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. 


Augview – a Window to Your Underground Assets


Water Main Installation

Augview, founded by Michael Bundock in 2012 in New Zealand, is the first commercial, mobile application I have seen offered to the public works industry allowing utilities to geospatially capture, store, and display underground utilities in 3D through the use of a tablet or other mobile device. The software, through the use of GIS, will show operators their water, sewer, or other underground lines superimposed in 3D upon the ground in a geospatially accurate position. Users can then query the lines as with any other online GIS and access data about that utility such as size, material, age, and any other type of stored data. Or if a locator finds a discrepancy in a line's location or if he finds a new line, he can enter it into the software and immediately verify the updated or new location is accurate.

One example I can think of where I could have used this type of device was when we found a patched area in a roadway on one of our projects. It was one of those typical failures you find where you can see someone repaired something, but there's still something going on because a small hole opens back up with a void underneath. A lot of times this is caused by a hole in a sewer which allows soil above the pipe to wash away into the line leaving a void under the pavement. I knew the city had a sewer running along the roadway near that area, and I noticed a water shut off box nearby in the parkway. Because in our area the sewer lines used to be run with the water lines, I suspected it could be a failure with the building sewer. The business owner came out to comment on it and mentioned there had been a problem there, but it was difficult for me to tell for sure from what she explained if it had been the city sewer or the building owner's line. If I had Augview, I would have seen how all these lines related and where they were located. This visualization would have offered a better prediction of exactly which line could possibly have a failure. Of course public works professionals already try to make this determination using paper maps, but if it was the building owner's line, it is much easier to explain the problem to them using a 3D representation of everything rather than expect them to read a utility atlas.

I would have also liked to have an application like Augview for management of our water network. Our crews could have used the application to document the valve position when they opened or closed it. Then we could have just driven by to see if we had opened them all back up after we repaired the break, or we could have noticed when a valve between our pressure zones accidently was opened.

It would also be useful to use Augview to look at non-utility data for something like visualizing roadway ratings in the field. Then each year when we went out to rate the roadways, perhaps Augview could color the roadway based on the rating we assigned the year before in our GIS. This would prevent us from juggling paper maps in the truck while we are trying to also view and assess the pavement.

Past articles on this site have also imagined one day a product like Augview could be used to assist contractors as they build by displaying not only the underground lines but actually superimposing the plan onto the site. And I don't think it will be long before this type of implementation is extended to allow us to display real time data too. I can see one day we will be able to look up at the water tower and actually see the level of water in it or be able to see an indication at our water or wastewater plants of the flows running in and out and through each process. It would also be interesting to be able to drive by our lift stations and see the whole area colored red or green rather than just see the little red/green run light. This is also another facility that could display flows, seal failures, water levels or any other type of data.

While at the present time Augview has primarily been implemented in New Zealand, Melanie Langlotz,  business development manager, said she is "also looking for interested parties in the U.S. who can see the possibilities." So I believe it won't be long before we see Augview in use throughout the U.S. and other countries.

You can find out more about Augview by watching the video below or visiting their website or other social media sites:


The F-word, contractors, and women

Construction SiteWhat I've come to realize over the course of my career is that there are some male contractors who will accuse engineers/inspectors who are women of using the F-word in an effort to discredit them or get them into trouble. And I think the recent reaction to the use of this word by a U.S. diplomat (Top U.S. Diplomat Launches f-bomb on EU in leaked recorded conversation) is a good example of how effective this accusation can be.

Also what I've discovered is that contractors will use this tactic whether the word is actually said or not. The reason I know this is true is that I never say the F-word. Actually I did use it for a short time when I was probably 14 years old until I realized, at least for me, it did not add to the conversation, and I did say it once on the job in 1993 after spending a whole year being harrassed by a contractor in every manner possible including having them regularly exposing themselves to me and having the equipment operator regularly swing the arm of the exavator at me in an effort to intimidate me and get me to back down on my responsibility. So on the first day when they showed up for the next year, I told the main perpetrator in front of everyone I would not stand for the same treatment, and on that day I did use that word. Of course they complained to my supervisor. Fortunately he backed me up – probably because he was aware of how I had been treated, and I had no problems at all that year. But even though, except for that one time, I have never said it over the course of my career, I've had several contractors complain to my supervisors that I had. Fortunately almost all of my past supervisors knew me well enough to know it is a word I absolutely never say. They had seen me in every sort of situation and knew for a fact it was just not the manner in which I respond to things. So when a contractor tried to tell them I had said the F-word, they might as well have been saying, "I'm a big liar who is making up a story in an effort to get someone in trouble so you won't believe her anymore and I can tell you more lies to convince you to pay me for something she is telling you I did wrong and shouldn't be paid for." Unfortunately I did have one supervisor with little to no construction experience who seemed to fall hook, line, and sinker for this. And this is why contractors use this tactic – it sometimes works.

