The Road Less Traveled: How Students Used Mapillary and OpenStreetMap to Highlight Accessibility Issues in Their City

This is a guest post by a group of engineering students at the Costa Rica Institute of Technology, showing the importance of individual mappers in getting the less common perspective when evaluating mobility conditions in cities around the world.

As the final project of the course “Computer and Society” at the Costa Rica Institute of Technology, we, a group of software engineering students, decided to carry out a mapping exercise for the common good experience. Since the purpose of the course is to discuss, understand, and research the social impact of tech, we decided to embark on a mapping exercise and capture data that would later be added to OpenStreetMap to raise awareness about pedestrian accessibility.

To focus the exercise further, we targeted common passage areas and their accessibility for people with disabilities. Given that the Heredia #CompletetheMap challenge was on its way, that’s where we decided to do the mapping, with the nine of us splitting into groups to cover as much of the city as possible.

Engineering students mapping for accessibility Diego, María José, Roger, Erin, Andrea, Carlos Villalobos, Kenneth, Carlos Mario, and Kenneth before the mapping experience

We used Mapillary to capture imagery and save our coordinates, and OSMTracker to make a trace of the whole path being mapped. We mainly focused on the state of ramps and sidewalks, the position of traffic signs (and whether or not they could interfere in the way of pedestrians), and the width of walking areas, considering the perspective of people in wheelchairs or with crutches.

The role of mappers in evaluating accessibility—some of our key learnings

Andrea Abarca and Carlos Villalobos

The mapping experience gave us the opportunity to analyze how much thought had been put into accessibility in some streets of Costa Rica. We were pleased to see that all the necessary ramps were built; however, some of them have deteriorated over time until reaching the point of disappearance. Mapping helps highlight the lack of care for the elements that help disadvantaged groups, and with Mapillary, anyone can help collect this information so that it can be accessed by the people who actually need it to take action.

Diego Tenorio Solis and Maria Jose Vargas Boniche

Going through the sidewalk, we noticed that every single corner had an access ramp, but sadly, not all of them were in a good state. Some had cracks and others were not wide enough for a wheelchair, showing that they were not planned properly. Many people need them in their daily life, but even when they’re there, they’re not always fit for purpose. The mapping experience opened our eyes and made us realize that people need mappers to help them.

Erin Siezar and Roger Villalobos

Mapping the city was both new and fun for us, but what really caught our attention was that we were able to notice things that many people take for granted. We paid close attention to ramps, hydrants, and even the state of the sidewalk, and noticed that although all these elements are supposed to help people, they can also make matters worse. We found that the positioning of some ramps makes no sense and others are in a really bad condition. We also didn’t know about Mapillary before and it was great realizing that there is a platform we can use to help others by providing useful and valuable information.

Carlos Mario, Kenneth Mendez Calderon, and Robert Cespedes Garcia

While mapping, we realized that people usually don’t care for something if it doesn’t affect them directly. GPS apps normally just focus on drivers and leave pedestrians out of the equation, resulting in a lot of people needing information but having no way to actually get it. With the #CompletetheMap experience, we started to understand the importance of having free access to information sources. We really enjoyed this experience and we hope that our work helps someone in the future.

Mapping the city with a particular focus allowed us a greater understanding of why it's so important that independent mappers have access to platforms like Mapillary and OpenStreetMap. We all want to thank our professor Jaime Gutierrez for allowing us to be part of this experience. It really was unique and interesting, and we hope that we can continue mapping together in the future.

If you'd like to use Mapillary in your university or school programme, or simply hold a mapping event, get in touch—we'd love to support you!

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