Tuesday, February 15, 2011

App for Unshoveled Sidewalks

City sidewalks can be hazardous in the winter,  if you rely on alternative transportation you will know this.  You have to deal with large puddles, slippery ice, mountainous snow drifts, and anti-shovelled walkways.  Making your way through this obstacle course can be quite physically demanding at times, for a young person even never mind an 80-year-old granny.  Do you ever wonder why you do not see as many elders on the sidewalks in the winter, it could be that they simply can't take the physical toll on their aging bodies.  I have seen a individual in a power wheelchair launch themselves over the curb, due to the ramp being shut in with snow.  City infrastructure is not very age/disability friendly, and it will never have been more necessary due to the baby boomers, the largest portion of our population entering their senior years.

I would like to see a website/phone app set up, where the citizens can instantaneously relay information concerning the state of our sidewalks.  We right now rely on a phone system (311), which is set up by the municipality to provide information and catalogue complaints.  However this sort of system has a sort of hollow empty feel to it, as you never know if the operator you spoke with actually cared enough to lodge your complaint.  The 311 system is often tedious, and well bureaucratic which tends to deter complaints since people have better things to do than wait on the phone for 10 minutes every time.  You never get the satisfactory visual feedback that the problem is actually being considered and corrected. 

The app would be designed such that you can utilize the phones built in GPS at the touch of a button, or by manually pinpointing the problematic sidewalk location later on your computer.  The app would be designed to change the color and hue of the location, the more that people pinpoint the location.  Once some one had marked the location, the map would place a green marker, however if someone else passed by and noticed the same problem, they would pull out there phone and notice that the location has already been pinpointed.  They would pinpoint the location as well, adding to the identification of the problem, the color the marker would change to yellow, until eventually when the location has been picked by 10 people the point would change to a glaring red.  The map would also be useful as people that are walking around can take a look at the map to see whether a path has been cleared.

On the other end city planners would then have a huge swath of information available at their fingertips, and they didn't need to send roving fleets out to locate these hazards.  A city employee would be able to check the map daily or hourly, and they would know where there would be hip breaking ice.  When the city has 24-7 real time information, they can actually do something about these problems.  The city can then look at whether it is their responsibility or whether the sidewalk hugs a residential property.  If the sidewalk sits in front of a home owners property, they can then find their phone number and explain the citizen's responsibilities. 

The city can also collect the data over a range of time, and can see whether certain sections are consistently causing the same problem due to fresh snow, thawing, old-broken sidewalks, bad designs or neglectful property owners.  If a citizen is consistently neglecting to care for their sidewalk, the city would know this now.  The city would then have the proof to implement fines, or find out whether it is a senior that does not have the physical strength to clear a foot of snow.  If a specific section of sidewalk is consistently forming ice, city planners can find out why since they now it is constantly happening.  They can find out whether it is due to the sidewalk sloping down for a driveway entrance, or it is due to windrows encroaching on sidewalk space.  They would have the information they didn't before and could make an informed decision with limited resources.

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