Web-based Mapping Melds Design, Engineering, and Planning into One Platform
Whether you believe technology has brought the world closer or worked to divide us, the reality is that technology has changed everyone’s lives and in many cases, changed it for the better. In the realm of engineering, design, and architecture, the methods by which work is accomplished have come a long way from pencils and drafting tables. One of our most exciting new technologies is web-based mapping that has enabled us to take our planning processes to a whole new level and greatly enhance how we can interact with our clients.
Nathan Jones, Otak’s GIS Specialist explains that web-based mapping has been around for some time, but it was clunky, only available on desktops, and required thousands of dollars worth of software. But within the past five years, online mapping has burst onto the scene with platforms such as MapQuest, and more recently these programs have been adopted by the private sector. An early adopter, Otak has been on the cutting edge to bring web-based mapping, specifically ArcGIS, into the fold recognizing the inherent value in seeing things geographically.
Nathan is passionate about the work he does and how impactful it is to not just Otak and their clients, but to the design and planning world as a whole. “The things we do, the data we create, is only as good as how we present it. We need to present in a digestible way to the average person. If we can’t, what good is that to the public or even the client? Data is great but only if you can show it in a meaningful way. Web-mapping takes this concept and runs with it. It takes data to the next level, drilling down to a fundamental level of understanding by way more people,” he said.
Most municipalities or companies that have mapping use it predominantly for reference, such as giving the public the ability to look up tax maps from their city’s website. Otak uses the maps in more unique ways to both collect and analyze the data to tell the story of the work they are doing, as well as using the maps as the perfect way to collaborate across companies and organizations that are working jointly on projects. For Otak, the maps are true storyboards. “Web mapping bridges the gap between design, engineering, planning, and the online world. It can be used in tons of ways and Otak is using the platform on 30 to 35 projects right now,” Nathan said.
Mapping has become a powerful tool to share data and visualize projects whether teams are working in the same building or are scattered across towns, states, or even countries. Everyone involved has the ability to add information in real-time and Otak then pulls the data from the cloud to build the maps and stories so the team can see how changes impact the overall plans. This interconnectedness has been instrumental for many projects as the plans become living documents as opposed to shared pdfs or static documents living on a hard drive. It greatly boosts the efficiencies of contracted parties, saving clients time, and even costs.
Otak has used mapping for public outreach greatly expanding the equity of the public process. People are more likely to get and respond to information if they can click a link from their home computer than if they have to attend a town hall meeting. Having an interactive map to explore instead of a 100-page document makes information easier to digest, adding value to the planning process and, in turn, to the client.
Chuck Green, senior project manager, points out how mapping is valuable in the design and construction stage for transportation projects. “It gives us an easy way to present interactive 3D images or representations of the area. With just a click, utilities can see what’s under or over a road without leaving their office. GIS tools allow us to see where accidents occur on highways, who is involved, and where they are coming from and going to,” Chuck said.
In addition, the map can be used to develop strategies for economic growth along roadway corridors as was recently done for WSDOT for their SR-4 Corridor study. Otak input data and created map layers based on multimodal transportation, safety and traffic operations, zoning, and planned growth to project long-term growth.
One of the more visible projects that incorporated Otak’s web-based mapping was for the Discovery Corridor, an economic development project in Washington. The Discovery Corridor is an area that extends from approximately the I-205/I-5 junction north to La Center that is being developed with a focus on medical, educational, innovation, and technology-focused enterprises and activities. The state wanted a tool to help sell the concept to the surrounding communities, market available property to developers, and shine a light on how increased traffic and population could impact the area. The map layers information on infrastructure, roads, population, traffic, and more that can be manipulated to find the most efficient, cost-effective, safest, and community-supported ways to grow this area. “The maps can answer crucial questions like how transportation needs can be accommodated without having to widen I-5,” Nathan said.
Completed last year, the Discovery Corridor map incorporates multimedia with embedded photos, maps, and data spreadsheets, as well as drone footage. Users can just click on a map area to get an extended overview along with images. The map became a true asset to the client who can now house the information to share with the public and use as needed, giving them the ability to continuously evolve the information.
By offering ArcGIS online deliverables Otak provides a platform for clients to explore data, manage assets, collaborate across disciplines, and tell a story geographically. The capability that mapping affords, not only addresses clients’ needs but often fulfills a purpose they may not have previously envisioned or imagined.