It’s easy to look around most American cities and guess (correctly) where most of our transportation infrastructure funding is spent: on auto-oriented projects. As transportation infrastructure became more complex and within the purview of the public sector, planners and engineers developed the data and methodologies we needed to track what infrastructure exists and how it’s being used. This information guides policy decisions about where to invest resources.
However, we rarely have this kind of data for active transportation like biking and walking. This lack of data puts active transportation at a disadvantage when it’s time to allocate resources; after all, how do you argue for more sidewalks or prioritize where to put resources when you can’t demonstrate where the existing gaps and strengths are in the network? Following the “what gets measured gets done” logic, auto-oriented uses are better equipped to demonstrate need because they have data, perpetuating a cycle of auto-focused spending.
Over the last few months, PlaceMatters has been working with our friends at Walk Denver on a new tool for crowdsourcing data about the existing conditions and usage of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure. The concept behind WALKscope is simple: drop a pin on a map, and then answer a few questions about pedestrian counts, street quality, or intersection quality.
At the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last month, we were able to test it out in the field with 30 participants in a mobile workshop. Participants were given a quick tour of the tool, some maps showing them where to canvas, and then they were sent out into the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Denver. After about 30 minutes, we’d covered several blocks.
When participants returned, we pulled up the map and groups were able to report out on the data they’d just collected, including the pictures they took. Cool.
We then got down to my favorite part, a usability review of the tool. Overall, the comments were really positive. Some of the pluses:
- responsive design: because it’s designed for use with mobile devices, the interface for collecting data was really easy to use in the field.
- pictures: incorporating pictures is really helpful for adding detail to what is otherwise a pretty basic survey of the area
- conversation starter: several folks mentioned that neighborhood residents asked them what they were up to, and a couple of those residents even asked how they could get involved and pitch in.
and the most common requests/issues:
- more categories: it’s always tricky balancing the desire for precision with the need to generalize categories to make the data manageable. We got some helpful feedback on refining our current ways of categorizing sidewalks and intersections.
- ped counter interface: one of the best ideas we heard was to add a clicker feature to the ped counter option so people could just tick off a new pedestrian each time they saw one rather than remembering the total and updating it at the end. I love this idea; definitely something we’d like to implement.
- user access: currently you can sign in via twitter or facebook, but people understandably would love to be able to have persistent sign-in so they could log a bunch of data points and have a user account keep up with it all for them.
So what’s next for WALKscope? If you’re in Denver, it’s up and ready for you to use it! We’ll be doing some data visualizations and other reporting from the work we’re doing with Walk Denver, and we’re talking with other organizations who are interested in using it. If you’d like more info on the tool, let us know!
PS: A huge amount of credit is due to the folks at OpenPlans for developing Shareabouts, the platform on which WALKscope is built.