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Walk this way

Pilot study focuses on sidewalk condition

Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development community planners Ryan Soucy, left, and Ben DuBois use an application on a cellular phone and a portable Global Positioning System (GPS) device to map a “poor” section of sidewalk along Silver Street in Negaunee on Monday. CUPPAD is collecting information on sidewalk conditions using the high-tech method as part of a pilot program to work toward infrastructure improvements. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

NEGAUNEE — American author Jane Jacobs once wrote, “Streets and their sidewalks — the main public places of a city — are its most vital organs.”

A Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development pilot project to map city of Negaunee sidewalks seems to echo Jacobs’ sentiment.

In order to evaluate and map the condition of the city’s sidewalks, the two-part program applies concepts similar to a Pavement Surface and Evaluation Rating, or PASER, system, CUPPAD Community Planner Ryan Soucy said during an interview Monday.

“The first part is mapping the city’s non-motorized system and providing recommendations for new policy, master plan updates and ordinance changes that can improve safety and facilitate changes and connectivity among the community and improving walkability,” Soucy said. “The second part is looking at our sidewalk infrastructure and understanding what condition that infrastructure is in, and then recommending — helping the city to prioritize what those improvements are, what’s needed most, so they can integrate that into their capital improvements plan and decide what they want to fix first along with everything else.”

The two-part project is called the Complete and Connected Initiative.

A damaged sidewalk is seen along Silver Street in Negaunee. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

Ben DuBois, a geographic information system specialist and community planner with CUPPAD, has spent the better part of two weeks mapping Negaunee sidewalks with Soucy using a GPS unit and wireless phone application to send real-time information to the cloud.

He said the app allows him to choose sidewalk conditions such as poor, fair and excellent.

“We can also identify it as earthen if there is dirt in there that needs to be removed, and vegetation improvements — like if trees are in the way, if they should be kind of cut down and removed … You can add pictures and do a lot with it,” DuBois said of the app. “We are just doing the sidewalks, getting that in and we made a little bit of a standard as to what defines a poor, fair or excellent.”

The collection side of the pilot program, which is being supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Redevelopment Ready Communities initiative and the Michigan Department of Treasury, was expected to be completed early this week.

“Walkability is important because it is a key factor in what people are looking for in places to live,” Soucy said. “And what makes this really cool is it’s two initiatives coming together. It’s the city’s pursuit of Redevelopment Ready Communities’ complete streets requirement and the treasury is interested in the asset management side of things — but they have this sort of overlap where they both kind of cross paths.”

Negaunee City Manager Nate Heffron said he expects the project to give the city a broader base of knowledge to draw from.

“We have continuously relied on a list of sidewalks that need repairs, but not really a comprehensive list, in my opinion,” Heffron said. “The city is extremely excited about this program, which will not only provide a map that you can look at but maybe also how much that is going to cost overall. It should provide some sort of systematic approach to getting these sidewalks taken care of.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.