22 Aug 2014
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Broken Sidewalks: Mapping Out the Scope of the Problem

Georgia Tech professor gets grant to create database of city streets.

Broken Sidewalks: Mapping Out the Scope of the Problem

Atlanta has 2,500 miles of sidewalks.

And according to Richard Mendoza, Atlanta's public works commissioner, about half of them are in some state of disrepair.

To what degree, though, is unknown. Georgia Tech, which was awarded a two-year transportation grant for a sidewalk database, aims to find out.

The $400,000 grant, awarded by the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center at the University of Florida and the U.S. Department of Transportation , will help Tech researchers create visual inventories of every stretch of sidewalk in Atlanta and create an index on their physical condition.

It comes as the city begins to push enforcement of an existing ordinance that puts the responsibility of maintenance and repair of a given stretch of sidewalk on the owner of the property it touches.

The goal is to be able to create a database that will help public works planners and other city officials be able to deploy resources toward the most serious problems and improve pedestrians' quality of life, said Randall Guensler, a professor in Tech's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Guensler and his team developed an Android platform-based tool on a tablet that will be attached to wheelchairs.

Volunteers will push the wheelchairs on the sidewalks and the tablet will record videos of the sidewalks.

The tablet program also will record the vibrations of the wheelchair as it's being pushed to create an index on the quality of the sidewalk in terms of its condition and assign it score based on a scale of 1 (needs replacement) to 5 (doesn't need replacement).

Eventually, the idea is to create an inventory of 13 core metro Atlanta counties, Guensler told East Atlanta Patch.

"For Atlanta, the end goal is an inventory of all the sidewalks," he said.

The team already has done about 50 sidewalk segments to create a benchmark index against which the rest of the city will be measured.

The state of Atlanta's sidewalks is an issue citywide and no area is immune. Guensler said it's not entirely clear which area of the city is the worst.

"It's tough to tell right now," he said, noting Virginia-Highland, his own neighborhood, has a number of problem sidewalks. "It really is kind of hit-or-miss in different places in the city."

The data collection, which will start later this year, will focus first on streets and along bus routes, transit stations and schools — all areas heavy with foot traffic.

Another part of the research team will be tasked with doing comparative analyses of other regions of the country to gauge the depth of Atlanta's problem relative to metro areas across the nation.

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