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Policy and Process
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Visual Quality and Visual Impacts
Module 2: Visual Character
Lesson 10: Viewers
Welcome to Lesson 10 Viewers
Lesson 10 is a discussion about viewers—who they are and how they perceive aesthetic issues.
Lesson 10 Viewers
We are going to divide the lesson on viewers into two topics. First we will examine the FHWA’s basic definition of viewer groups—that it is those groups that can be divided into neighbors and travelers. Then we will present a strategy that enables the VIA author a way to reasonably predict the reactions of these two viewer groups to changes proposed by the transportation project.
Lesson 10 Viewers
First let’s look at viewer groups. In subsequent slides, we are going to discuss how we define viewer groups; the two main types of viewers for highway projects—neighbors and travelers; and finally, apply what we have learned about viewers to the team project.
Viewer groups are defined geographically—where people are in relationship to the road. Viewers who have views of the road but are not on the road we call neighbors.
Viewers with views from the road—that is they are on the roadway—we call travelers.
Neighbors are not necessarily directly adjacent to the roadway but they can nonetheless see it from their geographic location. They are really visual neighbors. Neighbors are simply people with views to the road. They can be subdivided into several viewer groups based on land-use. Land use is a useful way to divide neighboring viewers because how land is used typically defines not only who are the viewers but where they are located. Once you understand who the neighbors are and why they are there, it is possible to predict their response to changes in their visual environment.
Travelers, people with views from the road, can also be subdivided into several viewer groups. They can be divided either by the reason they are traveling or by their mode of travel. Different reasons for traveling and different modes of travel affect viewer response. Once you understand who the travelers are and why they are there, it is possible to predict their response to changes in their visual environment.
The use of the term traveler has a very specific meaning in how Caltrans uses the FHWA process. It is important to note that not everyone traveling is necessarily a traveler unless they are traveling on the road under consideration. On our project, for example, someone traveling on the coastal scenic highway is not considered a traveler—they are a recreational neighbor. Only if they were on U.S. Route 101 would they be considered a traveler. The reason for this distinction is to keep the term traveler reserved for those people who are using the highway that is being studied.
Please click on Team Project (Part 4) - Viewer Response. Print a worksheet for each alternative you are analyzing. Notice that this worksheet covers five tasks related to viewer response (Part 4A through Part 4E).
Complete Task 4A by listing on your worksheet, the viewer groups who will be affected by this project. Start with travelers and their reason for travel on your alternative, followed by modes of travel. Use the project map, narrative, and photographs to help you identify specific viewer groups.
Knowing who will see the changes a road project might make to the landscape is essential to the VIA process because understanding how these viewers will respond to these changes is critical to accurately assessing visual impacts.
We will begin on subsequent slides by defining what is viewer response; how the FHWA defines it as a combination of viewer exposure and viewer sensitivity—two terms we will also define and explore.
Finally we will apply these concepts to the Team Project.
A viewer responds to stimuli. The FHWA VIA process examines how a viewer responds to changes in the visual environment caused by the construction or reconstruction of a highway facility.
Viewer response can be measured by two variables: viewer exposure and viewer sensitivity.
Viewer exposure is a measure of how often and how well a particular scene is viewed by viewers. Visual sensitivity is a measure of how receptive a viewer is at noticing change to a particular view.
Viewer response can be determined by individual viewer groups but except for the most complex and controversial projects, that usually is not necessary. Instead, the author of the VIA creates an abstract composite viewer—a viewer that while averaging the viewer response still possesses proportionately the extremes of viewer exposure and viewer sensitivity that occur in the viewer groups from which it was formed. It is this composite viewer that the author will typically use in analyzing and reporting viewers and visual impacts.
Let’s examine viewer exposure in more detail.
The FHWA uses three dimensions to measure viewer exposure: location, quantity, and duration.
By location we mean that the further away a viewer is from a scene or object the less exposure that viewer has—or phrased conversely, the closer the viewer is to an object or scene, the more exposure.
