Confronting Issues with Sidewalk Infrastructure
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our relationship with exercise. Some folks who used to use gym treadmills as their main source of exercise now avoid these locations for fear of catching or spreading the virus. Many people are now working from home and spend extended period sitting in the same chair. This poses a public health risk as studies from the American Cancer society have linked extended periods of sitting with early mortality. What solution have people turned to? Walking and running on their local sidewalks and trails! Sidewalks present an easy solution where most people can leave their homes and use connected pathways to explore their neighbourhoods. However, issues with surface quality can impact the accessibility of these pathways. Let us take a closer look at some of these issues and what can be done to address them.
Surface Quality Problems
The image above showcases a common problem on sidewalks where cracks or an uneven surface have formed. While the example above is a relatively mild case on a single sidewalk square, more extreme cases can result in tripping hazards or other obstacles that may cause serious injury. Additionally, this type of hazard can seriously impact the accessibility of this section of sidewalk for those with mobility concerns making it harder for them to navigate the urban environment.
Some residential streets are completely missing sidewalks on both sides of the street. While some residents can walk on the road, those who use mobility devices or have mobility concerns may find this more challenging. Furthermore, it generally increases the risk of pedestrians being hit by a car which could lead to long term health complications. Therefore, it is important to identify where these issues exist.
In downtown areas we see a lack of surface quality issues but can face other problems associated with obstacles on the sidewalk. In the image above an electrical box has been placed directly on the sidewalk. This not only narrows the sidewalk, forcing people to squeeze past one another, but also creates an unevenness on the sidewalk. This has serious implication for pedestrians that use mobility assistance devices such as walkers or wheelchairs as it means they are limited in the space available. Other obstacles include a lack of curb cuts that create unsafe or uncrossable areas.
What are the Solutions?
Problems with sidewalks can create an unsafe environment for pedestrians. Therefore, it is important to be able to identify these issues. However, diagnosing and identifying problems can be labor intensive and expensive. Therefore, GeoMate has worked to develop AI algorithms that can identify sidewalk obstacles, such as power boxes, fire hydrants, poles, and surface quality issues such as cracks. This provides cities with information needed to make informed decisions about upgrading sidewalks and planning future infrastructure products. With this information we can make sidewalks a safer and more accessible experience for everyone!