Field-testing safe walking routes methodology

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go out in the field with my colleagues Molly Earle and Bryce Gartrell to do a little pre-test of a routing methodology that figures prominently in one of our current projects. We are in the process of helping the Portland Public School system  update their approach for determining safe walking routes to each of their elementary and middle-schools. I will dive into details of the methodology at a later date, but since it is still something that we are developing, discussion on that topic would be a bit premature at this point.

Yesterday’s field-check was a valued opportunity to assess how well our conceptual modeling and manipulations of data are capturing real-world factors that impact walking safety. Armed with old-school plotted maps and iPads alike, we traced a number of sample walking routes, observing in peripatetic fashion some of the strengths of the current routing solution and some of the areas where tuning and expansion may be required.  Braving rain showers, we logged several miles while closely assessing the effects of giving different weighting levels to different variables used to calculate routes.

Our test school is Rieke Elementary School in Southwest Portland, which somewhat uniquely combines a broad variety of terrain, traffic, infrastructure, and neighborhood conditions. Narrow, curvy streets that spill down steep hillsides, broad, multi-lane boulevards bustling with traffic and commercial activity, and sylvan, relatively flat and gridded subdivisions — Rieke has a bit of everything that occurs within the Portland Public School system.   Many of the residential areas from which students access the school were developed in the post-WWII years, a time when automobile ownership was skyrocketing, and streetcars were no longer a ubiquitous sight in Portland. As a result, there are far more dead-end roads and even fewer with sidewalks. For these reasons, Rieke is a great test area and quite a challenge.  (Someone among us also observed that our routes had us strolling past several brew pubs and offered that that could be counted among the benefits of selecting Rieke is a testing spot).  If we can solve routing at Rieke, it seems that most other schools should be significantly easier to work out.

It was nice to get out and see something materialize out of what has been conceptual for the past several months. While testing is a common feature of our work, I really enjoyed the opportunity for “real world” testing that this excursion provided. We will soon be going back to Rieke and undertaking a more extensive and formalized approach to testing our routing solution following some refinements that are being made based on yesterday’s experience.  As I promised, once we have finalized the methodology, which is intended to be one that is repeatable and that should transfer well to other areas, we will share more information and details.