(Summer ’12) Mariko Davidson G

PSC Intern Mariko will work with the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) — an international non-profit — in Ahmedabad, India on a new initiative to increase pedestrian and bicycle access and safety. She will work on developing a non-motorized transit (NMT) plan for the City of Rajkot, specifically focusing on creating a safer pedestrian network through dedicated infrastructure initiatives. A city that provides infrastructure supporting non-motorized transit not only promotes environmentally sustainable transit and more transit options for their citizens, but also promotes an equitable means for underserved communities to access city services and their destinations.

Starting from Scratch: Data Collection from the Ground Up
Second Blog Post – July 19, 2012

We left off on the Rajkot field visit. After visiting the city and receiving the raw data from the other intern, the next step was how to organize it and manage it. How do you transfer raw notes into an electronic format that can be used to develop a database system? What is the goal of this system? Will it be used once or must it be valid for a longer-term study? What is the best electronic platform? Will it be used for statistical analysis or should it be “mappable” in GIS too? These are all the kinds of questions we needed to consider when developing a strategy to input and manage the data.

How to you take it from this

Taking notes in Rajkot

To this??

Screen shot of QGIS process

In the U.S.—with the Census, the annual American Community Survey, myriad public and private research institutes, and the ability to access much of it via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)—it’s easy to forget that someone has to actually go out and systematically collect the information we eventually call “data.” This process can take place in many different forms, whether it’s a paper survey, website, mobile text messaging or interviews. In the end it comes down to a collector and a system.

Brainstorming with ITDP’s Anuj Malhotra and Christopher Kost

With the gap of information in Rajkot, we had to start from scratch. There were also logistical question to be answered. As a non-profit, how much funding does the organization want to dedicate and rely on costly software? Can everyone access the documents remotely and in real time, or is it static based on one computer only?

Ultimately the system we devised was a series of steps using Excel and Google Maps → Google Earth → QGIS. With Google documents offering Excel and QGIS as the free open-source version of ArchGIS, all of these programs are open-source. Open-source software ensures that we can also share the data in a usable form with other users—both inside and outside ITDP—without software restrictions. Google Docs and Maps allow remote real time access to the project, allowing multiple users to access and manipulate the same information from remote locations. Plus it’s free. All you need is access to a computer and an Internet connection.


Improving Walkability in Rajkot
First Blog Post from India – June 15, 2012

This summer I’m working with the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) to improve pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in the City of Rajkot. With support from Rajkot city leadership, ITDP will publish a Non-Motorized Transit (NMT) Improvement Plan for Rajkot City to guide pedestrian-oriented design and construction of city streets. The first of its kind for Rajkot.

Map of Rajkot, India

Some background information about Rajkot
Rajkot is at a crossroads and considered an “exploding city.” The current population is an estimated 1.19 million people and population projections are approximated at 2.18 million people for 2021– virtually doubling in 10 years. By American standards Rajkot is huge, but in comparison to other Indian cities Rajkot is on the cusp of mid-size city status. Despite this rapid urbanization, Rajkot still has some of the “innocence” associated with small town charm.

With the growing population comes an increasing need for services and transportation. If Rajkot continues on the same trajectory, the city can expect to see traffic and congestion continue to increase. However there is an opportunity to change course. With focused and aggressive policies and infrastructure put into place, Rajkot can help to preserve the current culture of bicycle riding and walking by providing a safer NMT friendly environment through cycle tracks (dedicated bike lanes) and footpaths (sidewalks).

So where does my project come in?
Developing a NMT plan is one of the first steps to realizing progressive change and action. The very first step to developing an NMT plan is to understand what is actually happening on the ground. What kind of infrastructure is present in Rajkot? How many cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, and people use the streets on an hourly basis? Who are the users? What are the dominant land uses (commercial, residential, public, open space, institutional, etc) in the city? Are there formal and informal markets on every corner? Where and how do people park? What is the accident rate? What is the street network like? All of these factors (and more) must be carefully calculated, weighed and considered when developing a transportation plan of any kind.

