Submit Your Ideas on Transportation & Assistive Devices & Technologies

Pedestrian and Signal Technology

The U.S. DOT through the FHWA has opened a dialogue on Transportation and Assistive Devices and Technologies. You can visit their Ideascale site to offer your own ideas about how best to make use of technologies to enhance and support mobility for transportation users with disabilities.

It's important for all of us in involved in roadway and signal design to remain involved in dialogues like this so that new technologies can be integrated in the most efficient and effective manner. Even if you don't want to comment or offer an idea, it's helpful to read through the ideas and comments to learn what those who use facilities we design really need. And there are a few comments that lead to other resources and tools which might be useful to planners and designers.

I offered one idea we've been discussing since visiting a community that had an older APS installed at an intersection. We noticed the voice was difficult to hear and understand. I want to add though that neither of us have a vision impairment so our observation was made as users who often rely on our sight for guidance and therefore could be different that the opinion of a person with a vision impairment. (You can watch a short video we took of the cycle to listen yourself to what a pedestrian would hear at this intersection.)

Other than the inability to really hear and understand what is going on from these devices, we are also aware there is concern about the constant noise created in the environment. While this is useful and necessary when needed, is it best to have a device that continues to make noise in the environment even when not needed? Especially when it begins to compete with other signal device sounds in a highly dense, and urbanized area? 

Before smart phones these were perhaps our only solution and therefore necessary, but now with smart devices, we wondered if it wouldn't be better to have pedestrian signal devices communicate directly with smart phones or devices. The APS could activate only when sensing a device that is programmed to request specific information from the APS such as location of button, path guidance, and area location information. If a path or destination had been programmed, perhaps the APS could even signal to the user which direction to go or if they are on the wrong street.

We also talked about installing something in the pavement along both edges of the crosswalk that could communicate with a pedestrian and let them know through vibrations or a pulse they were wandering outside of the crosswalk area.

Since exploring these ideas, we have not yet had the chance to discuss it with anyone who has a vision impairment which is why the dialogue is so important. Perhaps there are issues with our ideas we have not considered since we are primarily the designers and not the users of these devices. So I encourage everyone to take just a few minutes to visit the site, read the ideas, submit your own if you have them, add some comments, and work together with everyone to increase the use and mobility of our designs for everyone. 

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Mobile App for ADA Requirements in the Right of Way

Over the last week, we worked on setting up a basic mobile app to display the requirements from the 1991 ADA Law that relate to facilities in the right of way. For the content, we used the requirements and some of the graphics from Chapter 6 of the ADA Toolkit for Local Government. When it was finished we posted it on the Android marketplace on Google Play for anyone who might be interested in installing it on their Android device. You can download and install it for free from this link:

 1991 ADA ROW Requirements Mobile App

Here are some screenshots from the app:

Screenshot from the 1991 ADA ROW Requirement Mobile App
 
Screenshot from the 1991 ADA ROW Requirements Mobile App
 
Screenshot from the 1991 ADA ROW Requirements Mobile App

 

 

We realize that in the near future PROWAG will be finalized and new requirements released so we are also working on developing an app to display those requirements. I'm not sure if we'll get it done before the ruling is finalized, but if so we we might end up releasing it as a draft and then update the content later to agree with the final requirements. If you have any comments or suggestions for the app, feel free to leave them in the comment section or just send us an email!

 

 

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3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D

Welcome area of the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government

A couple years ago I put together an unofficial 3D version of the ADA Toolkit for Local Government. It was based in an immersive environment anyone could visit and experience as an avatar or digital representation of themselves. Normally the ADA Toolkit is only available as an online, primarily text-based document. So I figured the ability to learn it through an engaging and interactive format might offer a much more interesting and possibly memorable experience. Eventually I moved this build over to Kitely – a service which hosts 3D immersive environments created using OpenSimulator software. People who want to visit and stroll through the 3D ADA Toolkit can still do so by visiting Kitely.com, signing up for an account or using an existing Twitter or Facebook account, and then accessing the 3D ADA Toolkit through the use of a viewer that Kitely will install on their computer. But while Kitely makes it very easy for someone to visit the places it hosts, some people are still hesitant to try out this type of experience – particularly those who are new to using an avatar to interact with digital content. So for some time, I have been wanting to create the same build in Unity 3D because it still offers the ability to visit and interact with the information in a 3D format, but does not rely on a login or the installation of a software program in order to view the content. Instead Unity 3D allows everything to work directly in someone's browser with only the installation of a plug-in to the browser. The end result can be closer to the browsing experience people already are familiar with.

It took some time for me to actually accomplish a build in Unity 3D for several reasons. One was the need to learn the software and interface. Fortunately there are plenty of tutorials out there for this so I was able to at least become comfortable with it over time by following these examples. But I still faced the need to create new content and doing so in the Unity 3D environment is not very easy. It definitely is not as easy as creating it in something like OpenSimulator. Then just within the last month or so, the folks who develop the Singularity viewer for OpenSimulator came up with a way to export 3D objects from the OpenSimulator environment. So I was able to export the objects from the 3D ADA Tooklit in OpenSimulator and import them into a Unity 3D build.

