California Department of Transportation

Module 3: Visual Quality and Visual Impacts
Lesson 16: Conclusion

Slide 93


Lesson 16: Conclusion is the last lesson of this on-line training program.


Slide 94


We will summarize the class.  Then list some resources you may find useful. 


Slide 95

Class Summary

Let’s review what we have learned in each module. In the first module, we primarily went over policies related to visual impact assessment.  In the second module, we presented ideas about visual character and viewers.  In the third module, we came to understand the concepts of visual quality and visual impacts.


Slide 96

Class Summary

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, state, 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 97

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 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 99

Module 3 Review

In Module 3, we began by examining the concept of visual quality and its three components: vividness, intactness, and unity.  We saw how “changes to visual quality” is the result of evaluating existing visual quality and comparing it to the visual quality of the proposed project.   We learned how to add the “changes to visual character” and the “changes to visual quality” to generate measurements for the “visual resource change.”  These measurements we discovered were both based on numerical ratings and descriptive narratives.  We came to recognize that both types of measurements are necessary for determining visual impacts accurately. 

We then presented how mitigation must apply directly to the actual impact and that there is no such thing as standard mitigation for visual impacts.  If one aspect of visual character is impacted, we need to address that particular impact; if vividness is what is reduced, we should try to mitigate for its reduction.

We examined the two types of documents—the VIA and the Visual Issues summary in the Environmental Document—that need to register the findings of the VIA process.  We also discussed who was responsible for which document and how the writing and the review of each document is the product of a team including a landscape architect and an environmental generalist.

In the conclusion of this course, we are identifying what we learned, listing additional resources (including people you can contact if you have questions about anything that has been presented), and testing how well your VIA knowledge has improved.


Slide 100

Resources and Assistance

Let’s take a closer look at some of the resources that are available to you as assistance in conducting a VIA.


Slide 101

Resources and Assistance

Listed above and hyperlinked below are some on-line Caltrans Resources in the file Resources for CEQA and Caltrans VIA Process that can assist you in developing a VIA.

Standard Environmental Reference (SER) Chapter 27: Visual and Aesthetics Review

FHWA Visual Impact Assessment Manual

Caltrans Visual Impact Assessment Checklist

Also on the slide is a list of three VIA experts who, as current employees of Caltrans, are available for consultation.


Slide 102

Class Evaluations

Any feedback about this course can be provided to your immediate supervisor or District Landscape Architecture Coordinator. 


Slide 103

Class Post-Test

Locate the Pre-Test and Answer Sheet you printed out, completed, and carefully stored at the beginning of this course. If you would like to take the test without comparing it to a Pre-Test, click on Test for a copy of the test.  You can also print out a blank Answer Sheet to record your answers. 


Slide 104

Class Post-Test

Take the test again, filling out the answer sheet in the appropriate spaces.  Grade yourself using the Answer Key  Did you improve?  Are there concepts you should review?


Slide 105

Goodbye and Thanks

This concludes the training.  We hope the class was indeed helpful.  Thank-you for taking the time to increase your knowledge of the VIA process used by Caltrans!