HACKENSACK, N.J. — Team members from Hackensack University Medical Center's Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Center and Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine Department of Neurology, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), the University of Washington Makeability Lab, and volunteers from Oradell's 7th grade Girl Scout Troop 96950 collaborated on an initiative called Project Sidewalk and identified numerous obstacles in the town of Oradell for people with mobility issues. The project serves as a model for other towns to identify and correct impediments to mobility and improve accessibility to their streets for people of all ability levels.

In the United States, one in four people reports having some type of disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that public sidewalks and street crossings be accessible. But according to a recent study, only 13% of 400 municipalities had prepared an ADA transition plan and just 7 met minimum ADA requirements. 

Florian Thomas, MD, PhD, chair, Department of Neurology and Neuroscience Institute, Hackensack University Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine and founder of the MS Center, has long noted sidewalk obstructions. With partners at the NMSS, including its Bergen County Community Council, he discussed their impact not only on people with impaired mobility, but also children on bikes and people pushing strollers. Dr. Thomas also recruited fourth-year Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine student Kie Fujii, as well as one of his patients with MS, Michael Starr, to participate in the project.

With significant coordination by the Bergen County Community Council of the NMSS, the group connected with Project Sidewalk collaborators at the University of Washington who had developed proprietary software based on Google Street View that allowed for the quantification of sidewalk obstructions. Project Sidewalk has the largest open dataset on sidewalk accessibility in the world and has worked with partners in the Netherlands, the United States, Switzerland, and Mexico.

In September 2021, Mr. Starr, a longtime resident of Oradell, met with the 10 members of Girl Scout Cadette Troop 96950. He spoke with them about what it means to live life in a wheelchair and described the project, enlisting their help with street mapping. The Girl Scouts began by taking photos with their cell phones anytime they were out around town and identified sidewalks that did not meet accessibility standards. They presented their preliminary findings to the Oradell City Council and received permission to use space in the Borough Hall to conduct a one-day in-person Map-A-Thon, which took place in April 2022 and engaged Girl Scouts from other troops as well. Between the scouts' Map-A-Thon that day and mapping by the NMSS that summer, 81 volunteers mapped 35.9 miles of streets. 

The project team showed that 52.5% of streets lacked sidewalks. Surface problems included height differences between sidewalk panels (29%), cracks (25%), slanting (21%), curb ramps lacking tactile warnings (15%), cobblestone or brick pavements, and inadequate sidewalk width. No alternative routes existed for 42% of the sidewalks that lacked curb ramps. Other obstacles included obstructions posed by vegetation (40%) and trash cans (17%). Residential areas had more high-severity obstacles than the business part of Oradell. 

"This tool is an efficient and effective way to gather data on areas needing improvement and brings awareness to municipal officials. We are looking to expand our efforts to other towns and hope to survey the city of Hackensack next," said Lisa Stolarz, MA, experience advisor, Office of Patient Experience at Hackensack University Medical Center, who chairs the NMSS Bergen Community Council. "Our goal is to complete the mapping of all of Bergen County. We also hope to educate the next generation and partner with similar groups of students interested in community service." The Girl Scouts who worked on the project have offered to train future volunteers on how to use the mapping software.

The Girl Scouts conducted the project as part of their work toward a Journey award called Citizen Scientist. They helped interpret the data and prepared the team's findings, which they presented to the Oradell City Council in January 2023. "This project has been very meaningful for us. It set the foundation for what it means to see something in your world that needs changing, to do something to effect change, and to learn the methods to achieve this," explained Maggie Klein, who co-leads the troop with Robin Roland Levy, Nelly Lopez, and Danielle Tikijian. "Without the leadership of Hackensack University Medical Center, none of this would have happened."

"Our ambition goes beyond Bergen County and New Jersey to have Hackensack Meridian Health recognized as a national leader in improving accessibility for people with physical disabilities," said Dr. Thomas. He and Ms. Fujii plan to present their findings at the May 2023 meeting of the Consortium of MS Centers and at the September 2023 meeting of the Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals.

"With growing numbers of senior citizens and people with disabilities using wheelchairs and walkers, the impact of sidewalks on mobility, quality of life, community participation, and access to work and exercise increases," noted Mark Sparta, president, Northern Region, Hackensack Meridian Health. "We hope that the success of this local project will serve as a model for towns in the rest of the country."

This week, as we observe MS Awareness Week, and look to raise awareness for this disease, we hope you help us share the news of this project. 


Hackensack University Medical Center, a 781-bed nonprofit teaching and research hospital, is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in New Jersey. Founded in 1888 as Bergen County's first hospital, it was the first hospital in New Jersey and second in the nation to become a Magnet®-recognized hospital for nursing excellence. The academic flagship of Hackensack Meridian Health, Hackensack University Medical Center's campus is home to facilities such as John Theurer Cancer Center, the Heart & Vascular Hospital, and the Sarkis and Siran Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion. Recognized as being in the top 1% of hospitals in the nation and #1 in New Jersey by U.S. News & World Report’s 2022-23 "Best Hospitals" Honor Roll, Hackensack University Medical Center also ranked as high-performing in cancer care, cardiology and heart surgery, gastroenterology and GI surgery, geriatrics, nephrology, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopedics, pulmonology, and urology. Hackensack University Medical Center’s comprehensive clinical research portfolio includes studies focused on precision medicine, translational medicine, immunotherapy, cell therapy, and vaccine development.