LISTEN: Guensler, Walls show WABE how they’re tracking Atlanta’s sidewalk problems

Screenshot of WABE-FM website featuring Randall Guensler and Daniel Walls explaining their simple wheelchair-based system for cataloging sidewalk conditions.

With an inexpensive setup based on a wheelchair and a tablet computer, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Randall Guensler has helped Atlanta catalog 1,200 miles of sidewalks.

As residents will tell you, sometimes those paths can be a bumpy, cracked mess. But it’s difficult for cities to keep track. That’s why Guensler and his students have been working for several years on a simple system to help communities assess the condition of their sidewalks.

Their latest project includes cataloging 200 miles in Atlanta suburb Cobb County.

Along with graduate student Daniel Walls, Guensler demonstrated the system to WABE’s Stephannie Stokes:

As it rolls along, the tablet records video of the sidewalk and any rumbling the wheelchair experiences. The computer also documents the location.

Guensler’s students then review the data back at the lab to create an inventory of sidewalks — and any problems, like cracks or obstructions.

Guensler said cities can use the inventories to make sure they’re meeting federal requirements to accommodate people with disabilities.

Otherwise, local governments can face lawsuits, like Atlanta has.

The city, for its part, has said it is working to comply with federal rules. And Guensler said cities around the country — not just Atlanta — have neglected their sidewalks.

Sidewalks tend only to have a lifespan of about 40 years.

“They’re really not difficult to maintain. It’s just that we don’t consider them to be streets,” Guensler said.

In other words, cities don’t consider the sidewalks to be part of their overall transportation system.

Walls, the graduate student, said this research has made him pay more attention.

“It’s almost impossible for me to not recognize bad sidewalks now,” Walls said.

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