Tag Archives: sidewalks

Mapping the Accessible Path

Access map screenshot showing sidewalk steepness at 0.5%The Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) team, a group out of the University of Washington, has been involved in an effort to improve mapping of the pedestrian way. By making use of the work from the OpenSidewalks project, they created AccessMap – a trip planning tool for people with limited mobility. With this tool, people can find the most accessible path through a network of sidewalks connected by curb ramps and street crossings.

At this time, the tool has only been implemented in Seattle, but the group plans to expand to other locations. The data used for the project is a compilation of the following elements with sources noted:

  • Base map – OpenStreetMap (OSM)
  • Sidewalks and curb ramps – Seattle Department of Transportation
  • Street crossings – DSSG Team
  • Elevations – National Elevation Dataset, USGS

When a user clicks a sidewalk segment, the steepness or grade is displayed. The screenshot of the map above shows a sidewalk segment along 1st Avenue between Madison and Spring streets at a 0.5% grade. Sidewalk segments are also colored coded to indicate the grade with red exceeding the required 5%, yellow just below the requirement, and green meeting the requirement. Clicking a street crossing or crosswalk displays the steepness or running grade along with a "Yes" or "No" to indicate whether or not curb ramps are at the corners.

To plan a route using the map, the user types in their origin and destination in a manner similar to how other mapping programs work. The difference is that Accessmap has a drop down tool for the user to designate a limit for maximum uphill and downhill grade and the need to avoid construction and require curb ramps. Different mobility assisted devices such as wheelchairs or canes can also be designated. Below is an example of a planned route.

Planned route example on accessmap

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Gamifying and Crowdsourcing ADA Inspections

The Makeability Lab at the University of Maryland is on a mission to "collect street-level accessibility information from every street in the world and enable design and development of a novel set of location-based technologies for accessibility." In order to achieve this goal, they set up an interactive website where people can inspect, identify, and label accessibility issues along sidewalks and at curb ramps.

The accessibility issues generated by this site are fairly basic, but would still be very helpful to cities interested in quickly and easily identifying issues. Currently the site is focused on auditing infrastructure in the Washington, D.C. area.

The group also plans to use the inspection data collected to "create new types of map-based accessibility tools, such as AccessScore, an interactive map of a city's accessibility, and RouteAssist, personalized routing algorithms based on a user's reported mobility level."

In addition, they are using the labels people assign to issues to develop algorithms to allow the computer to automatically find accessibility issues in the future.

So far 218 people have inspected almost 400 miles or 37% of Washington, D.C. If you are interested in volunteering your efforts, you can visit their website at http://sidewalk.umiacs.umd.edu and click on the "Participate" button.

Project Sidewalk Participate Screen

 Before beginning, you'll be offered a quick tutorial. You can also create an account to track your contributions. Here are a few screenshots taken while I inspected about a half mile of sidewalk in the Bellevue neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The first shows a section of heaved and cracked sidewalk I labeled as a surface problem. You can see I was able to choose this option from the group of issue icons located above the street-view image.

Project Sidewalk Surface Problem

When you place an icon on the image, a box pops up as shown in the screenshot below to allow you to choose the severity of the problem. The site gives some guidance on this, but there is still a lot of judgment in assigning a rating. Initially I wasn't going to give this specific problem the worst rating, but then decided the slope looks severe enough I don't think a wheelchair would safely navigate across the heaved section. Below the rating, there is a space for a more detailed description of the problem.

Project Sidewalk Surface Problem Rating

The screen also shows which neighborhood I am in, where I am at on the street, how many miles I have audited and labels I have placed. As you complete assigned sections, the site summarizes your progress as shown below:

Project Sidewalk Mission Summary

Finally, you can view your dashboard to see your overall contribution to the site. Below is my current status after only working on it for a short time:

Project Sidewalk Dashboard

As you can see on my dashboard, the locations of the problems I found are displayed on a map. A zoomed in view of this is shown below. I was not sure if there was a way to see everyone's contributions, but if so, this would be very helpful to a city engineering or public works department in managing their sidewalk or street repair program. It would also be helpful if the data could be extracted from a given area so it could be overlaid in a city's GIS with other data such as land use, destinations such as schools and hospitals, and locations of capital improvements and developments.

