California Department of Transportation

Module 2: Visual Character

Slide 131

Module 2 Summary

This ends the instruction for Module 2. Before we leave Module 2, let’s review what we have learned from the first two modules and prepare ourselves for the last module.


Slide 132

Module 1 Review

In the introduction to the course, we discovered that people value the aesthetics of landscapes similarly and it is this consistency that allows us to objectively assess visual impacts.  We also learned that although there were both federal and state laws and requirements for conducting a VIA,  the real reason Caltrans conducts a VIA is that the people of California expect visual issues to be considered when their government  is making decisions about  altering the state’s transportation network.

The rationale for VIA training began with NEPA delegation, coupled with the fact that VIA training hasn’t been systematically taught for decades.  To ensure quality documents, it became imperative that Caltrans take a uniform approach to the preparation of these visual issue documents—a required uniform approach that necessitated a uniform training program.

Although the federal legislation, particularly the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provide the primary regulatory setting for discussing visual issues, there are other federal and state requirements and local requirements that also regulate visual impacts.  In fact understanding local regulations will provide the author of a VIA with insight into who the viewers are and what will be their likely responses to changes in the visual environment.

We looked at the FHWA VIA process, noting in particular that it is composed of visual resources and viewers and that it is the relationship that viewers have with visual resources that forms the basis for evaluating visual impacts.

The first module concluded with an introduction of the Team Project, a teaching tool that will provide a hands-on example of how to conduct a Visual Impact Assessment using the FHWA VIA process as required by Caltrans.


Slide 133

Module 2 Review

In Module 2 we examined the scoping process, noting how important it was in establishing the resources, both human and financial, that will be needed to study visual impacts.  We also described how proper scoping helps anticipate the schedule and the magnitude of, and funding for, mitigation or other project features.

We also dissected the landscape—we pulled it apart—in order to understand its structure.  We called this Labeling the Landscape.  This isn’t an FHWA phrase, it merely was a label for a way of collecting all the tools that the FHWA gives us to divide and reorganize the landscape into manageable units.  We explored the concept of Landscape Types, also known as biogeophysical or large scale ecological units, composed of Landform and Land Cover.  We saw that a Landscape Type had a large, discontinuous range but within that range there were smaller contiguous groupings of a single Landscape Type that the FHWA called Landscape Units.  We discovered that Landscape Types have fuzzy boundaries and blended or transitioned into other Landscape Types unlike individual Landscape Units which frequently have proper names, allowing us to define their domains more concretely.  Using the concept of Viewsheds, and applying it to Landscape Units, we created Visual Assessment Units—these are the units we want to use to evaluate visual impacts.  As part of the Team Project, we established Key Views and noted special Scenic Resources for each Visual Assessment Unit.

Then we chose a Visual Assessment Unit and determined its Visual Character, using the concepts of Pattern Elements and Pattern Character.  Pattern Elements, we discovered, are the intrinsic artistic qualities—such as line, form, texture, or color—that compose a landscape.  Pattern Character describes the artistic relationships between the elements that compose the landscape such as dominance, scale, diversity, and continuity.

Using these concepts, we evaluated the Visual Character of the existing scene and the Visual Character of the proposed alternatives for our team project.  We took notes, comparing and rating on a seven-point scale each alternative’s compatibility with existing scene.

Then we left the visual resource side of the FHWA VIA process and concentrated on identifying and understanding viewers, both neighbors—those people with views of the road—and travelers—those people with views from the road.  We determined the nature of a composite viewer, one that would represent all viewers—not merely an average viewer but one with a range of viewer responses proportionate with the assumed actual viewers.  The level of viewer exposure and viewer sensitivity was established for this typical viewer and used for furthering our team project.      


Slide 135

Module 3 Preview

In Module 3, we will examine visual quality and its three components: vividness, intactness, and unity.  We will also examine how changes to visual resources and viewer response to those changes generates visual impacts.  We will describe how to assess those impacts and how to determine appropriate mitigation measures, including a look at various simulation techniques. 

We will also address how to assemble all the proceeding information into a VIA and subsequent environmental document.  Specifically, we will examine how to tailor a VIA to the complexity of the project and the level of environmental documentation.  We will also examine, briefly, the art and science of simulating changes to the visual environment.

We will then conclude the training with a summary of what we have learned.  You will be given an opportunity to take the post-test and to score it and the pre-test.  


Slide 136

Module 3 Preview

You now have completed much of this form.  All of the yellow side and the blue box in the upper left corner should be filled in with ratings.  In Module 3 we will finish this form!


Slide 137

Module 2 Completion

Congratulations!   You’ve completed Module 2.


Module 3A - Visual Quality and Visual Impacts, Introduction