The Computer Will Tell You If Your Neighborhood Is Walkable - Next City

In the old days, determining whether a neighborhood was walkable required physically going there. Then, Google Street View arrived, and “raters” surveying a city’s sidewalks, curb cuts, or even graffiti could survey a city from their desk.

Now, according to a release from Arizona State University, walkability surveys don’t need people at all. A new tool from the university’s College of Health Solutions and School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, can detect crosswalks, street lights, trees and more.

The software uses Street View images, computer vision, and deep learning to identify these so-called microfeatures. Researchers at the college of health are trying to determine whether “macro” features, such as density and street connectivity, are more or less important for helping people get active than microfeatures such as curb cuts and crosswalks.

It’s part of a larger study in which people throughout Phoenix got activity trackers and motivational text messages, as well as financial incentives to walk every day.

“We enrolled participants over the last several years based on their various neighborhoods’ macro-level activity, friendliness or walkability,” associate professor Marc Adams said in a statement. “We are interested in seeing whether people who live in neighborhoods that are considered more walkable versus those who live in less walkable areas persist longer in their efforts after the year-long interventions end.”

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