Walking the Line
Walking the Line
Walking the Line
2 minute read

Needed repairs of a sidewalk in a Kansas City suburb prompted the use of geospatial and global positioning system technology to inventory and mark necessary areas of focus. This allowed the city to quickly identify roads without sidewalks, and plan the project appropriately.

City leaders in Lee’s Summit, Mo., had a question. They wondered how best to allocate bond issue funds to add and repair sidewalks throughout the Kansas City suburb. Where should they start?

A unique combination of high-tech devices and old-fashioned shoe leather turned out to be the solution. The Business & Technology Services Group of Burns & McDonnell developed a database system that puts the details of sidewalk locations and conditions at the fingertips of city staff, helping them prioritize upgrades and repairs.

Two Burns & McDonnell managers and two interns walked almost 400 miles of city streets to find where new sidewalks were needed and what sidewalks required repairs.

“We put a foot on every mile,” says Bryan Claxton, Burns & McDonnell project manager. “We wanted to get information that the city could work with.”

The team logged the condition of sidewalk sections into personal tablet computers that were running a mobile geographic information system (GIS) software and equipped with digital cameras. The team noted the location of defects and photographed every defect ranging from gaps to cracks. To help the city locate these trouble spots, the location of each defect was collected with a global positioning system (GPS) device. This system allowed all 14,500 defects to be documented with photographs and a location within approximately 3-foot accuracy.

A sidewalk ranking system was developed that allowed each sidewalk section to be scored so that city officials could identify the most significant problems. “Sections with a few unsightly weeds might receive a low defect score, but the ones with significant deterioration such as 3-inch vertical faults received a high defect score,” Claxton says. “The segments were then ranked with the highest defect scores representing the sidewalks in the greatest state of disrepair.”

When the team returned from the field, the information from the tablet PCs fed into a GIS database. The GIS software was used to enable Lee’s Summit officials to see problem areas clearly across the city.

“The real success was when I could sit down with the city staff and they would ask a question regarding sidewalk condition. I could show them the answer on a screen,” he says. “For example, sidewalk sections with faults of 3 inches or more show up on the computer-generated map as red stars, making identification of priorities easy.”

But the real value of the database goes beyond showing sidewalk conditions. It includes cost estimates by lineal feet. With a quick query of the database, city staffers can estimate the cost of fixing all red stars and much more.

“They can slice and dice the information any way they need to, to make a decision,” Claxton says. The information ties into the city’s maintenance management software system for tracking city assets and issuing repair orders.

The condition assessment of the city’s existing sidewalk network was only the first component. With all the existing sidewalks accurately mapped, the GIS could be used to quickly identify roads that were missing sidewalks. These missing sidewalks were considered gaps in the sidewalk network and ranked based on their proximity to pedestrian-intensive land uses such as schools and parks. Higher ranked sidewalk gap segments are the first sidewalks that will be worked into the city’s sidewalk construction programs.

“This initial application of engineering and technology to a sidewalk system demonstrates the power that information management can provide,” Claxton says. “Now that Lee’s Summit officials know the condition of their sidewalks, they can plan improvements, and their community will be safer.”

For more information, contact Bryan Claxton, 816-822-4364.

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