Take a walk on a number of streets in Virginia-Highland, and you'll notice the deplorable condition and dangers they pose to pedestrians and joggers, dads pushing strollers or those with physical handicaps.
The neighborhood's sidewalk problem — chronicled last year in a Virginia-Highland—Druid Hills Patch special report — isn't lost on Randall Guensler, who lives in the community and is a professor at Georgia Tech in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Guensler secured a $400,000, two-year grant from the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center at the University of Florida and the U.S. Department of Transportation to create a database of Atlanta's sidewalk infrastructure and physical condition.
The city has 2,500 miles of sidewalks and it's estimated that about half of them are in some state of disrepair.
Guensler and his team developed an Android platform-based tool on a tablet that will be attached to wheelchairs.
"For Atlanta, the end goal is an inventory of all the sidewalks," he said.
Volunteers will push the wheelchairs on the sidewalks and the tablet will record videos of the sidewalks.
The tablet program also will record the vibrations of the wheelchair as it's being pushed to create an index on the quality of the sidewalk in terms of its condition and assign it score based on a scale of 1 (needs replacement) to 5 (doesn't need replacement).
The goal is to be able to create a database that will help public works planners and other city officials be able to deploy resources toward the most serious problems and improve pedestrians' quality of life.
It comes as the city begins to push enforcement of an existing ordinance that puts the responsibility of maintenance and repair of a given stretch of sidewalk on the owner of the property it touches.
Eventually, the idea is to create an inventory of 13 core metro Atlanta counties, Guensler told Patch.
The team already has done about 50 sidewalk segments to create a benchmark index against which the rest of the city will be measured.
The state of Atlanta's sidewalks is an issue citywide and no area is immune. Guensler said it's not entirely clear which area of the city is the worst.
"It's tough to tell right now," he said. "It really is kind of hit-or-miss in different places in the city."
The data collection, which will start later this year, will focus first on streets and along bus routes, transit stations and schools — all areas heavy with foot traffic.
Another part of the research team will be tasked with doing comparative analyses of other regions of the country to gauge the depth of Atlanta's problem relative to metro areas across the nation.