What do video games and transportation planning have in common?

By Chris Spahr
A new approach to the idea of visualization is using the real-time 3D tools that are normally reserved for interactive video games. Excitement is building in the transportation-planning world over 3D visualizations created by Spencer Boomhower of Cupola Media.  While visualization technology has been making headway in the field of urban planning over the past several years, and some transportation planning products such as Streetmix allow users to adjust lane widths and other features, few visualization tools compare to the video game feel that Boomhower has developed. This technology builds upon many of the technical tools that transportation planners traditionally use such as design criteria, flexible design techniques, and walkability analyses to build a visual model that can be understood and manipulated by the general public.
Spencer Boomhower is a Portland based video game designer who has focused some of his energy on creating videos and tools that illustrate transportation planning concepts. His new interactive street design tool incorporates the elements of a 3D video game into a simple street cross section.  Anyone can manipulate this tool to widen the right of way and create more sidewalk space or adjust curb-to-curb distances to design a road up to four lanes or down to a simple one-way street.

Spencer Boomhower's Interactive Street Design
Spencer Boomhower’s Interactive Street Design

Users can adjust camera views to better understand what a street feels like from different perspectives such as that of a pedestrian or a bird’s-eye view.  While the software is still in development, Boomhower sees opportunities to build upon stakeholder engagement and public involvement strategies that transportation planners currently use. Improving upon current visualization strategies—where stakeholders and the public are shown images or videos of what different alternatives might look like—Boomhower’s website states that the tool allows people to “redesign that place at a whim, to see how your changes affect the experience of moving through it; to play with it and see what happens.”
Chris Spahr is a Graduate Assistant with SSTI.