Project Sidewalk Map Zoomed

Because the site is so easy to use, cities could also partner with schools and ask students to participate in inspections. This would help to engage students in their community and build awareness of the needs for and barriers to accessibility.

From what I can tell, the group also has the code for the site over on GitHub. Their license grants permission to make use of the software according the terms specified, and instructions for setting up your own development site are provided in a README file.

You can follow the group's progress through their Twitter feed: @umd_sidewalk.

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 66

Day 66

Culvert Lining Project

It looks like our issue with the culvert lining project has been resolved. We gave the structural drawings from our consultant to the contractor. Theh contractor ended up getting a couple prices from other concrete contractors which were lower than the original subcontractor's price. So it looks like we will end up getting the work we needed done at the price that was bid. It rained today so the contractor did not work, but he should be back out tomorrow to form the head walls.

Road Project

We've started on the plans for next year's road project. Today, I worked on adding a few more roads, My supervisor had said we could try increasing the amount we normally spend since we are not keeping up with the failure rate. Of course, all this will be subject to the approval of the council. We are just going to suggest this amount. We did get a little extra in MFT funds this year so that amount could be applied to this project.

The PACE sidewalk project

Today I tried to get a copy of the bid tab for the PACE project I discussed yesterday. The person I emailed said I had to submit a FOIA request to get it and that I had to ask how to do this by emailing their law department. Well, we have been through the FOIA drill here, and from we've been told, someone can ask for something on a dirty napkin, and that is an acceptable request to which you must respond. We can no longer require anyone to go through a formal process to get something. So because I did not hear back from the law department, I tried emailing their FOIA officer directly. He read the email but did not respond, so I'll have to see if they end up sending it or not. We did ask a local contractor who bids that type of work if they put in a bid, and they had not even been aware the project was out to bid.

Water Main Project

I met with the property owner of one of the parcels where we are asking for an easement for our water main. They said we could go ahead and submit the documents for their signature. I also worked a little more on the modeling but realized I needed the pump curve for our high service pumps at the water plant. So I arranged to have them sent over.

Tomorrow I am scheduled to be out of the office so won't be writing "A Day in the Life.." post for Friday.

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Climbing the Uphill Battle for ADA on a Non-compliant Curb Ramp

Curb RampMy primary involvement in ADA has been as an engineer designing and building infrastructure in the right of way and in years past, as a building inspector approving private development. During my career, I have always made a dedicated effort to learn about and meet the requirements of this federal law. But it's been a challenge shared by many other building and design professionals due to the lack of guidance materials and solid instruction from federal and state agencies. Fortunately over the last year that has changed for us in Illinois with state and federal agencies providing more training. But as frustrating as it has been for us, I can't begin to imagine how it is for those who have a disability and need to use these facilities. And today, I came up against another completely unbelievable hurdle.

The law was passed in 1990, and it has taken 20 years for the design community to receive clear guidance on how to comply with the law. The effect this seems to have had is that many engineers look upon the law as a joke thinking why comply – next year federal and state agencies will change it again. Or they ignore it or only partially comply because it must not be important enough if it has taken this long to put achievable guidelines in place. And they do not normally interact with the community most affected to see the impact of their decisions.

So one hurdle is just convincing engineers they need to follow the law. Our state has come out with the opinion that if a professional engineer knowingly designs or builds or approves a non-compliant ramp, they will pursue taking away their license. This is serious for someone who relies on the license for their job. Yet, when I share this with other engineers they do not believe it or think it could happen.

Fortunately there are engineers out there who do care and try to comply. I wonder sometimes what makes the difference. For myself, my dedication has built up over time as I better understood the requirements and particularly as I began to interact with those who have disabilities. They have really been the ones who helped me understand the importance of each regulation. Not complying does truly cause them hardship and at times it is painful and severe. It makes me wonder if we should be requiring a certification for ADA design that includes training and interaction with disability communities and groups.

