Just as public outreach becomes even more important and necessary in public works, we are fortunately seeing the launch of new tools to help us become more successful in our efforts. Social media has improved communication by allowing us to deliver our messages quicker and more efficiently with audiences we might not have reached before. And websites are creating graphic tools that allow people to better understand and visualize projects and designs we propose. Many of these tools are also easily accessible and some are available at a very low cost. In this article, we are going to review two visualization tools.
The Streetmix website was created through the work of Code for America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving relationships between citizens and government. The idea is to allow anyone to easily lay out and visualize a typical street section with elements like sidewalks, vehicle lanes, bike lanes, parking, street cars, and many others. Once you see how easy it is to use this site and the outstanding graphics you can generate, you most likely will never want to use anything else again to generate your street section graphics.
The site also allows you to change the street name, the width of each element, and how each is portraye. To access these choices just hover over each one on the screen. The tool also allows distances to be portrayed in metric or English. To toggle between them, click on the roadway width just below the street name. If you want to remove an element, you can grab it with your mouse and drag it down. Adding an element is just as easy - just drag it up from the bottom and hover over where you want to drop it, then release it and it pops into place.
When you are finished, you can either print out your new design, save it as an image file, share it on Facebook or Twitter, or share a link to it. You can also sign into the site using Twitter and create your own gallery of designs. With these capabilities, public works departments can either post several designs on their website and allow people to vote on the one they like best, or they can ask citizens to create their own designs and share them.
Another tool gaining momentum in allowing people to visualize designs is Unity3D. One of the best examples I have seen of this being used in public works is an interactive animation created by Spencer Boomhower of Cupola Media, in which he illustrates how roadway designs impact bicycling along Foster Road in Portland, Ore. At right is an image of his visualization.
You can interact with it yourself by clicking the image and allowing your browser to install the plugin required to view it. However, if you don’t want to allow installation of the plugin, you can instead watch a video of it here: Foster Road Options in Unity3D Video.