Every form of travel uses pedestrian infrastructure in some way. The final segment, after parking a car, locking up bicycle or exiting the bus, ends up being a walk or wheeling to the destination. Features like steep hills, sidewalks, uneven surfaces, crossing street traffic, impact pedestrian mobility. However such information is hardly known or collected, and none in the form of a transportation network. Representation of pedestrian information is complex. There are many ways to represent the data, and since there is no standard data format, the data collected by two different parties usually differ in their format.
This problem is widespread and affects transportation planning, project development, design, construction and operations at the local, regional and state levels. Efforts to gather these data on a widespread basis using agency staff or contractors have proven prohibitively expensive. Existing data sets, where they exist, are incomplete, outdated, incompatible and not in a format that is suitable for many of the potential purposes. As a result, trip planning services cannot a priori provide accessible trips, agencies lack important information for understanding and prioritizing their infrastructure, researchers lack the necessary data to analyze cities, and data consumers in general can’t provide derivative products.
The OpenSidewalks project attempts to address this problem by suggesting standardized, transportation network-focused methods for gathering detailed information such as sidewalks, curb cuts, crossings, and street furniture through community engagement and crowdsourcing. The OpenSidewalks project also seeks to ensure data consistency and longevity through the use of OpenStreetMap, open standards and open technology. This project would help fill a longstanding gap in data about key roadway attributes associated with sidewalks. We first deployed these methods in Seattle and are seeking to expand to other areas. A fully connected network is necessary in order to support ability-based trip planning, first- and last-mile to transit planning, safety improvements and community planning.
The potential benefit is huge as more than a third of the U.S. residents have special transportation needs and taking action to improve their mobility and access increases their ability to work, go to school, access health care and engage in community; reduces transportation operations costs and enhances safety. Increasing walking and bicycling and improving access to transit will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fuel consumption, traffic congestion and support more efficient land use. Strategically enhancing pedestrian safety through the use of better data will help reduce the risk of fatal and disabling incidents and associated trauma, health care and liability costs.