Sidewalk Survey App Walks Away with IT Innovation Award

Gary Ross (left) and Mikel Haas (right)

Gary Ross (left) and Mikel Haas (right)

Our 2016 IT Innovator of the Year is helping to make the County more pedestrian-friendly.

Gary Ross, a senior GIS analyst, was recognized earlier this month for creating an app that greatly streamlined an evaluation of the walkability of more than 800 miles in the County’s unincorporated area.

In July 2015, the Department of Public Works was tasked with evaluating existing sidewalks and pathways around areas such as parks, schools, libraries, shopping centers and community centers. It required surveyors walk all those miles to examine and record the conditions. But rather than have them log observations in the field then re-enter the info back at the office, DPW teamed up with Ross in Land Use & Envirnoment Group's GIS unit to customize an existing software application to capture survey data in the field. So now there’s an app for that!

“I listened to what DPW needed and modified the app to collect the data we truly needed,” said Ross. “Surveyors could easily gather information on sidewalk materials, widths, grades, obstacles, driveway cuts and ramps along County-maintained roadways.”

A prototype of the app was developed over six weeks and tested by staff in Alpine over the summer. During testing, staff identified missing field entry options and coordinated with the LUEG GIS team to further enhance the app.

With the final app version completed and in hand, literally, four contract surveyors walked the routes with tablets and entered data into the app. The exact geolocation was determined with the use of a high power GPS unit connected to the tablet. Surveyors shared data collected daily with DPW through Wi-Fi and in just seven months all 800+ miles were covered.

In addition, the app helped increase accuracy of the recorded data and cut the labor costs for processing it.

Chief Information Officer Mikel Haas said the survey seemed overwhelming in scope—but with this application went from a “slog to a sprint.”

“Obviously a couple of field workers with clipboards wasn’t going to cut it,” said Haas.

Haas said that by sharing ideas, collaborating between departments, thinking innovatively, and using knowledge and skill, Ross came up with a solution and that makes him the IT Innovator of the Year.

The survey results were just the first step for DPW. The department has used the data to create a priority project master list and sidewalk improvements started last month. Crews began patch work on existing sidewalks throughout the County.

In addition, DPW has used the analysis results to apply for grant funding. It recently received notice that it was awarded a $7 million Caltrans grant for pedestrian and bicycle lane improvements in Lakeside.