Parents or teachers judging how safe a child’s walk to school is can eyeball sidewalks, streets and crosswalks from ground level. But Micah Brachman, a lecturer in UMD’s Center for Geospatial Information Science, is developing a much loftier view.

Brachman is using geospatial information science (GIS) methods—from satellite imagery to computerized transportation modeling—to design safer routes for walkers and bikers.

The Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Improvement Model that he and Richard L. Church of the University of California, Santa Barbara developed is designed to help decision makers prioritize infrastructure improvement projects that encourage using active transportation modes—such as walking and bicycling—by making them safer.

This model can generate a map showing where new transportation infrastructure is needed so pedestrians can quickly reach their destinations while minimizing the risk of being hit by a vehicle.

So far, the model has been applied to the pedestrian network surrounding a school in Santa Barbara, Calif., where it was used to recommend specific sidewalk and crosswalk improvements while accounting for funding constraints.

The subject of a new article in Socio-Economic Planning Sciences, the Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Improvement Model is now in a proof-of-concept stage; ultimately, Brachman seeks to serve countless communities with finished geospatial tools.

“I am hoping to expand on this research by developing an online mapping tool that will allow any school or school district to determine which pedestrian safety improvements will maximize the return on their investment,” Brachman said.

The research is being put to use much closer to campus to increase bike safety. Brachman has begun working with Montgomery County to develop a similar geospatial modeling approach to determine what types of infrastructure need to be built for a network of “low-stress” bike routes that keep cyclists and heavy traffic from tangling.

“Using active transportation can help improve human health outcomes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Brachman said. “It is imperative that we find ways to make walking and biking more practical, safe and enjoyable for everyone.”