By quantity we mean the amount of people that will be viewing the scene or object. Fewer viewers mean less exposure; many viewers mean greater exposure.
By duration, we mean how long the viewers will be viewing the scene or object. The faster one travels, the shorter the duration. The more one is allowed to linger, the longer a viewer has to see details, resulting in more viewer exposure.
The greater the exposure, the more viewers will be concerned about visual impacts.
Viewer exposure for the composite viewer is given a rating—either descriptive or numerical. (Remember that a numerical rating is required for the formulas found on FHWA VIA Process Diagram.) The higher the number, the more exposure.
Notice the caveat stated on this slide: This rating is the same before and after the proposed change. This statement brought about a chorus of protests during classroom sessions. As well it should. The FHWA VIA process does not consider that a change in the environment or roadway will alter the exposure or sensitivity of a group of viewers. The process assumes that exposure and sensitivity are unchangeable viewer traits. Although it is possible to successfully argue that this does not rigorously fit reality—a new road with a higher speed limit will alter exposure even if the viewers remain constant, is an obvious example—Caltrans has decided to accept this irregularity because, in practice, it hasn’t mattered—the system compensates for any changes in viewer response in other ways later so that the assessment of visual impacts is still a rigorous process. What is important at this stage is to trust the process and allow it to move ahead.
Now let’s examine the other attribute of viewer response—viewer sensitivity—in more detail. The FHWA uses three dimensions to measure viewer sensitivity: activity, awareness, and local values.
By activity we mean that the more routine the scene is for a viewer the less sensitivity that viewer has to that particular scene. In other words, the more unique a scene is to a viewer, the more sensitive the viewer will be to changes in it.
By awareness we mean if the view is simply a general view, with no specific element on which the viewer is focused, the less sensitive the viewer will be to changes to that scene. The greater the focus, the greater the sensitivity.
By local values, we mean the protection the local community gives a particular view or object being viewed. The protection could be legal or simply social. The protection does not need to be explicitly for visual resources. The reason for the protection could be for the recreational value of a city park, or the historic value of a particular building or the ecological value of a wildlife refuge. Even if the original reason for the protection was not aesthetics, it is still possible that aesthetics now matter and viewers will be sensitive to visual changes in the protected resource.
The greater the sensitivity, the more viewers will be concerned about visual impacts.
It should be remembered that CEQA requires consideration of local plans. Understanding local plans is a very good way for an author of a VIA to comprehend local values and, therefore, the sensitivity of neighbors.
Viewer sensitivity for the composite viewer is given a rating—either descriptive or numerical. (Remember that a numerical rating is required for the formulas found on FHWA VIA Process Concept Diagram.) The higher the number, the more exposure.
Notice again, that by using the FHWA VIA process, the rating for viewer sensitivity will not change even if there are changes in the visual environment.
Find the worksheet Team Project (Part 4) - Viewer Response that you have already started to fill out.
Complete Task 4B on the worksheet Team Project (Part 4) - Viewer Response by filling out the viewer exposure for the viewer groups you have identified and for the composite traveler, the composite neighbor, and the typical viewer.
Complete Task 4C on the worksheet Team Project (Part 4) - Viewer Response by filling out the viewer sensitivity for the viewer groups you have identified and for the composite traveler, the composite neighbor, and the typical viewer.
Complete the worksheet Team Project (Parts 4D and 4E) - Viewer Response by following the directions on the worksheet.
Using the numerical ratings you generated for the composite or typical viewer fill in the top two yellow boxes, the box on the left with the viewer exposure rating for the composite or typical viewer and the box on the right with its rating for viewer sensitivity. Add the two ratings together and divide by 2 to get an average rating. This average rating is the rating the composite or typical viewers have for their visual response. Put that number in the lower yellow box titled Viewer Response.
That completes the right side of the FHWA Process Diagram. It also completes what we needed to cover in Module 2.