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!


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 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 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):

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. 



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 59

Day 59

Budget Analysis

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had our intern create a spreadsheet so I could track the money that has been spent in the accounts related to my division. Today I started going through that document checking it against invoices and making sure each entry was coded correctly. I also need to check the remaining balance against what was budgeted and arrange to make any necessary changes if needed. Overall, it's a cumbersome and time consuming process because our software is so outdated that most of the comparison and checking has to be done manually. But it's important to do so any overages or amendments to specific line items in the budget are addressed. So far it looks like I am off in our uniform rental line item, and it looks like this happened because the safety shoes were coded here instead of under safety equipment. So that's at least one adjustment I'll need to make. 

City accounting is not something they taught us in engineering school. Yet it is an important part of my job. We had an economics class where we learned about calculating the value of money as it relates to interest and depreciation. But budgeting and accounting were not really covered, and from what I understand municipal accounting is very different from regular accounting. The first time I really got heavily involved in it was at my last job. Fortunately we had a really great comptroller who helped me understand how it all works.  I can't quite pinpoint exactly how she did it, but I always felt I had a good handle on where we stood with finances in each account. We also had an outstanding accountant who was very patient and explained the things we couldn't figure out on our own. I'd have to say it took me about five years or more of working with it to feel I really had a good understanding of how it all worked. And every now and then I'll find out there's still something I didn't know. 

Subdivision Meeting

Several city staff members met with representatives of a bank that has an interest in an unfinished subdivision. Not all the improvements have been completed in this development, and the city still holds a letter of credit for the remaining work. Because nothing has been done for several years and no further building has taken place, the city is requesting the work be completed. So this group came in to find out what was left to be done. We need to send them the plans for the subdivision, and then they are going to come back with a proposal for moving forward.

Water Main Change

We had a call today from a contractor who is bidding on a water extension that will be built by an agency other than the city. He requested that we allow changes to the material used for the water main and changes to the location. Because we did not design the project – only approved it, we suggested he contact the engineer who did the design work. Our concern was we were not the designers – only the reviewers – and an IEPA permit has already been issued for the work. Later in the day we talked to the engineer and gave him an idea of what types of changes we would possibly approve. And we discussed the need to get a new IEPA permit if necessary. He is going to research what could be done and if a new permit would be needed. If any changes are made, he will also send us amended plans for approval.

ADA Ramps for Road Project

Because there always seems to be so much confusion over how curb ramps should be built to comply with the ADA law, I am thinking about drawing up some details for specific intersections to help everyone better understand what needs to be done at certain locations. Today I took our intern out to show him what information we would need from the field so that we could prepare these details.


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 7

Day 7

Night Meeting for the Downtown Master Plan

Geneva Downtown on State Route

I'm late getting this post up because I attended a meeting of our Downtown Master Plan Committee. We are in the process of having a plan prepared for our downtown area which is a big deal for us because we have such an awesome downtown and want to make sure it stays that way. My main input to the plan is more on issues related to engineering such as traffic and infrastructure. Tonight we discussed the 33 areas that were targeted for potential redevelopment within the study area. But at the end we also talked about one of the main routes through our downtown. It's a four-lane state route with approximately 20,000+ ADT and diagonal parking on both sides. We have sidewalks on both sides that are about 10 feet wide abutting buildings constructed to the street line. The point of discussion was that our planners have gotten feedback that people feel uncomfortable walking along this road. However our records show minimal accidents in this area, (see photo on left) particularly related to the parking or pedestrians. But the planners felt they had to address these concerns and suggested some alternatives to the section. One of the designs had some of us concerned about the possible result of losing major amounts of parking for the sole purpose of picking up a few more feet of sidewalk with no proof of an increase in safety. 

Based on my experience with walking these routes regularly at night, people can't feel too uncomfortable because this busy route is always filled with people walking or congregating on the sidewalk. And that's one of the things we really like about the area. There's always so many people walking everywhere downtown – even on this busy route. As someone who has not lived here long, I think the reason people say they don't like the busy route as much is because the other main route through our downtown is a unique and charming roadway with five-foot sidewalks, a grass parkway, and buildings set back about 25 feet or more (see example of this part of our downtown below). It's hard for any other downtown road to compete with that one. And adding a few more feet to a traditional downtown sidewalk is not going to transform it into this other type of street environment. But the planners are convinced it will make all the difference in the world. While for us engineers we cannot justify negatively impacting the traffic to increase the perception of a nicer looking road.

Stream and pond in downtown Geneva, IL

And in a way, taking that stand is a little ironic for me because if you read my blog regularly, you know I am somewhat anti-car. Not that I hate them or anything; I just feel they are in their decline as a mode of transportation. The more I read and the more I consider the future of transportation, I am convinced we are on the brink of beginning the transition to a new system – one made up of something along the lines of PRTs co-existing with rail, bicycles, and pedestrians.  And I start to wonder each time I design and build something for cars, just how long a life it really has. So part of me wants to plan for something beyond a reliance on cars as the primary mode of transportation. But as much as I am ready to ditch my car for a pod tomorrow, the engineer in me understands that's not the reality of today. So for now I accept the fact that people still love cars and want to use them and my job is to provide the infrastructure for that in the best, safest, and most economical manner. Of course the engineers are only one voice in the entire process – many more have to weigh in before the draft plan is prepared. 