First things first: data collection
We take data for granted in the U.S., but lack of available and ready information is a common and pervasive challenge throughout India. With little current and comprehensive data available, the first priority was to survey existing conditions in Rajkot. So my first week in India I headed out to Rajkot for a field visit and met with the other intern who was conducting the transportation and land use surveys. What and how to manage this data would turn into one my major responsibilities, which I’ll flesh out in my next post. For now, here are some images of the conditions on the ground in Rajkot.

Here I am, cross-checking land uses in Rajkot.

A typical morning scene where motorcyclists and pedestrians stop for their morning chai at the chaiwalla and pick up goods from the local street vendor.

Whole families ride to their destinations on one motorbike– a familiar site in India.

Students on their way to school. Young women cyclists are still common in Rajkot and increasingly rare in larger cities.

Cartpushers make their way through one of the slum communities in Rajkot.

Motorists buzz by a Hindu temple in the city center.

Quick Facts about Rajkot

1.19 million people (2011 estimate)
Projected population of 2.18 million people by 2021

105 square kilometers

79.1% increase in population between 1991 and 2001 due to new immigrants and the extension of city boundaries

Household income approximately Rh 228,660 (US$4,000) annually

Industrial city—majority of work in light industry and textiles

Blogs from IAP 2012

Mariko Davidson will spend IAP collaborating with non-profits Groundwork Lawrence and WalkBoston on pedestrian safety issues and increasing walkability in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The project will highlight safe pedestrian routes and propose design solutions to connect people from central Lawrence to the new Spicket River Greenway path system. This proposal will be submitted to the Mayor¹s Health Task Force in a community-wide effort to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

Final Entry- February 3, 2012: Getting to the Greenway

Over the past month my teammate and I collected data for walking maps and future improvements. We completed walking assessments to and from the Spicket River Greenway to central Lawrence, evaluating current conditions of everything from infrastructure improvements to highlighting institutions along the Greenway and calculating walking times and distances. I learned about some of the more strategic map uses (blog post #3) and helped prepare Groundwork Lawrence for future improvements along the Greenway system. This map illustrates the upcoming route to the Greenway, some areas that need improvements and key institutions along the path system.

One of the highlights of the project was getting to know Lawrence and exploring a neighboring community just one hour north of Cambridge. There are a lot of community organizations working to revitalize the community and now I understand why. There is a quiet charm to Lawrence that shines through its more recent socioeconomic struggles.

At the Lawrence History Center (LHC), we were able to dig through archives and see how the city changed over the years. The LHC generously allowed me to post a couple of historic photos of the mills and Lawrence General Hospital.

Mills in Lawrence

Lawrence General Hospital

With its historic architecture, close proximity to Boston via commuter rail and expansive river views, I wonder when the building boom will really hit Lawrence? While developers already “discovered” Lawrence, the recession seems to have stalled development plans. When this finally happens, what will be the impact on the community?

As for the Spicket River Greenway, the path will be ready for use this summer. I’m excited to learn how the community will use it. Some of the longer-range questions that I’m curious about are: What are the long term impacts of the Greenway? Since it’s implementation, has pedestrian activity increased in Lawrence? What are the social and economics impacts of a more walkable Lawrence? WalkBoston recently published an article linking pedestrian friendly neighborhoods with increased economic activity. In addition, it is well-known that walkable neighborhoods are better for the environment and human health. Pedestrian activity can seem like a small and somewhat abstract part of the puzzle, but it is the heartbeat of the city. We’ll see how it impacts Lawrence.

Third Entry- January 26, 2012: Developing Maps for Strategic Purposes

Another component of our walking assessment was to collect information to develop Walking Maps for the new Greenway path system. But how could a map of the Greenway be useful to a community member that has lived in Lawrence for generations? Lawrence does not have a lot of tourism or newcomers either. I’m learning that maps can be used for more strategic purposes– the target audience does not have to be newcomers to a community.

To back-up for a moment, Lawrence is facing a serious health epidemic. It holds the dubious honor of the highest rate of obesity and diabetes in Massachusetts with diet and other lifestyle-related disease rates increasing. In response, doctors in Lawrence are telling their patients they need to walk a certain amount of time per day, or giving “Walking Prescriptions.” By creating maps, Groundwork Lawrence and WalkBoston hope to provide these doctors with another tool to give their patients when they write out another Walking Prescription.

