Visualizing Sustainable Transportation


Soquel Dr. @ Chanticleer Ave. Open 10/18-11/29

Soquel Dr. @ Chanticleer Ave.

Natural Bridges Ave. @ the Rail Line crossing Open 10/4 – 11/15

Natural Bridges @ Rail Crossing

Project Overview

The Visualizing Sustainable Transportation project utilizes new and innovative tools to improve the public outreach and engagement process.

Phase 1, which was completed in December 2017, utilized augmented reality technology to demonstrate potential future sustainable transportation and land use options at two locations: Soquel Drive at Chanticleer Avenue and Natural Bridges Drive at the rail crossing. Physical installations, called OWL viewers were placed at the two sites. Looking into the OWL viewers participants saw how existing conditions could transform into multimodal transportation hubs with short and long term investments. Read the Phase 1 Fact Sheet (en español) for more information.

Phase 2 will launch in the summer of 2018. Visualizations developed for Phase 2 will be used to support the City of Watsonville’s Complete Streets Plan public outreach process.


The goal of the interactive visualizations is to enhance public engagement and dialogue of complex transportation and land use concepts.

Visualizations will highlight:

  • Optimized use of existing streets through enhanced bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities
  • Expanded safe mobility options for all members of the community
  • Options that decrease greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle miles traveled
  • Walk-friendly, compact, mixed-use neighborhoods
  • Options that decrease personal transportation expenses thereby increasing the amount of money that can be reinvested in the local economy

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does the term “sustainable transportation” mean?

The RTC approved a set of goals and policies in the 2014 Regional Transportation Plan that are based on developing a sustainable transportation system for Santa Cruz County. “Sustainable transportation” encompasses not only improvements to access and mobility and preservation of our transportation system but also the quality of our natural environment, the economic vitality of the region and public health, safety and equity. These three “E’s” (environment, economy and equity) are often referred to as the triple bottom line of sustainability.

Why is the SCCRTC conducting the Visualizing Sustainable Transportation project?

The RTC is tasked with planning for both short and long term transportation needs. Long term planning requires working closely with the community and partner entities, many of which are looking towards sustainable transportation planning concepts to maximize environmental, economic and equity benefits for future generations. However, it can be difficult to visualize or imagine what sustainable planning concepts look like within the context of our community. Our community is growing (albeit slowly) and this growth is geographically constrained by the ocean on one side and the Santa Cruz Mountains on the other.  The Visualizing Sustainable Transportation project aims to provide graphic, realistic visualizations of short and long term sustainable transportation strategies in innovative ways to enable community members to immerse themselves in these concepts and provide feedback based on a deeper understanding of how our community could grow and change.

What are the Owl viewers?

One of the main goals of the Visualization project is to develop tools that allow more effective communication of planning concepts. The “Owl” viewer was developed in the Bay Area by a firm called Owlized. It looks similar to the binocular units at scenic lookouts, but functions much differently. Looking into the viewer, the participant sees an augmented reality representation of potential strategies for sustainable transportation improvements at the very site where the Owl is located. While the participant is looking through the Owl a survey is conducted about preferences for the types of improvements shown in the visual.

Where will the Owl viewers be located and when?

The Owls will be used at different locations around the County including in the County of Santa Cruz on Soquel Drive at Chanticleer Avenue and in the City of Santa Cruz on Natural Bridges Drive at the rail crossing. Phase two of the project will be in spring of 2018 and will include Live Oak and Watsonville. Each visual will also be accessible online through a “pocket owl” version that can be viewed on a computer, smart phone or other mobile device.

The Owls will be deployed in two phases. The Soquel Drive and Natural Bridges Drive Owl viewers are planned to be installed in fall 2017, October 4th and October 18th respectively. The second phase will occur in early spring 2018 after daylight savings time begins and will include the Watsonville and Live Oak locations. The second phase is staggered to take advantage of the time of year when people are more likely to be outdoors and active. Each Owl will be up for approximately six weeks.

Can I view the visuals online?

Links to the visuals and the survey will be available on the RTC website soon after the Owl viewers go live. However, the Owl viewers provide an immersive and interactive depiction of potential future transportation improvements so community members are encouraged to visit the Owl viewers in person.

How were the locations for the Owl viewers chosen?

These locations were selected with stakeholder input based on their proximity to a diverse group of origins and destinations including schools, residences, business, and services. They were also selected because of their potential to become future transit hubs and act as a transfer point between different transportation modes.

Do the visuals show the current plans for Santa Cruz County?

The visuals reflect a mix of approved City and County plans, projects currently under consideration, input from visioning exercises by community members and stakeholders, and long term strategies to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips based on state mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. These images are intended to stimulate conversation about future transportation and land use options and they may show significant differences from the existing transportation network. However, they do not reflect definitive decisions of what will be built in the future.

How will the results of the survey be used?

The primary purpose of the survey is to get feedback about planning concepts such as transit oriented development, transit hubs, infill development and complete streets that have been discussed in community planning processes but may have been difficult for people to visualize within the context of Santa Cruz County. Asking questions about transportation preferences in conjunction with immersive visuals is a more effective method of public engagement than conducting either one in isolation of the other.

Is this project related to Measure D?

Measure D, approved by over two-thirds of Santa Cruz County voters in November 2016, provides a portion of the funds for constructing a bicycle and pedestrian trail in the rail corridor as defined in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Master Plan. Other bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects that are being presented in the visualizations could utilize Measure D funds that are allocated directly to the cities and county.

Is this project related to the Unified Corridor Investment Study?

The Unified Corridor Investment Study will identify multimodal transportation projects on Highway 1, Soquel Avenue/Drive and Freedom Blvd, and the Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line that will provide the greatest benefit to the community. See the UCS webpage for more details on this project. The visualization project depicts some of the projects under consideration in the Unified Corridor Study but time and budget constraints do not allow the full set of projects on all three routes and for all the UCS scenarios to be presented in these tools.

Why do the visuals show new transit options?

Congestion is a serious problem now and will continue to be in the future. The County’s physical barriers of the ocean and mountains concentrate land use and the majority of the County’s population along a narrow coastal shelf. Because of these barriers there is increasing community consensus that it may not be possible to “solve congestion,” but it is possible to diminish and navigate congestion by providing a greater range of efficient and attractive transportation mode choices. Transit provides a viable and affordable form of transportation for all: the transportation disadvantaged including low income families, youth and elderly people as well as people with disabilities. Visuals of improved transit options as well as bicycling and walking connections provide a better understanding of what a multimodal approach to addressing transportation needs would look like in local settings.

Why is there housing, office, and retail development planned near transit in the future?

Planning for our County’s growing population necessitates a variety of land use options. To discourage sprawl, alleviate pressure to convert prime agricultural lands, and reduce vehicle miles traveled as well as greenhouse gas emissions, it makes sense to look at placing new development within urbanized areas near transit. This type of land use (mixed use, transit oriented development, and infill development) encourages walking, bicycling and transit ridership, which in turn reduce congestion and pollution.

RTC Contact

Anais Schenk
Project Manager
(831) 460-3200

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