While that certainly helped move the project along, I quickly figured out there was still a lot more to learn to create an interactive environment. By again researching tutorials, I managed to script some popup messages to simulate what someone would see in the original OpenSimulator build. So at this point I have a very simple example of a portion of the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in a Unity 3D environment. I caution anyone who decides to try it out that it is far from perfect. I need to learn how to do a better job with the messages, perhaps add some NPCs, create more interactive elements, and figure out how to launch a website so that it doesn't take the person out of the Toolkit forcing them to restart it to get back in. It would also be nice to figure out how to keep the flowers from floating just above the ground. Anyway, so far I've only made the welcome area and the historical background of the ADA laws related to right of way interactive – the rest of it has not yet been done. And, again, I don't have the entire toolkit in Unity 3D – only a small portion. If you want to check it out, just click the image below – if you've never run Unity 3D in your browser it will prompt you to install the Unity 3D plugin. And remember if you click anywhere in the Toolkit to access a website, you'll have to relaunch the Toolkit to get back in. Thanks for trying it out! I'd also love to get any type of feedback on it.

3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D

Click the image above to enter the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D in your browser!

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The ADA Toolkit for Local Government in 3D

Most of us working in local government are probably familiar with the ADA Best Practices Toolkit for State and Local Government published online by the U.S. Department of Justice at http://www.ada.gov/pcatoolkit/toolkitmain.htm. The document is well-written and helpful in providing guidance in understanding and complying with regulations related to accessibility. But like most government documents, it is offered in a traditional, conservative format. One of my goals over the years has been to transform a document like the ADA Toolkit into a three dimensional experience.  Not only does a 3D space offer a much more engaging "read," but it can also increase retention of the material. So over the last year or so, I worked on building a 3D version of this toolkit. You can see a quick tour of the result of this work in the video below.

If you are interested in checking out the toolkit, there are several options for doing so. For those of you familiar with virtual environments, you can visit http://www.publicworksgroup.com/ada to learn where I have set up the hosting of the toolkit. One additional grid not yet listed on that site is the MOSES grid which is owned and operated by the U.S. Army. If you are already a member of MOSES, you can find the toolkit there by searching on the map for munigov. Then when the map locates that area, you can teleport over. (I will eventually add the MOSES setup as an option on the website, but because the website and toolkit were entered in the FVWC before I could set the toolkit up on MOSES, I was not sure I could alter the website until after the contest.)

If you want to check out the toolkit, but have never yet entered a virtual environment where you are represented by an avatar, rest assured this will be one of the easiest and least threatening places to visit. And because many people entering a virtual space for the first time are worried about interacting with others, I have set it all up so that you can run and visit the toolkit on your own computer. Just download and unzip the following file and follow the directions on the Readme file (this is a very large download – about 560 MB zipped and just over 1 GB unzipped):

3DADAToolkit.zip

By visiting the toolkit with this method, there will be no else who can enter the toolkit other than you. You can also download and unzip the files onto a USB drive so that you can use them on any computer. 

For those of you interested in my choices of design, I realize I could have chosen many different themes and visualizations. But for this particular document, I decided to remain somewhat conservative and traditional in my 3D representation. This is because people in my field of engineering and public works and even local government are still not yet heavily involved in the use of virtual worlds or 3D technology. So most people in these fields who visit the 3D ADA Toolkit could be entering a virtual environment for the first time. And based on feedback I received over the years from colleagues who attempted to check out virtual environments, I believe that they will have the most positive and successful experience if the virtual space is at least somewhat familiar. This is also the reason that I have set up the environment in several different locations. Those interested in checking out the toolkit can do so not only by visiting it in existing virtual worlds like OSGrid and MOSES, but also on the privacy of their own computer where they can focus on the toolkit and not have to worry about interacting with others.

I'd like to continue to explore transforming government documents into 3D learning environments and sharing them with other government professionals. And over time, as people become more familiar with the learning techniques offered by virtual settings, I would expect to eventually expand the visualizations to become more interesting and non-traditional with even more tools for engagement. Eventually I would also like to try out this transformation using other software such as Unity3D. In the meantime, if you have a particular document you would be interested in seeing transformed into 3D, or are interested in collaborating on creating one, or have feedback or suggestions for improvement, just send me an email or share your information in the comments below. 

 

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 53

Day 53

Checking Construction

We started out our Monday by visiting a couple jobsites to make sure everything was going as planned. First we stopped by a development where they had placed curb last week along the edges of a driveway. The problem was that the sidewalk was supposed to carry through the drive, and they neglected to break the curb for the sidewalk. So they had to cut out the area where the sidewalk would cross the curb and form and pour the sidewalk. We wanted to check the slopes before they poured today to make sure they met the ADA requirements. Fortunately everything was ok. Then we went to our alley project to correct a mistake the contractor had made last Friday. He had unfortunately marked quite a few driveways as going back in as asphalt. Well, you can imagine how worried the residents were over the weekend – they had been told they were getting concrete driveways and instead saw them marked for asphalt. So when the project engineer got in today he had many calls and emails asking about this. We went out right away to get rid of the asphalt mark and instead mark them as concrete.

