While many people use Google Maps and other navigation tools to plan their rail transit trips through a city, these apps and websites often lack important information about the extent access of a particular station. That’s a problem for people who use elevators, including those with mobility impairments, pregnant people, and commuters with heavy equipment like suitcases or bicycles.
Researchers at the University of Washington have developed UnlockedMaps, a web-based map that allows users to see in real time how accessible rail transit stations are over six metro area: Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto, New York and the California Bay Area. The UnlockedMaps map shows which stations are accessible and which stations are experiencing elevator problems. The team collected elevator downtime data from more than 2,300 transfer stations over the past two years to build the system.
The researchers will present their findings on October 24 at the ASSETS 2022 Conference on Computing and Accessibility.
UW News asked lead author Ather Sharif, a UW PhD student in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, to share the details.
What is the inspiration behind UnlockedMaps?
Ather Sharif: First, people who rely on elevators, such as those using wheelchairs, don’t currently have a map-based tool available to know if there is a real-time elevator breakdown in a home certain throttle or not. So these commuters often just show up at train stations, find that the elevators aren’t working, and then have to find an alternative way to get around, which can lead to missing important appointments. important or even destroy them.
Second, the history of elevator outages is not found everywhere. We have documented lift failures over the past 28 months in these metro areas. The data can be used by developers, disability advocates and policy makers for a variety of purposes, including shedding light on how often elevators stop working and when their correction to determine the disparity between neighborhoods in a given city.
How did you get started with UnlockedMaps?
AS: In 2014, a good friend and I developed a tool called UnlockPhilly at a hackathon. It’s the same idea, except it’s limited to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, UnlockPhilly is no longer an active project, but it inspired us to build UnlockedMaps targeting six different major city areas and as an active research project for we.
Why did you choose these areas?
AS: I’ve lived in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Seattle, so those are brainless people. It’s a way to give back to the community. The other three became part of the project because developers from those cities reached out and wanted to contribute to give back to their communities. I’m excited to be in more cities, and the work for that has already begun.
How it works?
AS: We scan the websites of the transportation authorities and receive updates on elevator incidents on an hourly basis. We are working to increase our computing resources to fetch data more often.
What does an “unreachable” station mean compared to an elevator outage?
AS: Unfortunately most of the stations are inaccessible. This means there is no elevator or ramp for people using wheelchairs to access the platform. To make them accessible, the local city government will need to work with transportation authorities to undertake the construction of the necessary ramps or installation of elevators. And that, in my experience, is a painfully slow process.
UnlockedMaps also contains information about nearby restaurants and restrooms. Why?
AS: I think restaurants and restrooms are two of the most common things people look for when planning their commute. But no other map really lets you filter them out by accessibility. You have to click on each restaurant separately and check if it is accessible, using Google Maps. With UnlockedMaps, all that information is there!
For your study, you recruited 34 participants who were identified as members of the following groups: mobility impaired, pregnant, cyclist/stroller/device commuter heavy, member of the disability advocacy group and citizen hacker. These participants interacted with UnlockedMaps in their major city area for at least 20 minutes. What is their reaction?
AS: People love it. They love that we finally have something that focuses on accessibility. Of course, there’s still room to grow and features to roll out. In our research, people suggested creating an app for the system and adding route planning features. We are working on those proposals.
Are there next steps for this project?
AS: Yes! First, we are expanding to other cities and Tokyo is next on our list.
The data that we are collecting here is invaluable. We can study the accessibility of urban rail transit systems between cities, countries and even continents. We are in progress long term study to understand how people use the tool and will use our findings to improve the system.
I want to say one more thing about equity. While Google Maps and other tools are great, why did it take us so long to understand that our infrastructure is not decentralized? We really hope that this tool and the data we contribute can provide some transparency on the inequality aspects of our cities.
Ather Sharif UnlockedMaps: Visualize the real-time accessibility of urban rail transport with web-based maps, ASSETS 2022 Conference on Computing and Accessibility Proceedings (In 2022). DOI: 10.1145 / 3517428.3550397
University of Washington
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