The genius behind the city's latest GIS (geospatial information systems) project is that it's based on such a simple concept: Understanding a problem is the first step in solving it.
The city has been building sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian ramps for a very long time. And for a very long time, the process by which it's done this work went something like this: See a problem, fix a problem.
But as the city strives to become more pedestrian-friendly, city leaders believe they've found a better way. First step: Figure out where the sidewalks, ramps and crosswalks are.
Don't smirk. Believe it or not, lots of cities don't have this information mapped out.
"You do what you can afford, and a lot of these cross-departmental kind of things fell through the cracks," says Bill Hulse, the city's manager of GIS services.
In the '80s, only Colorado Springs Utilities was using GIS, to map utility lines. The city didn't start exploring the technology until the mid-'90s. Now, Hulse says, it's used for everything from helping firefighters find the nearest hydrant to mapping city zoning.
Kristin Bennett, senior transportation planner, has spent a year working with college students and recent graduates (plus $30,000 in capital-improvement funds) to create a "pedestrian facilities inventory."
Under Bennett's guidance, aerial photos of the city have been digitized. Bright lines show crosswalks, ramps and sidewalks. The click of a mouse can bring up more information: Is it a school crosswalk or a regular crosswalk? What kind of ramp is it?
Icons link to 360-degree street-level images, all gathered by a van that drove every Springs street with cameras on its roof.
The map (more precisely called a "geo database") is nearly complete. The city aims to use it to strategize ways to make getting around without a car easier for the public.
The map has other purposes as well. It's a tool for traffic engineering staff who look for safe walking routes for school children. Mountain Metropolitan Transit uses it to can see which bus stops are accessible to people with disabilities.
"It's a tool that even a developer, an architect and private-sector employees could use," Bennett says, noting that in time, the city could make it available to those and other parties.
For now, though, it's using GIS to gauge its pedestrian-friendliness, as well as costs for improvements and to determine which areas to update first.
Geoff Ames, of the Rocky Mountain Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center, a clearinghouse for American Disabilities Act-related information, hopes the city can create more "connectivity." For instance, four miles of great sidewalk doesn't mean much to someone with a walker if one block is damaged.
"[The plan] is at least setting up some sort of scope for the whole process," he says. "I think in the past, it has kind of been the squeaky-wheel approach."
Dan Cleveland, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition and chair of the Citizen Transportation Advisory Board, wants to help people use trails and sidewalks, and says the plan could help encourage people to bike, walk or use public transportation. The ultimate goal, he says, is to make the entire city accessible to alternative transportation.
Craig Casper, transportation director for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, which will secure funding for improvements, says PPACG is already using the map to prioritize projects first aimed at safety (such as protecting kids around schools), and facilitating walking where it's practical, such as in neighborhoods where lots of people walk to work.