Innovating stakeholder engagement, traffic safety design and audit process.
VicRoads is not just the statutory road and traffic authority for Victoria (Australia) responsible for delivering road safety initiatives, it is also responsible for planning, developing and managing the road network that keeps Victorians moving. This includes delivery of the $60 million Streamlining Hoddle Street project.
Hoddle Street is the busiest arterial road in metropolitan Melbourne and the focus of an Australian first continuous flow design to reduce congestion. Innovative engineering concepts was one of the driving design approaches for the project, and VicRoads along with their designer SMEC chose Snobal to assist in innovating the stakeholder engagement process and conduct the first comprehensive road safety design and audit process in virtual reality. Steph Bortoli, Engagement Manager at VicRoads role is to seek the input and local knowledge of stakeholders and communities to help shape the way major road infrastructure projects are designed and delivered, including the Streamlining Hoddle Street project.
Knowing that VicRoads were looking for innovation in engineering and urban design initiatives and being aware that community and stakeholder engagement were a critical part of the project, Steph was interested in exploring how virtual reality might enhance the stakeholder engagement process by communicating what a complex environment might look like, and how it might impact various users, before it was physically built.
“We were initially hesitant. When you read about virtual reality it’s typically in terms of its application to gaming not as an engagement or engineering application. We wanted to know was the technology ready. We quickly learned that Snobal’s technology was about much more than visualisation, you could actually understand what it’s like to move, walk, operate and interact within the environment before it’s built.” said Bortoli.
As an organisation, we really didn’t know much about virtual reality and how it could be applied to our work. We knew it would be a steep learning curve and to have Snobal give us so much of their time to walk through each element, made it so much easier to navigate. They provided the perfect balance of advice and suggestions, as well us allowing us to be the decision makers about what we wanted to achieve and how.”
VicRoads realised the benefits of Snobal’s software for stakeholder engagement quite early. They were now able to articulate to stakeholders and the general public in a more engaging, immersive and cost effective way what engineering design will look like when completed.
“Traditionally we rely on roll plots, artistic impressions and fly throughs to communicate the design,but Snobal’s software enabled us to provide stakeholders and the community with an immersive, interactive experience of what the intersection will look like when physically built from the perspective of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers,” said Bortoli.
“Using virtual reality satisfies those who want the technical detail, because they can understand design widths, signals and lane configurations, but it also allows those who really need to ‘see it to believe it’ an opportunity to do just that.”
The virtual intersection of Punt Road and Swan Street, where the new continuous flow intersection will be constructed, is now accessible by the general public at the Streamlining Hoddle Street Community Hub using Snobal’s software.
“One outcome we are really excited about is the ability to measure the design. We can now access data from people’s interactions in the virtual environment. We can see what they are interacting with, for how long, what they are looking at and even what they like and don’t like about the design. That’s incredibly valuable and something you can’t get from a fly through, architectural drawing or photo. It really is a game changer in stakeholder engagement,” said Bortoli.
But one unanticipated benefit VicRoads were not expecting from the software initially was how “valuable it was in helping us resolve design challenges and identify safety risks that may not have been picked up using traditional engineering design and workflows.”
In terms of best for project outcomes, through the use of the software four to five safety audit items were identified that otherwise would not have been until build-stage.
“Our engineers were actually able to sit in the virtual intersection and observe traffic movements, undertake head counts and watch how trams, buses and pedestrians were all interacting in the space. If those changes were not identified when they were using the software they would have cost time and money to resolve,” said Bortoli.
Snobal’s software “enhanced the stakeholder engagement process, saved time, saved money and ultimately, has made the design safer”.
XR solution for stakeholder engagement
Victoria’s (Australia) statutory road authority