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Visualization for Transportation Planning

What is visualization in transportation planning?

Webster's definition

"formation of mental visual images, or the act or process of interpreting in visual terms or of putting into visible form."

Design visualization

Design visualization has often taken the form of a simulated representation of a proposed transportation improvement. Simulated representation may be appropriate in some instances during the planning phase, but visualization during the planning process may be much, much more. Planning documents are often spreadsheets that are difficult to read, populated with acronyms and abbreviations that must be deciphered or plans that are filled with dense narrative describing a process, procedure, policy or proposal.

The visual simulations that are used during project design are often not appropriate for use during the transportation-planning phase. The projects have only been identified based on a project need or objective. It is too soon in the process, and therefore the project alignment, context, scope and other details have not yet been defined. It would be premature and misleading to the public and other partners to imply through simulation that these decisions have been made. The public may balk at further involvement with the planning and project development if the project appears to have a completed design.

Planning documents traditionally contain a very limited amount of visualization. Simply adding photos, images, flow charts, diagrams or maps to illustrate, transportation planning may be more clearly conveyed.

Visualization for Transportation Planning; preparing documents for the Internet

Interactive map for the Plan, TIP, and STIP

New technology has made the development of transportation planning techniques easy, high quality and efficient to produce. There are many good examples of good user-friendly techniques. Washington DOT uses an interactive map for their STIP on their web site. The Atlanta Regional Commission's Mobility 2030 Regional Transportation Plan Interactive Mapping can be used to locate the project.

The interactive map allows the user to click on the red dot in the county they wish to view. The more detailed county map is obtained and the user can then click on the project name or the location on the map to open the page for the proposed transportation project. The proposed transportation projects are often described with the use a combination of a narrative of project need; combined with a project map of the location, a photo image that clearly displays the situation that creates the project need. Maps, images, sketches, cross sections help the reader interpret the technical.

Transportation Improvement Programs includes maps and sketches

The Denver Council of Government's (DRCOG) Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) uses flow charts, charts and graphs to illustrate the project planning process. DRCOG's TIP is formatted with information boxes consistently placed, providing information on project function, project status, etc. and includes project maps, sketches or images. The inclusion of relevant information, which is not abbreviated, formatted consistently allow for uncomplicated interpretation of this TIP.

Photographic images reinforce the goals

Long Range Transportation Plans contain information related to policy, and procedures. Policies can be defined more clearly when photographic images are used to reinforce and provide a clearer image of what the goals and objectives, and priorities are for the region. San Francisco's Metropolitan Transportation Commission uses professional quality photographic images to illustrate their policy plan. These images provide a focal point for reading the 2030 Plan that exemplifies what are important concepts to the reader with visual reinforcement of regional priorities.

Maps are crucial

Long Range Transportation Plans primary function is transportation system planning. Maps are crucial. The Central Arkansas Regional Transportation Study (CARTS) METRO 2030 Plan uses color-coded maps through out the plan.


CARTS also use other techniques to present data. Sidebars are included throughout the document containing graphs, charts and outlines to summarize and emphasis otherwise complicated concepts. Important concepts don't get lost in the narrative. Important information doesn't need to be gleaned from the document. Sidebars or panels configured with color and attractive format grab the reader's attention. Important policies, trends, financial information are accentuated through sidebars.


Flowcharts explain transportation procedures and timelines for these processes. The flow chart can much more readily explain the points when concurrent processes intercept during a transportation planning process than a narrative.

Concise Internet writing

Writing information that will be presented on the Internet must be formatted differently from a document to be interpreted in a printed format. Lengthy documents are difficult for the reader if presented on a web page. Information needs to be clear, specific and concise. Eliminate bland, lengthy descriptions. Viewers want to be able to glance at the information and process it quickly and readily.

Text must be easy to scan

When viewing information on the Internet text must be easy to scan. To ease the ability to scan, the document must include headings, titles, outlines charts, maps or graphs. Headers will guide the reader to the information. Wordy phrases containing lots of description can be are cumbersome, unnecessary and unread.

Concise text

Readers are less likely to scroll down the page. Short concise text is easier on the eyes when viewing on a computer screen. Text should fit the screen. Avoid making it necessary to scroll up and down or left and right to scan the text.

Icons and logos

Icons and logos provide an easily recognizable familiar image to readers. Using icons and logos to promote a point, and identify a program, policy or project. They are easy to scan, create familiarity and instant recognition.

Transportation Planning Public Involvement Visualization

Visual Preference Surveys

Visual Preference Surveys are very effective tools for educating and involving community members in land use planning. The surveys consists of design characteristics that are presented for review at a public meeting or workshop organized to discuss some aspect of the land use and transportation planning process. Visual preference surveys help the community and partners envision proposed plans. This is an excellent tool for determining the preference of a transportation plan by developing images that can be used to survey positive perceived contribution and project may make to the community. The visioning process is with the visual preference survey tool can be used during charrettes public meetings, web pages to quantify preference. Viewers may ve voting on photos, renderings, maps, computer generated images, sketches or other images that depict a policy or plan. The results can be tallied electronically or manually using paper ballots, handheld instant voting tools, Internet based voting are some of the tools used to tally preferences.

Scenario Planning Tools

GIS-based Scenario Planning decision support software tools make long range regional planning for land use and transportation planning more visual. These GIS based decision support software tools are transforming the way land-use planning decisions are made using software and solutions that combine scenario analysis, 3D visualization and forecasting models. Scenario planning can also be accomplished using traditional methods of flip charts, maps, and colored markers and other commonplace articles to illustrate visually qualitative and quantitatively analysis of values, trends and alternative scenarios for transportation and land use. Using visual imagery provides stakeholders with the information that allows them to see how the impacts of decisions may occur in the future. Several proposed alternative transportation system improvements can be compared to get an idea of how they may affect the natural and human environment land use patterns by changing future development trend pattern.. The GIS-based decision support software tools allow the user to test alternative instantaneously. The software projects demographic changes for a community, region or parcel clearly illustrated on maps.

Geographic Information System (GIS) Mapping

GIS mapping provides quality of data that is much more enhanced that traditional paper maps. GIS converts existing digital information to visual format that can be presented and understood by the public. Complex information can be presented in a visual format. GIS also offers the flexibility to choose what information will be displayed.

Public Involvement Techniques

Especially interactive communication - is a major goal of public involvement. Face-to-face meetings are a traditional method of providing such contact, but changing technologies offer many new options for people to get information and provide input, comment, or support. New technologies, largely based on electronics, are accelerating and enhancing the communication process. They offer real-time methods of communication without relay, distribution, or recording delays. Often, they can better illustrate complex information, and can give people a stronger, more immediate sense of connection to the overall transportation planning and project development .


Maps resources for visualization, including interactive mapmaker.

Updated: 10/17/2011
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