Anyway, as difficult as all that has been to work through, today I got a call from a couple in our city complaining about a curb ramp we installed. They didn't like the design because they felt it would make it difficult to mow. I had tried to explain in two emails and out on the site that we were obligated to construct the ramp in that manner due to federal law. That the city risked liability and loss of use of road funds for highway improvements should we choose to ignore the law. And I added the part about losing my license. But they would have none of that. They questioned why other ramps are non-compliant, but it's difficult to convey how and why we got to this point over 20 years in just a few minutes. So they could not understand.

But in the end, I could tell by their attitudes, the bottom line for these people was that they were going to force the city to put in a ramp they liked no matter what. They obviously had total disregard for the law and our need to comply. They even threatened calling the newspaper and the state of Illinois to "tell on us." Which didn't make sense to me – were they going to tell them we put in a compliant ramp they don't like? Of course both they and their child had no visible disabilities.

All I could think was if I feel this frustrated and helpless just trying to build compliant infrastructure, how must someone feel who has to try to use non-compliant infrastructure? I can't even imagine telling someone with a disability, we chose not to comply with the law because these people thought it would cause them some difficulty in mowing around the ramp. We might be able to some day have designers on board, but how will we ever get healthy people with no disabilities to accept the need for compliance when all they care about is not having a minor inconvenience in mowing? And how can people have such total disregard for others?

 

 

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From the Floor at APWA Congress 2010

Due to budget cuts I was only able to attend the APWA Congress for one day since I was speaking on a panel at the show. Normally, I try to attend the entire event because I always come away with many valuable insights and opportunities to reconnect with fellow professionals. This year, in the short time I was able to spend there, I was able to find a contractor who performed sawcutting of sidewalk trip hazards. My division was already familiar with Precision Concrete Cutting and have used their services to eliminate trip hazards. But in order to expand the project, we needed to have more than one proposal for the work. Fortunately Sidewalks Plus was at the show, and I was able to speak with a representative about their process and get their contact information. This allowed us to investigate two bidders and move our project forward. I also was able to discuss a few other pressing issues with representatives from a few other companies. So in addition to speaking, networking, and researching products, I was able to also conduct some business related to existing projects. 

While checking out the products on the floor show, I was also able to video tape a few interviews with vendors. Willie Urish with Tower Sign and Signal had contacted me prior to the show to discuss his product. So we made some time to meet so I could see his product in person. He also allowed me to video tape his product demonstration. His company, based in Illinois, manufactures and sells portable traffic signals for construction jobs.

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Totally Missing the Point

Image

On a trip to an establishment in a neighboring city, I noticed the ramp shown above. Something did not look right, and upon further inspection, I realized the curb was not depressed. With the implementation of the final decision concerning ramp design, I have been trying to go out of my way to check out the ramps in other communities. I realized there has been some confusion and lack of knowledge concerning the regulations and requirements governing ramp construction, but I never thought I would see someone put in the detectable warnings but not depress the curb. What were they thinking while they were pouring the detectable warning pads? 

I suppose someone could have thought that putting in detectable warnings prior to all roadway crossings, accessible or not, is a great idea. The problem is that due to the ADA regulation, people with reduced eyesight will reach this and expect a ramp with a depressed curb. This will confuse the pedestrian and could perhaps cause injury.

Clearly there is still a significant lack of training and education surrounding curb ramp construction. On publicly funded jobs, the engineer can be more involved and ensure that the requirements are being met. On privately funded projects where there may be no oversight by an engineer or architect, the owner is relying on the contractor to meet the requirements.

Last year, I was called to a new subdivision under construction because the developer was forming the public sidewalk and trying to conform to the ADA requirements that I had given him related to cross slope. A driveway had been poured from the private garage to the curb, through the area of the sidewalk, and the contractor for the homeowner had not met the ADA-mandated cross slope of 2% through the sidewalk area. The developer was having to match the nonconforming cross slope with his new sidewalk. I suggested he contact the driveway contractor to work this out. That driveway contractor called me and was extremely agitated. He felt it was the city’s responsibility to keep him informed about every federal, state, and local regulation that governed his work. Of course, it was all the city’s fault in his mind.   

I do think that public works professionals can educate to some degree but with reduced staff and funding at all levels of government, there is only so much we can do. There have been a few good articles published over the last year or so that are related to this subject:

Public Works Magazine, “Ramping up for Compliance”

APWA Reporter, “Is there a compliant curb ramp out there?”

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