I guess I never really thought too much about why it works until I saw what happened with that diplomat. Now I'm thinking it works because our society appears to view the use of the word with a double standard – it is ok and expected to have men say it, but not women. At least I know this is the case on construction. Over 30 years of working on the jobsite, I heard it all, including the F-word, on a very regular basis. Some days I would hear it said so much, the word just faded into the background with all the others. And I never heard anyone on the construction site say, "excuse me, I find the use of that word offensive and would appreciate it if you never used it out here again." Absolutely no one ever appeared to be bothered by its use (including myself) nor did they ever even draw attention to it – they just seemed to take it for granted that people said it. So if men can regularly say the word and other men never are bothered by it, I am wondering why we have this double standard that penalizes a woman for saying it? And it appears the exposure of a woman saying it will cause such a negative reaction that contractors have figured out that even lying about a woman saying it with no proof at all is enough to cause major problems for that woman – at least if her supervisor is the type to fall for this kind of thing.

I think the key point to realize in all this is that the contractors who are complaining about a woman who says the F-word are not truly offended by the expression – after all their crews are using the word regularly on the jobsite. It's that these men are deliberately calling out a woman out for saying it (or making it up that she did) while they would not think to expose or accuse a man of saying it. Which makes me wonder about the diplomat's situation. I think if she had been a man and this had happened I think the public would have still thought of it in a negative manner. Whether the diplomat is a man or woman, it was not a diplomatic thing to say. But she is most likely not the only person – male or female -in that type of position who is using that word. So even with her it is the same issue – no one is thinking to expose a man who says it – it is only considered as a tactic when women are the target.


Unfortunately it has taken me years to figure all this out. Initially I had thought contractors were just assuming I said it because a lot of people do and adding that complaint to their overall objection to me requiring them to perform the work they were hired to do. But after the last time I had something like this happen, I finally realized contractors who do this were actually purposely lying as a strategy to get me in trouble or discredit me. Because my new job does not require me to be out on construction, I had thought perhaps I didn't need to worry about it anymore. After all, I had not ever read about or heard of any group outside of contractors doing this. But after seeing what happened with this diplomat, I am wondering if it is a pervasive tactic used by anyone in any field who might see an opportunity to benefit from it.


Fortunately there aren't a lot of contractors who resort to this tactic. But as long as this double standard is in place, I'm left wondering how we, as women, can best protect ourselves from being the target of this. As someone who does not say the word at all, my experience shows that just not saying it isn't the answer. 



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!




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, 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!


Fixing the Illinois Pension System by Investing in Local Economies

JC Whitney DevelopmentToday we read an article, INTERVIEW: When a State Doesn’t Realize Its Best, City-Level Assets, in which Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord talked about the impact that the transfer of funding of education from a state to local responsibility would have on his state's economy. While we might not have totally agreed with his hesitation to transfer at least some of this responsibility, his comment of "..that’s coming at the expense of other basic investments in services that could yield a return, and we’re seeing this downward spiral" made us think more about the synergy between state and local finances. As Rob was pointing out, the development of economic drivers really happens at the local level. And when a city makes this local investment to attract and develop business, the state benefits from the additional revenue generated. This is of course not news to any of us in government – it is why Illinois, the state we happen to live in, already has so many programs that provide economic development money to cities. But what it did make us start thinking about is how the state's pension fund could fit into this equation. Could the pension fund in Illinois be used to invest in local economies to increase state revenues and as a side benefit provide better and more secure returns to the pension fund?

While we are not financial experts nor did we stay in a Holiday Inn Express, we do have some background and familiarity in working with the funding systems in Illinois for economic development and investment in infrastructure. We realize from this experience that the framework and support for this is already in place for the state to provide monies to local agencies to support and attract businesses through construction of infrastructure. Some monies are provided through loans such as the revolving loan funds at the IEPA while other programs like IDOT's EDP  provide funds through grants that do not have to be paid back. So we wondered why not do something similar with the pension funds? 

The approach we were thinking about would be to use pension funds as the source of loan funds that are made available to local agencies for the sole purpose of supporting an infrastructure project tied to economic development. The loans would be provided at a range of interest rates depending on whether or not the local agency had an actual commitment from a business to locate in the community. For example, if a city did not have a specific business in mind and instead was only creating a business park, the rate could be set at 5%. But if the city was able to get a business to sign something like a 10-year commitment and needed a loan to build the infrastructure to attract that business, the loan rate could be 3%. There are many other factors that could be used in a formula to determine interest rate such as expected jobs, sales tax, real estate tax, etc. Perhaps the state could even start out with a small pilot program to test the feasibility of this concept and allow for a testing of the parameters that would need to be in place to ensure its success.

They key to all this is that right now we are relying on Wall Street for our returns for our pension fund investments, and there is no guarantee on the rate of return nor does it necessarily put money back into the economic engine of our own state. If we instead made pension fund investments in our local economy through a system that guaranteed a rate of return from reliable sources – local agencies – we would know we were making money each year, we would know how much, and we would be using our money to make more money. It might not fix the whole problem, but it seems like it has potential to at least contribute some benefit.