For Dustin Jones to navigate a new neighborhood in New York City, it takes some research.

Jones, a disability rights advocate, uses a wheelchair, and he’s learned not to expect that the nearest subway station is going to have a working elevator — or even have an elevator at all. He consults Google before even leaving his apartment, plotting out the route that will cause the least difficulty.

Google has slowly added accessibility information to its mapping feature, including wheelchair accessible transit route planning in 2018, which Jones said makes him feel “so much more comfortable.” But the ultimate dream, he said, would be if an app could tell him about the sidewalk along his route so he could more easily find usable curb ramps or stay away from broken concrete.

“Man, I’m laughing thinking about that. That’s next level,” Jones told Smart Cities Dive. “That would be awesome to have that. I mean, there’s a lot of creative people out there, so maybe it can happen.”

Jones’ dreams are closer to reality, thanks to data-gathering efforts focused on city sidewalks. There have been apps and smaller projects that have mapped campuses and cities for disabled users, but a new focus on getting robust sidewalk data from sources like Google Street View are accelerating those projects and making it easier to give detailed information to the estimated 85.3 million Americans with disabilities.

One such program, Project Sidewalk, uses Google Street View and machine learning to replace map-a-thons. The University of Washington venture has online crowdworkers carry out “missions” by reviewing Google images of city sidewalks, flagging obstacles like overgrown trees or broken pavement and assessing the state of curb ramps….