How Some Groups Use Street Story to Improve Their Communities
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In some parts of California, residents have access to apps like SeeClickFix or websites like 311.org where they can report hazards or other problems with streets or bridges or any infrastructure thing that needs Public Works attention or repair. But not every place is plugged into such a system.
Humboldt County, for example, doesn’t have that kind of online reporting ability. Colin Fiske, founder of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, says the county’s “rurban” flavor–mostly rural, but with concentrations of population in the coastal areas–creates special challenges. Because of the relatively small population and long distances between destinations, the public agencies in the area are underfunded and overstretched, according to Fiske.
He was speaking as part of a webinar hosted by the developers of Street Story at UC Berkeley about how Humboldt County is benefiting from the tool.
Street Story is a free, online platform that allows community groups, public agencies, and the public to contribute, collect, and analyze information about street hazards and design issues–both positive and negative–in their communities. So far, its developers have worked directly with thirteen California communities to help them learn, disseminate, and use the tool. Yesterday’s webinar highlighted how two areas, Bakersfield and Humboldt County, are already using Street Story. Both areas have high rates of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and injuries, large areas to cover, and limited resources to work with.
“Street Story helps us do effective bike and pedestrian advocacy with no resources,” said Fiske, who said that because it is “easy, free, and accessible to all agencies and the public” local agencies have been happy to adopt it. His Coalition recently hosted a training with Street Story developer Kate Beck from UC Berkeley’s SafeTREC and representatives of local agencies, cities, and Humboldt County, after which they did a public rollout to advertise the tool.
“We got about two hundred reports within the first 24 hours,” Fiske said, although reports dropped off after that. He presented graphs that analyzed some of the information they received, such as the kinds of problems people reported and who was reporting. For example, speeding, poor lighting, and missing sidewalks are a common issue, which Fiske said was unsurprising given the mostly rural nature of the county. In terms of who was reporting, the respondents are about evenly split between male and female, which is a good sign, since many attempts at gathering feedback online tend to be accessed more often by men. But the two largest groups of underrepresented people in Humboldt County–Native Americans and Latinx people–are also underrepresented in the reports made so far.
That gives them something to work on.
Local agencies and the Coalition plan to use the data they gather from Street Story to help plan the completion of bike and pedestrian networks in Eureka and Arcata, as well as to help figure out priorities in that process. “This gives us data to back that up,” said Fiske. “Humboldt doesn’t have anything like this, and we are in dire need of data.”
Asha Chandy, the programs manager for Bike Bakersfield, also presented at the webinar on how her organization uses Street Story. She describes Kern County as an area where “local bike infrastructure frequently feels like an afterthought.”
Bakersfield and Kern County have reporting tools available to the public for hazardous conditions and crashes, but it assumes that people reporting problems have some planning knowledge–and it leaves little room for people to share their experience of the street. In addition, the city of Bakersfield has very irregular boundaries, with unincorporated areas jutting into it, so it can be difficult to know whether the report is going to the right jurisdiction.
“Street Story teaches people how to look at their communities and how to report to improve it,” said Chandy. It is also less constrained in some ways than data sources. For example, the Office of Traffic Safety tracks and reports on crashes, which “can be a good tool to estimate safety, but it doesn’t count near misses, or the lived experiences of people,” which Street Story can do, said Chandy.
She gave a dramatic example of one of the reports they helped someone make: a bike rider on a multi-state ride came to Bakersfield and promptly destroyed their wheel in a street grate that was set so its grills were parallel to the roadway. That is the kind of too-simple hazard a road worker may not notice (they should, but they may not) but a bike rider would experience as a serious crash risk–and people need a way to report it, so it can be fixed.
Bike Bakersfield has held events to promote the use of Street Story by local residents and public agencies, including the police. A tab on the group’s website explains and advertises Street Story. Bike Bakersfield also organized an assembly at an elementary school with law enforcement and CalWalks that included a traffic audit and a local walk audit, and conducted a workshop with parents to teach them how to use it.
“We report, ourselves, on local hazardous conditions, and we empower local residents to report and weigh in on conditions, including suggestions for improvements,” she said.
Street Story is available for anybody in California to use to report unsafe conditions, near-misses, and good and bad street designs. It’s also a way to share the story of one’s experience with the street, something that is generally hard to capture in a data set but is very useful for planning, advocacy, and simply fixing hazards.