Sidewalks are essential to safely get to transit, especially for people with disabilities, seniors, and youth. But it can be tough for cities and transit agencies to assess the conditions of the hundreds of miles of sidewalk and paths around a region.

“We’ve been very car-centric,” said Matthew Weidner, King County Metro Senior Transit Planner. “We have really good data on roads—what intersections look like, road conditions, places where you turn. But then when you think about the data everyday people have about sidewalks in their neighborhoods, there exists a huge amount of uncertainty.”

To gather better information to improve pedestrian safety and transit access, King County Metro joined our Access paratransit contractor, MV Transportation, to develop CommonPaths. This new technology recently received the “Innovative Solutions Award” from METRO Magazine, an official voice of the national transit industry. The award honors transit agencies that have developed projects that save money, streamline operations, increase safety, improve customer satisfaction, or increase ridership.

CommonPaths was created by leveraging research conducted at the University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Computing Technology. The system provides powerful tools for agencies to collect and distribute high-fidelity pathway data in OpenSidewalks. Because the system uses an OpenStreetMaps collaborative framework, agencies can reap the benefits from contributions by other agencies, jurisdictions, and the public to the OpenStreetMap platform. This dramatically reduces the effort to collect and maintain up-to-date information.

Weidner sees tremendous long-term possibilities for CommonPaths, including:

  • Enabling pedestrians to receive personalized turn-by-turn GPS directions based upon their abilities with the same level of detail now available for car travel.
  • Increasing equity by making it safer and easier for the disabled and others to access transit.
  • Helping cities, towns, and other jurisdictions understand sidewalk conditions in their areas and precisely targeting investments to improve pedestrian accessibility.
  • Allowing jurisdictions to collaborate on pedestrian and transit accessibility projects more easily and to clearly understand accessibility barriers for pedestrians.

Though Metro and our partners are at the beginning of gathering and utilizing this data, we can’t wait to see how it will help us improve pedestrian transit accessibility in our communities!