It has been a quarter of a century since the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted. So it is surprising that the largest and most pervasive piece of urban infrastructure, the sidewalk network, is still largely unsuitable for people with impaired mobility. Many American cities face enormous gaps in sidewalk maintenance demands vs funding.
Briometrix has developed a solution that unites wheelchair users with municipal authorities to solve the problem.
We employ people who use wheelchairs, equip their wheelchair with the surveying technology and train them to survey the paths in the Local Government Area or precinct.
We collect data on:
- The effort required to travel the sidewalk
- The access to the roadway with curb ramps
- The access to the buildings and properties adjoining the sidewalks
- The location of amenities and services
- The sidewalk condition including cracks, heave, trip hazards and maintenance issues
- Our mobility maps use universal colors to show effort. While slope is the major source of impedance, the addition of other factors such as cross slope, surface type and condition can quickly make a sidewalk impassable. Our maps can be understood without any prior knowledge or training
- The data is the basis for an accessible routing services including public transport connections
We will survey the neighborhoods of East Austin - Cesar Chavez, Holly, Govalle, Rosewood, Chestnut and Central East Austin. We will focus on the key linkages between public transport and the major pedestrian destinations in downtown Austin. The survey will encompass areas of importance west of I-35 where jobs, recreation, medical and entertainment are located, Downtown, The Medical District, Entertainment and the recreational areas in and around the Ann and Roy Butler Bike and Hike trail bordering Lady Bird Lake.
We have chosen these areas based on local community feedback that an active lifestyle, is beneficial to healthy living. The ability to get out and interact with the community, especially for those with disabilities, is critical to their physical and mental health. Infrastructure, especially sidewalks, impacts their ability to participate in everyday parts of life, particularly in the communities that are facing dramatic cultural and economic shifts – Austin’s “Eastern Crescent” or “East Austin.” East Austin also has one of the highest percent, 15% - 20% of those with disabilities in the metropolitan area.
The Challenge has interpreted “access to healthy living” as the ability for someone to easily (i.e., safely affordably, conveniently) get to/from a location like a doctor’s office, a store with healthy food, a pharmacy, a recreational area, employment or a therapist.
All enjoy the independence with getting out into the community and having choices that fit their needs. There is a struggle to find affordable, readily accessible transit options.
We acknowledge the sidewalk issues of Austin noted in the Challenge brief, especially the East Austin:
- Sidewalks abruptly starting and ending
- Worn walking path next to a major road
- No passable sidewalks for people with disabilities
- Lack of curb ramps or curb cuts
So why Brio mapping, how can we help?
- We can comprehensively access what is present
- Provide the city ongoing vital data regarding issues so that they can determine priorities based on ADA compliance
- Monitor routes to Transport hubs, schools, medical facilities, recreation to encourage walking and wheeling
- Provide motivation to get ‘out and about’ with the Brio Go App as it tracks user fitness data specifically for Wheelchair User. Brio Go App reports on session / time out traveling activities in terms of number of strokes, effort, calories, distance, time (it is like a Fitbit for Wheelchair Users). The App also provides a personal map of each travel session
As determined by community feedback as well as numerous studies and research that walking / rolling helps relieve stress, prevents social isolation and encourage active choices.
How Austin Brio pilots will help
- Lived experience
- Selecting the best routes based on the current situations
- Providing accurate data regarding the best sections to fix that will dramatically improve connectivity (80:20 rule)
We have learned from our other city projects that with local pilots’ knowledge, they can identify targeted improvement to get the maximum value of sidewalk maintenance investment. Pilots from previous program continue to be engaged with Brio projects and report personal lifestyle changes based on the confidence gained from been a Brio pilot.
A recent Grattan Institute report found that improvements in pedestrian flows can often be achieved at low cost. It points out that a "walking audit" in London highlighted areas with the worst walking conditions. More than 100 "quick wins" were identified where inexpensive improvements could be made, which brought immense value to the overall network. We believe this can be achieve with Austin.
Brio wheelchair pilots will spearhead sidewalk network assessment for the benefit of 40% of Austin population. Brio pilots will set the benchmark, “if a wheelchair user can travel there, practically everyone else can”.
Our work will focus on making progress with alternate destinations – discovering best routes to transportation.
Trips with favourable walking distances are rare for persons with destinations outside of grocery stores or physical activities. Most personas with these alternate destinations (e.g., physical therapy, doctor’s office) will need to plan their journeys in advance to ensure they can coordinate appropriate transportation and allot sufficient travel time.
Our Effort Map will encourage people to get out and about and capitalize on sidewalk linkage to: Grocery stores, clinics, parklands for physical activity that are present throughout and adjacent to East Austin, not just downtown. As a result, trip distances and travel times to these locations are shorter and used to help encourage healthy, active lifestyle choices.
Going Outside the box
Austin’s city government has a Sidewalk Master Plan and citizen-led Pedestrian Advisory Council , which meets once a month to discuss issues relating to walkability and offers improvement suggestions to the city council. Our wheelchair community would be able to provide up to date data for any area(s) under discussion and provide a new perspective for decision making from the ‘wheeling’ community. As outlined Walkability ≠ Wheelability.
Most of the people that use the city’s transit system walk to their stations, and many others can’t afford to drive or are unable drive due to impairments. Sidewalks are an issue of not just safety, but also social justice, public health and affordability.
Recent audit (source A) has found the (1)city doesn't effectively track small-scale sidewalk projects, so some projects aren't accounted for. These projects don't always use proper inspection forms and are tracked "in a spreadsheet instead."
The audit suggests, (2)city engineers and crews need an inspection process to make sure they're in line with the state's disability access rules. Eighty-five percent of sidewalk projects were undertaken by contractors last year, and those contractors are required to follow the state's building codes to ensure accessibility. The audit says the Public Works Department doesn't have that requirement for city-designed or -constructed sidewalks.
"The Sidewalks Division has (3)no process to identify which sidewalks should receive accessibility inspections, when these inspections should happen, and how they should be documented," the audit noted.
These 3 areas noted in the Audit can all be simply and effectively address by Briometrix Footpath Intelligence program. And importantly have the ‘voice of the customer’ lived experience and knowledge integral in the process.
We work with ADA datasets, collect data with our wheelchair mounted device and apps, for the proposed 120 miles, completed in within 10 days with the Briometrix pilots. Over the next 2-3 weeks the data is processed to provide interactive maps, based on each dataset layer. This information will assist City planners, Infrastructure, Pedestrian Committee and others to identify priorities and add to your current city data.
With the additional development to the Freemium Brio Go App, provided to the community by the City of Austin, the city will have continuous Live data from the local wheelchair community, which will highlight sidewalks most frequently used, or Pilots can travel desired routes to demonstrate issues for actions.
Source (A) for points 1, 2 and 3