The rest of the day

Today was really busy; well most days are busy, but for some reason today seemed even more so. I started out again trying to keep up with emails but had to pull away to work on finalizing the property owner information for the parking lot we are constructing. I wanted to send the map and legal documents over to our city attorney at the end of the day, but will have to wait because I decided to have the interns check over our work one more time to make sure it is correct. Too often, I notice people get so busy and need to push work out the door that mistakes are made. I hate when I do that. So I've been trying to make a concentrated effort to have everything in our office checked by someone if possible. This is how it used to be when I first started working in engineering, and I think over the years this quality assurance check has been neglected more and more in our industry.

Road Project

In the morning, I ran out with the project engineer for our road project. He wanted to show me the condition of the concrete pavement that had been under the asphalt we ground off. One road was unusual in that it seemed to have no cracks. Most older concrete pavements I've seen have cracks so it was interesting to see one that did not. The other road we looked at was cracked in a typical fashion. Over the years, the city had been using an area reflective crack control before placing the asphalt. But last year the contractors told us in the future we will pay more for grinding if there is crack control material under the asphalt. So this year we did not use it. The engineer discussed using a crackfililng material. I was hesitant to do so because another engineer had shared a negative story with me about paving over asphalt that had been crackfilled. So I called him to again hear the story of his experience. He said the hot asphalt will cause the crackfilling material to bubble up through the new asphalt and damage the new pavement. Instead of using crackfilling material, it's best to use a type of sand mixture if you must seal the cracks. We discussed the matter a little more in our office and decided not to fill the cracks.

Annexation Inquiry

A person who lives nearby but not in our city called to see if it was possible to hook up to our water and sewer. This is a common call most engineering departments get every now and then. In our city, we require a property owner to annex into our city if they want to hook up to our utilities. So I explained this and how they could run utilities to their home. They said they would look into it more and call back if they decided to go forward. Fortunately in this case, I had already looked at how to serve this area. But if you get these calls and have not done this, it can be time-consuming because you have to look at all the maps and sometimes the elevations of the area to figure out how someone can get to utilities and how much it will cost.

GIS problem

One of our GIS users had a problem with their map that unfortunately I was not yet able to figure out. We have a line feature class that in my map shows up as a line. However, in their map, it is showing up as a polygon. I could not find this problem talked about anywhere online so will have to keep looking into it tomorrow.

Miscellaneous Tasks

  • The frames I had picked out last week for those inlets on our road project were delivered today.
  • We met today with members of other departments to discuss the project I talked about above where we are designing a new parking lot in our downtown.
  • And finally I had arranged for several engineers in our office to listen to the webinar on PROWAG that was hosted by AccessibilityOnline. It was very good and informative.



Getting to Know PROWAG

Non accessible construction in the ROWA clearer understanding of ADA design seems to be on the horizon. Today, the U.S. Access Board released a formal set of proposed guidelines for accessible rights-of-way, also known as PROWAG, at a public briefing and press conference. This document, once adopted, will finally provide the elusive guidance those of us in the design community have been looking for since the passage of the ADA in 1990. And with a better understanding of how to best design compliant infrastructure, we will be able to better construct improvements that increase accessibility and meet the terms of the law. Unlike the new construction shown in the photo to the left.

Those of you interested in reading through the document will find it embedded below or at the link to the guidelines in the paragraph above. Accessibility Online is also hosting a webinar on August 9, 2011, to provide information about the guidelines. According to their website, the webinar "will provide an overview of the NPRM, including major issues addressed in the notice such as alterations to existing facilities, existing facilities that are not altered, and allowances for typical roadway geometry. Time will be allotted for questions and answers."

After reviewing the guidelines, you can submit any comments or suggestions before November 23, 2011, by following the directions at the beginning of the document. So far the main comment I will submit is based on something I heard at a seminar I attended at the Illinois DOT earlier this year. The presenters shared with us a requirement of providing a minimum 5% running slope for the curb ramp. This means ramps must now fit within a tight range of 5% to 8.33%. No one in the room could figure out why this was a requirement and less than 5% would be a problem. Design and construction of a curb ramp meeting all requirements is probably the most challenging and misunderstood element in the entire guideline so adding design restrictions without good reason exacerbates the problem. If there is a reason, then it is worth doing, but so far no one has provided one. I'd be interested to hear viewpoints on this requirement from others. Or if you want to share any other observations or information about the new guidelines or about accessible design in the right of way, feel free to comment below.

Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way, July 26, 2011