There’s a lot of talk about the livability of our cities, but what about the accessibility of them?

How would you go about measuring and comparing the ease with which we can get around our cities?

And why would it matter?

These are the questions that are occupying the minds of Associate Professor Robert Gorkin and his team at SMART, following the successful completion of a map of Wollongong CBD for wheelchair users.

He launched the Briometrix Navability map last month at the Your Voice Your Choice Conference in Wollongong.

“This marks the completion of this stage of the project, which started with a pilot map of the University campus in 2017,” Professor Gorkin said.

“By mapping the centre of a major city, we have shown that it can be done.

“It is a proof of the principle. There is no reason why we can’t replicate on a large scale and create a nationwide accessibility map.”

The project is a partnership between the University’s SMART Infrastructure Facility, Wollongong City Council and Briometrix, an Australian company who equip and train local wheelchair users to survey the cities footpath networks with their wheelchair mounted footpath assessment technology.

It is funded with a FundAbility grant from Northcott, a not-for-profit disability service provider.

Briometrix has already created similar maps for Shepparton in Victoria, parts of Sydney, Central Coast and Townsville.

The Wollongong map is now live on the Vision Illawarra website, with a link also available from the Wollongong City Council website.

Part of the data for the map was collected by four wheelchair pilots equipped with sensors from Briometrix traversing areas of Wollongong over several weeks. During the project the team also investigated how additional IOT sensors could potentially aid in future mapping via the Digital Living Lab, a free LoRaWAN network provided by the SMART Infrastructure Facility.

“The free map includes accessibility effort mapping of over 50km of the CBD, along with locations of accessible toilets, parking, local transport, nearest convenience stores and points of interest,” Professor Gorkin said.

“It’s not just information on routes, but contains information to help those who want to plan a trip.”

The next stage of the project is to produce a paper, using the data gathered and the algorithm developed by Briometrix, to provide an accessibility index.

“When you measure the liveability of a city, one of the main factors is walkability – how easy it is to walk between points of interest,” Professor Gorkin said.

“But that metric is already biased and already disengages those who rely on other modes of transportation.

“The important thing to grasp here is that accessibility is relevant to everybody – not just wheelchair users.

“We’re talking about elderly people, of course, but our accessibility needs not only change over a lifetime, but also over a day.

“Whether it is parents pushing prams, or people who may have suffered an injury, or others who are carrying heavy groceries.

“It’s so simple to do things to make our cities more accessible. The technology and capabilities exist. Our project just showcased what is possible by working with innovative companies like Briometrix, embracing community projects like the UOW Digital Living Lab, and liaising with change-makers at councils like WCC, all which want to make a difference now.

“Accessibility changes lives in the way they are lived everyday.

“This is for everyone.”