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2009 News Releases

Longwood class surveys accessibility of Farmville sidewalks

April 21, 2009

Longwood class surveys accessibility of Farmville sidewalks A Longwood class that did a GPS-based street survey of Farmville’s sidewalks, taught by Dr. Walter Witschey (2nd from left), was given a tour of the Town’s 911 emergency communications center by Town Manager Gerry Spates (left) and Gilbert Wood, the center’s director, and dispatcher Christy Kernodle (both seated).

Students in a Longwood University earth science/geography class recently conducted a study in which they examined the accessibility of Farmville's sidewalks.

The Global Positioning System (GPS)-based street survey by an Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class identified areas with and without sidewalks, as well as noting obstacles, especially for the handicapped, in existing sidewalks. The students presented their findings to the Farmville Town Council during its April 8 meeting, along with recommendations as a basis for future capital projects.

"We wanted to do something that would benefit the community," said Dr. Walter Witschey, professor of anthropology and science education, who teaches the class. "We surveyed four areas in the Town, mostly residential areas adjacent to campus, to see where there were sidewalks and where there weren't sidewalks. Where there were sidewalks, we wanted to know if there were any impediments to handicap or pedestrian use; for example, obstacles or no curb cut for wheelchairs."

A team of three or four students was assigned to each of the four areas, which total 1.5 square miles. They used GPS units, hand-held radio receivers slightly larger than a cell phone, that take a digital reading of that person's location, accurate to within six feet. "When we found a problem, we clicked on it," said Jeffrey Ravenhorst. Then, back in the GIS lab in the Chichester Science Center, they used computer software to create color-coded maps indicating the presence or absence of sidewalks and what they identified as problems.

The surveyed area that had "the most opportunities for improvement" was the one with the greatest concentration of Longwood students living there, which includes Buffalo, Beech, Redford, North, Oak and Grove streets and Lancer Park apartments, the study found. Recommended changes in this area, just north of campus, include access ramps for the handicapped, changes in sidewalks accessible only by staircase, and the addition of sidewalks on Grace and Appomattox streets, to remove the need for students in Lancer Park to walk in the street on the way to campus.

Among recommended changes elsewhere were widening narrow sidewalks blocked by telephone poles every few hundred feet, improving sidewalks with no access for people in a wheelchair or using a walker, changing sidewalks with no wheelchair ramps, and removing obstructions such as trash cans on sidewalks. One of the study's recommendations is that the sidewalks on East Third Street be extended from the former YMCA building to the entrance to Sunchase apartments, which would generate various benefits from increased foot traffic.

The data could be used to "better the sidewalks and accessibility for the residents," the study says. "We acknowledge that there is always a question of funding a project but we would hope that our suggestions would be taken into consideration when budget funding arises."

Witschey commended the Town manager, Gerry Spates, for his helpfulness with the project. "Mr. Spates visited the class; he facilitated the presentation to Council and introduced the class to them; and he extended an invitation for the class to visit the Town 911 emergency call center, a major use of GIS information for the Town," Witschey said. "Also, the Town Council was most attentive to the presentation, commented to the students in ways that provided new information, and seemed genuinely pleased to receive the data."

Spates said afterward, "We enjoyed having the students attend, and they did a great job with their presentation. We will take their recommendations into consideration."

In their fieldwork, the students had to contend with the snowfall in early March that closed local schools for several days. "Some of us marched through the snow!" said Jennifer Couch with a laugh. Added Ravenhorst, "The last couple of times, some of us couldn't find the sidewalks."

Couch and Ravenhorst, along with fellow students Jeremy Bersch and Stephen Coleman, made the presentation at the Town Council meeting, which was attended by 10 students from the class. The project, which took about three weeks, received some funding through Longwood from the American Democracy Project.