Transport

This New GPS Map Is Tailor-Made for City Walking

The Seattle-based app, called AccessMaps, offers pedestrians detailed route information like sidewalk interruptions and takes into account the user's level of mobility.

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There's no denying that using GPS to get from point A to point B is incredibly convenient, yet we've all found ourselves cursing Google or Apple Maps for leading us astray, the automated voice insisting "this is the fastest route," despite a 'Dead End' sign up ahead.

This situation can be equally as frustrating for pedestrians, especially for wheelchair users or others with mobility issues. Neither Google nor Apple Maps provide information on sidewalk interruptions, curb cuts or safe crossings.

A new map application in Seattle is trying to change that. AccessMaps offers pedestrians detailed route information that takes into account the user's level of mobility. It was created as part of a University of Washington program focused on municipal data.

Collecting data for maps that optimize walking routes is not an easy task. AccessMaps, which was spearheaded by the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology at UW, provides detailed information like the grade of hills and the condition of the pavement. Users can even put in their mode of mobility and set limits on how steep of an incline they can handle.

Most map applications focus on things like traffic density and finding the fastest route, but very few identify barriers for pedestrians.

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"Identifying routes that optimize not for time or distance but for things like changes in elevation and curb cuts is a really big and important change," said Anat Caspi, one of the project's leads, in the UW news release.

The team also launched a website called OpenSidewalks that will eventually crowdsource pedestrian route information from users in real-time. Their plan is to include information on everything from pathways blocked by construction, to ramp and handrail access to whether there is adequate lighting along the way.

"We hope to be able to crowdsource all kinds of information that relates to accessibility," said grad student Nick Bolten, the project's other lead, said in the release. "Where a sidewalk may be cracked or buckled because of a tree root, other obstacles, inclines, lighting, how smooth the surface is, whether there's tactile paving."

Eventually the platform will be rolled out in 10 other major cities including, New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Pittsburgh, Denver, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

The team is also working on a crowdsourced global mapping project called OpenStreetMap, which will allow users to provide up-to-date street conditions in cities all over the world.

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