallen into disrepair. A significant challenge to working methodically and strategically toward pedestrian network connectivity is a lack of comprehensive GIS-based data on the presence (or lack) of sidewalks or other pedestrian connectors communitywide. In fact, many communities do not have a baseline inventory of their sidewalks because collecting this data can be expensive and difficult to maintain. However, recent advances in mobile technology and cloud-based computing, as well as increasingly sophisticated crowdsourcing applications, have the potential to address this issue.

 

A prototype is needed to facilitate decentralized public collection of a baseline sidewalk inventory, which can then be compiled into a central dataset to inform decision-making and public policy. Given their broad availability, GPS and database capabilities, and the fact that they are always “in our pocket,” it may make sense for the prototype to be built as a mobile phone application; however, there may be other approaches. The prototype should enable an individual user to simply and efficiently document the presence or lack of a sidewalk. In addition to the inventory, it may be possible to add data features such as an assessment of sidewalk conditions. It may be possible to incorporate information from FHWA’s Road Safety Audit process and build off of and/or incorporate data from existing resources such as Google’s “walking route” application. This prototype will focus on the creation of a baseline sidewalk inventory, and would ideally be integrated with existing services such as SeeClickFix, which focus more on the identification of spot-specific issues.

 

It will be important to build the functionality so that the new application links seamlessly to other existing datasets. For example, the State of Maryland has been a leader in the government-led collection of ADA-related data along State roads. The new application could add a public functionality and interface by displaying this type of information (if it is publicly available) as part of a strategy to “flag issues” with the data and thus keep it updated over time. The new application would also begin to fill in preliminary data on non-State owned roads. It will be important to link the new public crowdsourcing application to the automated Public Rights-of-Way Assessment Process (PROWAP), which was developed through support from the SBIR program (DTFH61-57-10-C-10081). FHWA is also supporting Exploratory Advanced Research to develop technology to allow people who are blind or who have low vision to navigate in the public right-of-way and the proposed new sidewalk inventory application could provide an important locally-verified input to this technology once it is available. There are likely many other synergies between an application that enables decentralized public crowdsourcing of pedestrian data and the PROWAP and Exploratory Advanced Research project, which should be explored in the research and development process.

 

A public mobile-based sidewalk inventory application will leverage and maximize the return on investment in recent and ongoing pedestrian data initiatives. It will assist in the creation of more complete sidewalk datasets, which is especially important given the emphasis on performance measures in Federal surface transportation legislation, and the fact that more and more communities are developing communitywide GIS-based prioritization methodologies that will impact, for example, where they choose to build new sidewalks or other pedestrian routes.

 

By facilitating the creation of connected pedestrian networks, the application will improve safety because research shows that having sidewalks on both sides of the road can contribute to a significant reduction in “walking along the road” pedestrian crashes.  By tracking the condition of pedestrian networks, the application will contribute to asset management processes and encourage a state of good repair. By facilitating nonmotorized transportation, it will contribute to climate change and other environmental sustainability-related goals. Finally, it will create an affordable tool that would allow students to engage in primary data collection that is of immediate practical value to local, regional, and State government staff and that also leads directly to important planning, policy, and budgetary decision-making processes central to citizen science, a core element of the STEM Initiative.

 

A small business that develops this product could sell it to municipalities, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, or State Departments of Transportation. Non-governmental organizations such as community associations also might purchase the end product. An application that contributes to the development of a sidewalk inventory will create value that could be captured by a small business; however, it will only continue to be relevant and valuable if it is maintained and kept up to date. A small business could provide this ongoing service to clients for a fee. A small business could also generate revenue through the sale of advertisements displayed while the application is being used and/or it could offer an ad free version that a user or client could choose to purchase.

 

Expected Phase I Outcomes:

 

  • Development of a prototype mobile-based application to facilitate the decentralized collection of a baseline pedestrian network inventory data.
  • Development of a back end application to compile data collected into a central dataset.
  • Assessment of other existing data sources and evaluation of strategies to link seamlessly with them (where appropriate).

 

Expected Phase II Outcomes:

 

  • Beta testing and upgrades to the prototype application.
  • Improvement of front end user interface and completed linkages to other datasets.
  • Other tasks necessary to bring the prototype to market.
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