Preconstruction Meeting for Culvert Project

Later in the morning we held a preconstruction meeting for our culvert lining project. There really wasn't anything too different about the meeting. We normally cover all the city's rules so the contractor understands he can only work between certain hours, his workers need to clean up after themselves, they need to wear shirts, etc. They expect to start as soon as the liner is delivered.

Signal Invoices

Although we have many traffic signals in the city, we don't maintain any of them ourselves. Instead we pay other agencies for the portion for which we are responsible. So when we get these invoices, we check them and then pay them. This quarter, I found some minor mistake on the invoice so the agency had sent us a new invoice. And today I turned them over to the superintendent who pays them out of his account.

Flower Bed in Geneva

GIS Maps

We finalized two maps today – one is a map showing all the planting areas and what volunteer group takes care of a certain area. We have almost 50 areas throughout the downtown. The other map is an aerial of the whole city. We are trying to print out a new one every year to hang in our conference rooms. We also place a strip along the bottom that lists city statistics such as miles of road, number of hydrants, population, etc.

Council Meeting

I did end up attending the council meeting tonight just to make sure there were no questions about the bids for our culvert project. Nothing was asked so the council ended up approving it. Now we can arrange to have the contracts signed, and the contractor can start when the liner is delivered.

 

 

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 51

Day 51

Could you tell it was a full moon this week? Because it was so obvious in our office! This has been a phenomena I would have never believed in had I never worked for a city. Every time you start to realize things are just a little over the top than normal, you only have to look at the lunar calendar to see why. I know it sounds crazy, but just ask any police officer. And my experience has been the engineering department is not usually spared dealing with the effects either.

Sidewalks need to be constructed through driveways

ADA DSCN3840

(Note: the photo at the left is not taken in our city and is only used to illustrate the subject matter.)

So today started with me questioning some work that was done yesterday at one of the developments currently under construction in our city. Last night I had driven by, and it's almost uncanny how after you work so long in this field, you can barely see something in the dark (or at least only lit by a full moon!) and know it is wrong. Of course, being an engineer, I hate to just trust my instincts totally so I always start out by fully researching the background. The situation involved the placement of sidewalk across a commercial driveway. Because of our requirements and because of ADA compliance, we require sidewalks to continue through driveways, and they must of course meet all the requirements of ADA and now PROWAG. This had been conveyed during the review. And yesterday I had verified with our inspector that he had told them the sidewalk needed to be carried across the drive.

Today I again spoke with our inspector to again verify he had reminded the contractor of this requirement, and he confirmed that yes, he had. Then a few minutes later he gave me and the review engineer a copy of a chain of emails where the contractor asked the developer's engineer, instead of asking the city, how to construct the sidewalk, driveway, and curb flanking the drive through the right of way. The developer's engineer had told the contractor not to carry the drive through so we took this as indication they were not planning to build it according to the plan we had.

We went to the site to check out the work I had seen last night and found that the curb flanking the proposed driveway had been poured, but the area where the sidewalk was to cross was not gapped, nor was the curb at that location at the required 2% slope – it was more like 5%. It also looked as if the curb was not even set at the elevations indicated on the plans. But our concern was the ADA compliance and the sidewalk. So the review engineer called the developer's engineer and later the contractor to indicate they would need to correct what was done to meet the necessary requirements. After a day of going back and forth discussing it, they concluded with an email indicating they would remove a section of curb on both sides so they could construct the sidewalk according to plan and meet the ADA requirements. 

Although we had some other issues flying around through the day, I think that one is representative enough as an example of what we sometimes deal with as developments are built. We have another one scheduled for construction in the near future so I am going to make sure I, along with the inspector, are there when they form it all up so we can be sure it is going in according to plan.

APWA Executive Committee Meeting

Today I was also invited to the Chicago Metro APWA executive committee meeting to talk about our chapter's possible use of social media. I had done something similar with National in early 2009 and also with our State chapter probably also in 2009. So I went anticipating a similar experience and brought similar materials and information. So unfortunately I went thinking I was sharing information about social media and how to best consider its use, but did not know they had already gone through this, and it appears decided they did not want to pursue it. So I think they believed I was there to defend its use rather than assist in understanding what it is and how to use it if they would choose to do so.

Oh well, one of the positives was that I did get to sit next to John Heinz (who told me I could share that on my blog – Hi John!) and I learned that the next time I am invited to assist an organization with social media, it might help to ask a few questions first about what they have done to date. If I had I might have found out about the previous discussions and that some were not exactly sold on the idea. The final positive outcome is that the president is very innovative and open minded and set up a committee to look into it more. And I get to be on that committee with some really cool people – yay! (And I'll be blaming this unexpected experience on the full moon too!)

Update to the above – just realized it's also very beneficial to understand just who exactly is in your audience!

 

 

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