I also learned that sometimes people don’t realize just how walkable their neighborhood is. WalkBoston created Walking Maps for many other surrounding communities. These maps often provide estimated walking times to key neighborhood destinations. Wendy Landman, Director of WalkBoston, recounted the surprise she heard from residents when they realize certain destinations are only a 5 or 10 minute walk from their home.

Our walking maps for Lawrence will hopefully create a similar response from residents. I know that I was pleasantly surprised when I realized how easy it was to walk from one side of Lawrence to the other. With the historic architecture, the diverse community and the new Greenway path system, I hope others will enjoy walking through this community too.

Second Entry- January 19, 2012: Digging for stories at the Lawrence History Center

Sifting through the archieves at the Lawrence History Center

Another important piece of the project is signage. How can signage help identify the path, create a “mood” and perhaps, even, enhance the users experience? As the majority of users will be residents who already know where the Greenway path is and where it will lead, “wayfinding” is not really an issue. Instead Groundwork Lawrence decided to use this opportunity to install historical signage along the Spicket River. Each sign will tell a story about a specific site along the Greenway.

This week we worked on finding appropriate information for signage for several sites, specifically the Hayden Schofield Playstead, the Lawrence General Hospital and Oxford Paper Site and Stevens Pond and Arlington Mills. We combed the Lawrence History Center achieves, sifting through newspaper articles, photos, city books (like old phone books), postcards and oral archives for information on these sites. Some of the newspaper clippings dated back to 1944! Photos were even older.

Our signs will eventually look like this:

First Blog- January 13, 2012: The Start!

Hi everyone, my name is Mariko Davidson. I am a Master’s in City Planning student at MIT. This month I will be working with non-profits Groundwork Lawrence and WalkBoston on pedestrian safety issues to help improve walkability in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The Greenway is currently under construction with plans to be ready for public use later in the year.

Some Background Information:
Lawrence was originally established as one of the first planned industrial cities in 1845, with a thriving industry based on milling. Today it is one of the poorest cities within Massachusetts, despite its close proximity to Boston. A poor financial situation worsened by the Great Recession has stressed existing services and threatened to bankrupt the city. In addition, Lawrence has the highest rate of obesity and diabetes in the state with diet and other lifestyle-related disease rates increasing.

See how Lawrence has changed from 1844 in this historical map slide show from the Lawrence History Center.

About the Spicket River Greenway:
Under a $2.6 million dollar Commonwealth Gateway City Parks grant, Groundwork Lawrence in conjunction with the City of Lawrence, is overseeing the development of the Spicket River Greenway. According the Groundwork Lawrence, the Greenway will be a three-mile long “’emerald bracelet’ of green spaces and walking paths connecting parks and open space through multiple neighborhoods, meets multiple bottom lines by helping the community achieve the dual goals of riverfront restoration and neighborhood revitalization.” In addition to providing much needed access, this project is also cleaning an old, contaminated Brownfield, reducing chronic flooding and creating a linear park system for its residents. Now Groundwork Lawrence with WalkBoston and the Mayor’s Health Taskforce want to link this area’s schools, businesses and institutions to the new Greenway via pedestrian walkways to create a more livable and walkable community.

What I am Working On:
This was the first week working with Groundwork Lawrence and WalkBoston. Our partners are currently looking ahead to determine once the Greenway is up, how can they ensure the community will use the path system? Are there areas that will continue to need improvement after the initial construction?

Here I am, at the Groundwork Lawrence office

Once the pathway system is available, the community will need to access the path. However, if there are no sidewalks or missing crosswalks, it will be difficult and potentially dangerous for pedestrians. This is where our project comes in. After meeting with the team, we determined the first step is to assess the existing conditions of routes connecting several key institutions with the Greenway. The institutions are key places of use and employment including elementary schools, high schools, adult learning centers, libraries, health centers and other public institutions. Once this information is complete we can then input this information into a map. This map will be used for planners and developers to improve access to the Greenway.

My teammate and I used the week to complete several walking assessments. Here are some of the photos from these trips. We have a lot of work ahead of us!

Part of the Greenway under construction

Example of a sidewalk that needs repairing

Taking photos along the Greenway

A more typical street in Lawrence

Sidewalk to the Greenway

The Spicket River from the Greenway

Historic Lawrence Highschool building, now the Oliver School

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