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How GIS/GNSS Data Collection Encouraged Trail Use

Until recently, urban dwellers wanting to enjoy some fresh air and exercise in Pittsburgh could not find a comprehensive map of the available trails in the city. As demand for this information increased, the City of Pittsburgh set out to create an online map to better serve its residents. Using Trimble technology, an avid hiker and City employee walked over 130 miles of trails to collect the necessary GIS data.

Communicating information about services to the general population is a challenge for many cities. To maximize the use and value of public resources such as parks and trails, GIS are invaluable for providing precise location information and other details. A GIS also helps a city build an inventory and manage its diverse assets.


Funding for public services in Pittsburgh decreased over the years as a result of declining population—from 700,000 in the 1950’s to 300,000 in 2020. However, a 2019 referendum allocating tax money to parks made more money available for maintenance and improvements at large regional parks, as well as many smaller parks throughout the city.

Emerald View Trail in Emerald View Park with downtown Pittsburgh in the background

Emerald View Trail in Emerald View Park with downtown Pittsburgh in the background. Photo credit: Matthew Jacob

For the past five years, the City of Pittsburgh relied heavily on its Cartegraph work order system to manage and maintain assets. The database included maps of parks and playgrounds, but no trail maps. Increased demand for information about trails motivated Matthew Jacob, an enterprise applications administrator for the City, to offer to collect GIS data of all park, greenway and river trails to build an interactive online trail map.

Jacob works in the Department of Innovation and Performance, which recently welcomed the City’s existing GIS/Mapping staff into its organization. Senior Manager, Applications Cherin Abdelsamie—Jacob’s manager—felt it was important to develop more advanced GIS capabilities and purchased a Trimble R2 GNSS receiver in 2020.


The data collection process was straightforward and simple to learn, even without prior GIS experience. The Trimble R2 GNSS receiver connects via Bluetooth® to Esri® ArcGIS® Collector software running on a smartphone. Armed with the Trimble R2 and a smartphone, Jacob walked over 130 miles of trails between August 2020 and January 2021. Depending on the terrain, he carried the device on a backpack or on a pole and was able to achieve sub-inch accuracy overall.

Man carries a Trimble R2 GNSS receiver on a backpack walking a city park trail

Matthew Jacob carried a Trimble R2 GNSS receiver to record location data. Photo by Matthew Jacob

Jacob simply told the Collector app to add a new trail, collect data and send the data back to the GIS server in the office. Data cleanup was done with Esri ArcGIS Pro or ArcGIS Desktop. For this type of trail map, cleanup included eliminating duplicate and random points, connecting intersections between trail segments, recording trail names and adding descriptions, such as the surface material, difficulty rating, ADA accessibility and condition. For over 130 trail miles, data cleanup was estimated at 100—200 hours of work before the final map goes online.

Smartphone held in a hand running Esri Collector software on the screen

Esri ArcGIS Collector software runs on a smartphone and stores GNSS data for mapping.


The online trail map is an excellent reference to help the city follow through on Master Plans for various parks, as well as a handy tool for emergency response and maintenance personnel.

Park rangers working in the city parks can benefit from the detailed trail information to locate access points and know what types of vehicles can utilize the trails in case of an emergency. Within Cartegraph, the map will be used to assign work orders for specific parts of trails that need maintenance. Over time, additional information will be added that will also help Public Safety activities.

“GIS data collected with the R2 receiver allows us to manage our assets more effectively and efficiently,” said Jacob. “With use of trails increasing and demand for information growing, the online trail map has the potential to serve diverse needs throughout the community.”

"The Trimble R2 and Esri ArcGIS Collector software worked well together; the workflow was simple and easy. The online map makes the city’s green spaces more accessible to people who want to enjoy our extensive trail system." ‒ Matthew Jacob, Senior Enterprise Applications Administrator, City of Pittsburgh