Mapping Website Gives Public Direct Role in Trail Project

April 09, 2009

Everyone communicates, and we do it to exchange information. Some of it is important (e.g., these are the directions to the hospital) and some is not (e.g., my dog’s name is Beef). When information exchange is important, when we need to be certain we make it to the hospital, introducing structure to the exchange of information becomes significant; would you trust your Uncle Roy for directions, or would you trust Google Maps? This structure—using software to ensure information clarity or validity—is valuable because it can generate complete directions to the hospital while also framing the information in a way that is most useful. The directions come with maps to visualize the route and provide relative language, such as “turn right in 200 feet.”

In the transportation field, KAI communicates with the public regularly to learn more about a project, an area, and the public’s desires, wishes, and perceived problems. Traditionally, open houses are set up, mailers sent, and feedback is solicited by phone or email. The central issue with all of these options is that they don’t structure a response—people can tell you what they feel is critical, which may or may not be important to the project or the recipient of the information. This leads to lost opportunities and time wasted deciphering, clarifying, and putting information into a useful format.

KAI recently led a project in Tigard, Oregon, aimed at improving bicycle and pedestrian connectivity by linking streets and trails with off-street paths. One of our first steps was to identify the existing network of informal trails to get a full view of how they are being used throughout the city. We crafted an experiment: a mapping website where the public could draw lines on the map itself and add information about trails. Additionally, participants could see all of the lines drawn by others. The response was overwhelmingly positive; because people could see where others had drawn lines, more than 50 unique lines were drawn and the site attracted more than 500 page views during the study period. Our database stored the exact latitude/longitudes of the beginning and end of the trails—not Uncle Roy’s directions of, “thirty feet left of Fanno Creek Park next to the yellow house.” Structuring certain communication through the Internet, whether it’s requesting locations of off-street paths or getting directions to the hospital, can help improve the quality of that communication between individuals and organizations. It also saves time; Uncle Roy was able to clearly give his directions; He drew it for us!

Of course, this is just one instance in which software enabled more valuable information exchange. We encourage you to consider how you or your organization can benefit from framing your communication in a more useful format.

To view the Tigard Neighborhood Trails Plan website, please visit Tigard Trails.

To see more examples of KAI’s communication projects, please visit Kittelson Projects.

Written by Kyle Meyer

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