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Geospatial researchers assist local planners through participatory mapping surveys


BLACKSBURG, Va., Dec. 8, 2009 – The New River Valley Bicycle Association, Town of Blacksburg, and Virginia Tech's Center for Geospatial Information Technology are working together to provide a Web-based mapping survey, where cyclists are asked to document their routes and daily commutes.

The data being collected will help identify what transportation infrastructure should be improved to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. Planners say they hope to provide improved, contiguous routes through downtown, to make getting around by bike more appealing.

The survey website was created by the Center for Geospatial Information Technology for the benefit of providing participants with an easy-to-use and intuitive process for contributing their data. “Crowdsourced websites like this allow many more people to get involved in the generation of knowledge, but this shouldn’t lessen the importance of traditional forms of public participation in local planning processes,” states Thomas Dickerson, research associate at the center.

“Local knowledge is a valuable source of information on a given topic of research,” explains Peter Sforza, director of the center, “This project is providing insights into the broader research questions regarding crowdsourcing systems … understanding the uncertainties and variability of the data collected, and how it relates to traditional sources.” This project, and others like it, is helping the center’s researchers understand the capabilities and limitations of participatory science as a trusted instrument for data collection in their research work.

Once the data is collected and carefully considered, it is expected to provide information on riders’ points of origin and destination, the most traveled route from high density origins to common destinations, preference for in-road, shared-use, or off-road riding, and requests for additional amenities such as lockers or bike racks to facilitate users’ commutes. Town officials began accepting comments November 2009. Assessment of the Web-based survey is currently underway.

"The Town of Blacksburg is excited to see the response to the survey. With this information we hope to better serve our community with improvements to those bike routes desired and regularly used by our citizens," remarked Priscilla Cygielnik, assistant director of public works for the Town of Blacksburg, "The town is very thankful to Virginia Tech for providing a tremendous new resource in public polling. This technology facilitates a larger reach to our community and will hopefully result in data to help prioritize those facilities most used and desired.”

The New River Valley Bicycle Association, sponsor of this mapping project, is dedicated to providing bicycle activities to promote health, recreation, and transportation and working through education and advocacy to promote a more bicycle friendly environment.

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